Wednesday, 16 April 1997
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
EDUCATION REFORM AMENDMENT (BOARD INSPECTORS) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr AQUILINA (Riverstone - Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs) [10.00 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The responsibilities of the Board of Studies include the preparation of syllabuses and curriculum support materials for schools, the registration of non-government schools and the conduct of the school certificate and higher school certificate programs. The purpose of this bill is to provide for the employment of Board of Studies inspectors for renewable periods of up to five years. The object is to provide continuity of leadership in curriculum development for appropriate periods of time. The bill also aims to ensure that expertise in curriculum development can be informed at regular intervals by up-to-date knowledge of current practice of teaching and learning in schools. The background to the bill can be explained by reference to the Government's agenda for education. Since taking office the Government has moved quickly to initiate wide-ranging curriculum reforms.
Those reforms commenced with the Eltis review on profiles and outcomes, which has involved substantial revision to syllabuses and other curriculum documents. The pace will quicken considerably when the Government's white paper on the higher school certificate is released. The white paper has major implications for the form and scope of most courses for the secondary years. The central focus of change in these initiatives is the content of individual school syllabuses. The role of board inspectors, as the officers who must lead the necessary statewide change in each subject area, is critical. Curriculum design is a very complex process, requiring careful guidance and management. Experience has shown that continuity of expertise and leadership during a period of change is essential if new curriculum materials are to meet the needs of schools. Currently, inspectors of the Board of Studies are employed on a temporary basis for varying periods under the relevant provisions of the Public Sector Management Act.
It has become clear, however, that given the special role for inspectors in implementing the Government's agenda these provisions are not appropriate. The Public Sector Management Act only allows departments to appoint permanently, to appoint temporarily for a non-renewable period of up to three years without special delegation for the Public Sector Management Office, or to appoint senior executive service level officers to fixed-term contracts. For persons from the non-government school sector, the provisions are especially restrictive and do not provide an incentive for highly-qualified personnel from this sector to seek employment as board inspectors. For example, temporary employees from the non-government sector can be engaged for four month periods only, renewable to a maximum of two years. Beyond two years, special delegation to continue the four-month arrangement is required from the Public Sector Management Office.
When the office of the board sought to address the situation, it found that the only way to employ non-senior executive service staff such as board inspectors to meet the board's needs would be to amend either the Public Sector Management Act or the relevant provisions of the Education Reform Act. Since it would clearly be impractical to introduce changes to the Public Sector Management Act on behalf of a small group of employees in one agency, it has been decided to follow an approach involving minor change to the Education Reform Act. There are several reasons that this approach is more appropriate: it addresses the particular situation of a small group of employees within one agency; it represents minor changes to an Act in which the unique status of these officers is already acknowledged, through their specific identification in that Act; and it confines the arrangements to that group of employees and makes explicit the special nature and importance of their duties.
This bill achieves these aims by amending and expanding the provisions of the Education Reform Act which currently deal specifically with the employment of board inspectors. The amendments have the effect of designating board inspectors as a special class of employees of the Board of Studies whose conditions of employment are to be regulated in accordance with provisions detailed in a new schedule to the Act. Schedule 1 to the bill will facilitate employment of board inspectors under the
Education Reform Act. It clearly specifies the responsibility of board inspectors to lead curriculum development. It also makes explicit their role, implicit in the Act, of carrying out activities pursuant to the registration and accreditation of non-government schools. Schedule 1 makes a minor amendment to section 105 of the Act. The purpose of the amendment is to replace a reference to a particular officer as the person responsible for determining terms and conditions for casual staff involved in activities such as marking the higher school certificate. The reference is outdated owing to administrative change since the enactment of the Act in 1990.
Schedule 1 inserts a new schedule into the Act. The aim of the schedule is to specify periods of up to five years as the renewable term of temporary employment for board inspectors. The schedule also aims to establish that board inspectors are entitled to the usual safeguards available to employees of the Crown. To this end the schedule largely replicates those provisions of the Public Sector Management Act relating to matters such as appointment based on merit and access to the Industrial Relations Commission. Clause 4 of the new schedule 1A states specifically that a board inspector has the same conditions of employment in the central areas of allowances, leave and general conduct as other public service officers. It also preserves the inspectors' current access to the board's consent award framework. Clause 5 of schedule 1A enshrines the merit principle as the basis for selection and appointment. Clause 6 of schedule 1A guarantees access to the Government and Related Employees Appeals Tribunal.
These provisions are not new or specific to this bill. Aside from the subclause relating to the five-year period of temporary employment, there are no provisions which depart from established practice or statute. This bill will ensure that curriculum development in New South Wales is guided by officers who can offer commitment and expertise to the process for an appropriate period. At the same time, it will ensure that the knowledge base can be updated at regular intervals. The Government is confident that the arrangements now proposed will greatly improve the process of curriculum development to the benefit of students, teachers and the wider community. As Minister for Education and Training, on behalf of the Government I thank all those who assisted in the development of this legislation and I commend it to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Downy.
PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [10.10 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
On 7 May 1996 Cabinet gave approval for the release of a green paper on proposed amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979. The green paper attracted a total of 695 written submissions, of which 38 submissions were from animal welfare organisations, industry associations, and government agencies. The remainder of the submissions received were from individuals and other groups interested in the proposed changes. I was pleased to see that the large majority of submissions received offered congratulations to the Government on taking the initiative to propose needed changes to the Act which aim to resolve the many animal welfare issues raised in the green paper. The proposals for the amendment of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, which cover a broad range of matters, are designed to strengthen many of the existing protections for animals against cruelty, and also to introduce a number of new protective measures.
The proposed amendments will enable the Australian model codes of practice for the welfare of animals, which are endorsed by the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, to be incorporated in regulations under the Act for the protection of animals on farms, and for the protection of animals in other situations such as during transportation. The deliberate neglect of animals is a serious community concern. However, neglect due to ignorance of acceptable standards of care for animals is also common. It is therefore appropriate, where necessary, for standards for the husbandry and care of animals to be given recognition by incorporation of the Australian model codes of practice in regulations under the Act. For example, the proposal to enable incorporation of the model codes of practice recognises that animals need sufficient water and food of a suitable nutritional composition and quality to maintain general health. They also need suitable shelter from the weather and protection from common sources of harm.
They also require appropriate veterinary care when they become ill or injured, and preventative treatment against significant diseases. These codes, developed through wide industry and community consultation, recognise the practicalities of
Australian agricultural systems whilst leading the livestock industries to greater animal welfare awareness. The incorporation of the Australian model codes of practice by regulation under the Act is not intended to create an offence for a breach of the codes. This will not, however, prevent evidence of non-compliance with a code from being admitted in proceedings taken for an alleged offence under the Act, nor will it prevent evidence of compliance with a code from being admitted as evidence in defence of proceeding taken for an alleged offence under the Act. At present the Act provides no formal mechanism whereby the charitable organisations concerned with enforcement of the Act, they being the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Welfare League, are accountable to the Minister responsible for administration of the Act.
The public demands that agencies which exercise functions under an Act of Parliament are accountable to the Government. It is therefore proposed that the Act provide a power for the Minister responsible for administration of the Act to authorise, by ministerial order, the charitable organisations to undertake regulatory functions under the Act. This approval of the enforcement agencies may be withdrawn by ministerial order if the Minister considers that it is in the public interest to do so. It is also proposed to broaden liability for offences under the Act. This includes the binding of the Crown, liability for company directors and owners of land, and also increased liability for persons who participate in the coursing of racing dogs. The proposed amendments also address community concern that State corporations and employees of the State should be under the same obligation as other persons in the community to comply with the Act. In many situations the Crown or its employees have animals in their care.
It is therefore proposed that the Crown have a positive obligation to maintain animals in its care to the same standards as those imposed by the Act on every other person in the community. It is, however, proposed to exempt the Police Service because of the special, though often dangerous, operations undertaken by the dog squad, and the mounted police units. I believe that the community would not accept any impediment to the effective deployment of these police units, which have made a long and valuable contribution to law enforcement in New South Wales. Similarly, use of dogs for drug detection by the Department of Corrective Services will also be exempt. Minor, but important, changes relating to obtaining evidence of offences to enhance the effective enforcement of the Act are proposed. For example, it is proposed to allow officers a wider discretion to seize things which are reasonably believed to relate to an offence under the Act.
Currently officers have the power to seize animals. The new provisions will allow officers to seize documents and instruments, such as cock-fighting spurs, to be used as evidence. It is proposed to prohibit a number of practices regarded by the community as unacceptable and unnecessary. These include tethering of sows in piggeries; grinding, trimming and clipping of the teeth of sheep; firing of racing animals including horses and dogs; nicking of horses' tails; and setting of traditional steel-jawed animal traps. It is also proposed to place restrictions on certain other practices, which include the tail docking of dogs and pinioning of birds' wings. Tail docking will not be allowed in dogs older than five days of age unless performed by a veterinarian. Certain offence provisions under the Act need to be strengthened to ensure that the Act remains an effective means of preventing cruelty to animals. Proposals have therefore been included in the bill for enhanced provisions relating to the prohibition of animal fighting, the offence of using live lures for the coursing of racing dogs, and the offence of laying domestic animal baits.
For example, the current offence of laying domestic animal baits is limited to administering or laying baits which contain a substance used for the purpose of killing an animal. It is proposed to expand the offence so that persons who possess baits are also liable for an offence. Also, the term "poison" is to be defined in the Act with a broad definition to cover, as fully as possible, the range of substances, materials and devices which may be used as animal baits. The transportation of an animal should be conducted in a manner which does not injure or distress the animal. While most concerns relating to the transportation of animals are covered by codes of practice for the welfare of animals, some issues require more direct regulation through offence provisions. There have been frequent reports of dogs being injured after falling from the back of vehicles on public roads. It is therefore proposed to create an offence prohibiting the carriage of a dog on the open back of a moving vehicle on a public roadway when the dog is not restrained in a manner that will prevent it from being injured by falling from the vehicle. This provision will not apply to dogs used to drove livestock or dogs used on private property.
Monetary penalties for offences under the Act should be consistent with other legislation of a similar nature, should reflect the seriousness of the offence, and should be sufficient to act as an
effective deterrent to prevent offences from recurring. The penalties provided for offences under the Act have lagged behind the penalties provided for offences of a similar nature under other Acts of Parliament. Also, there are currently no separate penalty provisions under the Act for corporations which commit offences under the Act. It is therefore proposed that serious acts of cruelty to animals attract severe penalties with the Act providing for maximum penalties of a fine of $10,000, 100 penalty units, or two years imprisonment, or both, and $50,000, 500 penalty units, for a corporation, and that the level of maximum penalty for the other offences under the Act be increased proportionately to the penalties proposed for the offence of aggravated cruelty. Some in the community believe these proposals go too far, yet others will argue they do not go far enough. The Government has gone to great lengths to ensure that this package of reforms is achievable and receives the support of the broader community. I believe this package complements the steady progress made by the Government on animal welfare issues.
Since coming to government our reforms include banning the practice of koala handling or koala passing, as it is known, at wildlife parks; restricting the use of the electro-immobiliser to veterinarians; assisting the RSPCA in rescuing the big cats from Notre Dame animal enclosure; consulting on the formulation of this package before the House; negotiating with the egg industry to ensure an adequate labelling system is put in place in regard to the production systems for eggs, whether they be free-range eggs, barn eggs or eggs produced under an intensive system; working at a national level for a standard minimum cage size for laying hens; introducing comprehensive standards for the welfare of circus animals; and instigating a review of the use of pound dogs in animal experimentation. I want to assure the House and the community that with the passage of the bill through both Houses we are not closing the book on animal welfare reform. I intend to further this cause in the years ahead and continue to monitor animal welfare issues and proposed changes when necessary. I ask all members to consider these amendments. I assure everyone that I will consider constructive and achievable suggestions and/or amendments to the bill from any member when appropriate. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Kerr.
GAMING AND BETTING AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.20 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The bill amends the Gaming and Betting Act 1912 to remove restrictions on Sunday racing and to allow bookmaker betting on thoroughbred racing events after sunset. Sunday racing was first introduced in New South Wales in 1992 following the passage of legislation to allow for racing to be conducted on a total of eight Sundays in the 1992 and 1993 calendar years as a means of generating additional funding revenue for the Sydney Olympic bid. Following the success of this initiative, which raised some $8 million for the Olympic bid, the Act was further amended in 1994 to provide for the conduct of racing on six Sundays each financial year until 2001. One of the purposes of the legislation was to generate additional government revenue in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games - hence the 2001 sunset provision.
In contrast to the situation in New South Wales, Sunday racing in the other States and Territories is generally not subject to legislative restriction, and the controlling bodies of each racing code cooperatively determine the racing calendar without government regulation. Sunday race meetings have proved increasingly popular with the public and have consistently attracted higher attendance and betting turnover levels than are being achieved by many mid-week race meetings. In Victoria, the success and subsequent expansion of Sunday racing has resulted in 24 Sunday race days being programmed for the current racing season and I understand that some 35 dates have been scheduled for the 1997-98 season. Other States and Territories have similarly responded to the success of Sunday racing by either increasing the number of Sunday race dates or providing betting auditoriums for punters wishing to bet on Sunday interstate fixtures.
As the current situation exists, however, the New South Wales racing industry is limited in its capacity to respond appropriately to the expansion of Sunday racing in the other States and Territories and is unable to restructure its racing calendar accordingly by programming additional Sunday meetings to coincide with interstate fixtures. In view of the fact that most other leisure pursuits and avenues for gambling - including poker machines, club keno and casino gaming - are freely available in New South Wales on Sundays, the current restrictions on Sunday racing are seen as outmoded and inequitable, and as unfairly limiting the capacity of the racing industry to program race meetings on days with the highest likely public demand and the highest potential wagering returns. I might also add
that there is no legislative impediment to the New South Wales Totalizator Agency Board, which is known as the TAB, operating on Sundays and many TAB outlets currently open on Sundays for betting on interstate meetings even when racing is not being conducted in New South Wales.
By removing the restrictions on Sunday racing, the proposed legislation intends to provide the racing industry with the capacity to replace poorly patronised mid-week meetings with potentially more popular and profitable Sunday meetings and in doing so enable the industry, via its controlling bodies, to structure a more commercially advantageous racing calendar. It is clear that Sunday racing is now an important component of the racing calendar and has been well accepted by both the racing industry and the racing public. Accordingly, I believe that the bill will complement Government policy by assisting the racing industry to implement an innovative commercial strategy aimed at generating increased revenue for all stakeholders and enhancing the competitiveness, profitability and ongoing viability of the racing industry in New South Wales.
In regard to night racing, on a number of occasions in recent years the Sydney Turf Club has expressed interest in conducting night racing at the Canterbury Park Racecourse. I understand that initially this proposal did not receive widespread industry support, primarily because of concerns with such issues as the cost of paying staff penalty rates, the cost of lighting and the possible disruption to the routines of trainers and jockeys, et cetera. I am informed, however, that recent discussions involving a wide range of industry stakeholders resulted in virtually all sections of the industry now endorsing the proposal - including the Australian Jockey Club, which has expressed interest in conducting night racing on the inner track at Royal Randwick Racecourse. While there is no statutory provision which prevents the conduct of thoroughbred racing at night - although most people believe there is - section 7 of the Gaming and Betting Act effectively prohibits on-course bookmaker betting on galloping events after sunset.
Naturally, the availability of bookmaker betting is crucial to the success of night racing, and the amending legislation aims to assist galloping clubs wishing to conduct night meetings by removing the prohibition on betting on thoroughbred events after sunset. I mention that, because of such drawbacks as the costs involved, it is not anticipated that night racing will be a viable option for many thoroughbred racing clubs. The Government believes that the introduction of thoroughbred night racing, with its added spectacle and entertainment appeal, is a worthwhile commercial initiative with the potential to provide the racing industry with an avenue to tap into new market opportunities, to expand its consumer base and to attract higher attendance and betting revenue levels than are currently being achieved by many daytime mid-week race meetings. This matter is also indicative of what is happening in an ever-changing, fast world.
Other States have introduced or are about to introduce night racing, which has already met with some degree of success in Queensland. As Minister, I certainly do not want New South Wales to be in an uncompetitive position in that section of the market. I emphasise most strongly that it is not the intention of this legislation to provide for an increase in the overall number of race meetings conducted. Rather, race clubs will be given the opportunity to transfer existing meetings to a potentially more profitable Sunday or night date should they so wish. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Downy.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Before calling on the next order of the day I draw attention to the presence in the gallery of pupils and staff from the Auburn West public school. I welcome them to the House and hope they learn something from the debate.
FISH MARKETING AMENDMENT (DEREGULATION) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [10.29 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Fish Marketing Amendment (Deregulation) Bill will extend the final date of deregulation of fish marketing in New South Wales by two years - from 1 November 1997 to 1 November 1999. I stress that this is not a debate about whether fish marketing will or will not be deregulated. That has already been resolved. This bill relates to the timetable. The bill only postpones the implementation of a deregulated market for some very good reasons. The Government accepts that local fishing cooperatives require more time to meet the challenges of free and fair competition in seafood marketing. The Government remains committed to ensuring that the fish-consuming public enjoy the benefit of a competitive deregulated seafood market.
Governments of all political persuasions accept the benefits of the competition process. Under the
competition principles agreement, New South Wales, all other States and the Commonwealth have agreed to support the competition process. State governments have accepted an obligation to remove restrictions on competition unless it can be demonstrated that the benefits of the restriction outweigh the costs to the community as a whole and that the objective of the legislation can be achieved only by restricting competition. A deregulated marketing system should improve seafood availability and sales. But the Government is committed to ensuring that the existing fishing cooperatives sector be given adequate time to continue as a competitive force in that deregulated market. The delay is obviously to the benefit of the public, given the importance of these cooperatives in rural and regional New South Wales.
Over 20 cooperatives operate throughout this State with more than 1,000 members and create in excess of 150 jobs. In 1995 gross wholesale sales of fishing cooperatives exceeded $86 million. The flow-on financial effects are more difficult to quantify but, using standard primary industry multipliers, they must amount to many millions of dollars to the New South Wales economy. These cooperatives, therefore, make an important contribution to the economic viability of the many commercial fishers in the State. The cooperatives provide services and facilities to commercial fishers that will not be provided by many future fish receivers. Cooperatives provide ice, gear-like netting materials and access to goods purchased through cooperative purchasing power. Many of these services would not be available without the cooperatives. Obviously, it is in the public interest that these cooperatives are given sufficient time to make a considered and planned transition to a deregulated market. The Government must balance two important public policy goals: firstly, improving competition in seafood and, secondly, not jeopardising the fishing cooperative system developed to service New South Wales.
The bill will achieve both goals by allowing the cooperative system more time to prepare for a completely deregulated market. I do not want honourable members to gain the impression that the seafood cooperatives are insulated from competition. Nothing would be further from the truth. The cooperatives already vigorously compete with each other and other players for sales to local, Sydney and international markets. Many larger cooperatives have export authorisations allowing them to process and export direct to markets in Asia, the Americas and Europe. The Government wants to provide them with time to ensure that they are well prepared to meet deregulation and competition with established seafood wholesalers.
The previous Government announced 1 November 1997 as the date for statewide deregulation. That timetable was announced with the corporatisation and sale of the Fish Marketing Authority in 1994. While that private sector organisation which controls seafood marketing in the greater Sydney region is now well placed to meet the competition challenge, smaller regional cooperatives have not had the same level of resources to organise for this fundamental change. The original three-year timetable, however, was devised with Sydney rather than the country in mind. Small regional cooperatives with only a few employees and without the financial resources to engage lawyers and accountants to advise them about their every decision have not had as fair an opportunity.
The Government has supported regional cooperatives to the extent that two grants totalling around $30,000 were made available to the cooperatives to enable them to seek expert advice. The resulting reports advocate mergers and amalgamations between fishing cooperatives as the best method of meeting competition after deregulation. The industry has embraced that process with some amalgamations completed and many more being contemplated. The Government has taken note of the disparity between Sydney and country in the bill. The bill proposes maintaining the original timetable for deregulation in Sydney but delaying deregulation in other parts of the State. In the greater Sydney region, which is described in the bill as the county of Cumberland, deregulation will occur as previously proposed on 1 November 1997.
The bill reflects the desires of the vast majority of the catching and wholesaling seafood sectors and I am sure it will have the support of the community. The Government has already consulted extensively with all interest groups before agreeing to extend the deregulation date. The Government has already required industry to demonstrate substantial progress before agreeing to extend the deadline. In 1995 a steering committee was established to identify issues, devise plans and deal with government over deregulation. The committee, which comprised industry sector experts, laid the groundwork for a reconsideration of the issue.
By 1996 the industry organised a seafood summit to identify and confront the competition challenge. More than 60 representatives from all areas of the seafood industry and the cooperatives, including key industry stakeholders and government delegates, attended. The summit identified a range of problems for regional cooperatives meeting the November 1997 timetable, for example, the possible lessening of seafood varieties for local consumption;
a lack of trained staff; infrastructure problems; and quality assurance needs. These were the reasons why the summit sought a delay. The industry accepts that deregulation is inevitable but sought Government support for amending the time frame. Indeed, many within the industry have embraced the challenge presented by a deregulated market.
The passage of this bill will allow more time for fishing cooperatives to better understand the likely impact of deregulation and the plan for restructuring. It will also allow them to do the detailed financial and legal work required for mergers or rationalisation between cooperatives. The seafood summit was a rare occasion when the entire industry came together to advocate changes to the previous Government's timetable. While that forum sought a delay until the year 2000, the industry generally accepts the reasonable compromise incorporated into the bill of a delay until November 1999. That compromise acknowledges the Government's commitment to the national competition principles agreement but allows industry a fair opportunity to adjust for deregulation. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mrs Skinner.
MENTAL HEALTH LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 9 April.
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [10.39 a.m.]: I shall give the House some of the background to this important piece of legislation, which has a somewhat lengthy history. In 1990 the former coalition Government amended the Mental Health Act, which had not been looked at for many years. In fact, at that time it was described as something of a dog's breakfast. When that Act was amended it was intended that there be an ongoing review to ensure that further amendments that might be necessary would be considered at some future time. The Mental Health Act implementation and monitoring committee, a committee with an impossibly long title and with difficult initials to remember, was established for that purpose. A discussion paper was developed, but its release was delayed only because it was completed during the 1995 election campaign. The Minister and I have attempted to reach in-principle bipartisan agreement on the sensitive issue of mental health because it affects many people and should generally be approached in that way.
In May 1996 the Government issued a discussion paper, which included an exposure draft of the bill. Some provisions of the exposure draft are contained in the bill, some were modified following the comment period and some were not addressed at all. That gives me some cause for alarm, and I shall address those specific items. I propose to deal with the specific amendments individually. At the outset I indicate that most of the amendments do not cause the coalition any concern. However, one amendment presents considerable concerns and I foreshadow that amendments will be moved to that provision in Committee. Item  of schedule 1.1 inserts a new section 9 into the Mental Health Act. It changes the definition of mentally ill persons by expanding the categories of people who may be admitted for involuntary treatment. The amendment does this by removing the word "physical" from the phrase "serious physical harm", by removing the distinction between different psychiatric disorders and by clarifying the meaning of "continuing condition". That change to the definition was not included in the exposure draft, but was dealt with in some detail in the discussion paper.
The Minister said in his second reading speech that the change to the definition arose from some comments that were received, and that would appear to be so. I should add that the coalition probably consulted more broadly on how to amend the Mental Health Act than on any other issue. At this point I acknowledge the work of the parliamentary backbench committee in organising hearings at which individuals, representatives of mental health associations and care providers, and members of the legal profession took the time to give their opinions on a number of the issues addressed by this bill, as well as issues addressed in other bills that have been before the House, including one that was tabled some time ago by the honourable member for Manly. Although the change to the definition has caused some controversy, it is generally supported by the Opposition.
Item  of schedule 1.1 amends section 24 of the Act to enable police to detain mentally ill persons in a place other than a public place. In effect, this means in their homes. Some media comment about this amendment has been slightly misleading. Under common law police have the right to enter premises if they believe a criminal offence has been, is being or is about to be committed. The amendment provides for the same tests; it is not a sudden change to the Act that will allow police to bash down doors and pick up people without believing there has been a breach of the law. However, the amendment varies what police are able to do after the alleged offender is detained. Instead of being required to take the person to a police station and then make an application to a magistrate, police will now be able to refer the person directly
to a hospital for treatment. It should be noted that the MHAIMC did not support this proposal, although it was included in the exposure draft.
Whilst I am concerned about the qualifications of police on occasions to determine whether a person should be referred to a hospital or anywhere else for treatment, in principle the Opposition supports the amendment. However, I suggest that Cabinet, particularly the police Minister, should discuss increasing appropriate police training. The Minister nods his head, and I ask him to take that suggestion on board. Mental health teams are already permitted to attend properties where people might be considered to be in breach of the law to assist police to determine who should be referred for treatment. That avenue of assistance should be expanded and implemented wherever possible. My comments in that regard lead to the observation by organisations, carers and others that a great deal of legislative change is achieved through the manner of implementation. It is important that everyone involved understands the meaning of the provisions, and what they allow people to do. It is also tremendously important to maintain funding and resources for the provision of mental health care in the community. Recently I have read with alarm some comments about cutbacks in mental health funding. Suggestions have been put to me and confirmed in documents written by health officials that mental health funding to the Northern Sydney Area Health Service has been cut back. That has occurred in other parts of the State, particularly in country areas. An article in the Northern Star dated 10 April stated:
The Northern Rivers most senior health official this week admitted mental health services in the region were under-funded.
That is a major concern when both sides of the House are trying to do the best they can for those suffering from mental illness. It is essential to maintain funding. The Opposition does not oppose the amendment to section 24. I have received a copy of a press release by the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill, to whom I have spoken extensively. The association refers to media misrepresentation about this amendment. It stresses that the amendment does not mean police can suddenly break into homes, but varies the actions that are open to the police following a mentally ill person being detained. Items ,  and  of schedule 1.1 insert new sections 42(3) and 42(4) and amend schedule 2 to the Act. These amendments restrict circumstances in which a magistrate may adjourn a hearing to determine whether a person should continue to be detained in a hospital. The amendments require magistrates to consider the best interest of patients and all certificates offered before granting an adjournment. They were included in the discussion paper and exposure draft, but were varied, I believe appropriately, following comment. The Opposition supports those amendments.
I now move to the amendments about which the Opposition has serious concern. Items , ,  and  of schedule 1.2 amend sections 81, 83, 84, 84A and 101 of the Act to remove the requirement that a person found not guilty on the grounds of mental illness be held in strict custody until the case has been assessed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal. The Opposition does not have a problem with the removal of the words "in strict custody". However, the Opposition is concerned about the limitation of the grounds on which the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions should be notified and are able to object to the release of forensic patients. The amendments remove altogether the requirement to inform the Minister for Police. These amendments are quite complicated and I have sought advice from several legal sources. That endeavour involved many phone calls to obtain a clear interpretation of the definition. To obtain a clear picture of the amendments one must have the amending bill alongside the Act.
General opinion, which I support, seems to suggest that the changes relate to proposals by the Mental Health Review Tribunal to release persons in two categories. The first category is those who are in custody because they have been found unfit to be tried, or are awaiting trial or special leave. The Director of Public Prosecutions will have to be notified of any such proposals. The second category is those who have completed a special hearing process, have been the subject of a finding that on the limited evidence available they committed the offence charged, and have had a limited term imposed. Any proposal to release such a person no longer needs to be notified to the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
As I said earlier, the Minister for Police has been cut out altogether. Therefore, both categories of person can be released without overview by elected representatives. The coalition strongly believes that that must be undesirable from the point of view of both victims of crime and persons who are subject to the provisions of the legislation. I note that the Minister is shaking his head about the interpretation. I am happy to provide him with part of a letter I received from the Legal Aid Commission which spells out the interpretation most clearly and which, in fact, has been confirmed by a number of legal people I have consulted.
Some of my colleagues have indicated to me during discussion that there have been occasions in
the past on which the tribunal has recommended the release of persons in the categories to which I have referred, but when the Attorney General or other Ministers, the Executive arm of government and, indeed, the Governor have reviewed the recommendations they have suggested that the recommendation be reviewed, taking account of other matters they have concluded should be taken into consideration. The tribunal has then changed its mind. It is a serious step to eliminate the role of the elected representatives of the people from the release of forensic patients. I believe that that is not in the public interest. I believe it is not in the interests of the victims or, indeed, the persons affected by this legislation. I believe it is unfair to those people to have the decision about their release restricted to one tribunal that is not accountable to anyone. I believe the Minister would want to have some say in any such release. He needs to make sure that he has the counsel of his colleagues in the legal arm of government rather than the Legal Aid Commission. It would set a dangerous precedent if he made such decisions without seeking advice. The explanatory note to items  and  of schedule 1.2 to the bill states:
The need for such an identification is now restricted . . . The existing requirement to notify the Minister for Police and Emergency Services . . . has been omitted.
That is confirmed in briefing notes provided to me by the Minister. The northern beaches mental health support group, which is very much in favour of all of the amendments, has issued a newsletter in which it has pointed out that this amendment will have the effect of allowing the tribunal to make the final decision about the conditional release of forensic patients into the community. If the Minister believes that the amendments will achieve something which contradicts the advice with which I have been provided, he should look at them to ensure that they are not ambiguous. I remind the Minister that the Opposition intends to move amendments in Committee in relation to this matter. It saddens me to do that because generally speaking I would like to support the bill.
Item  of schedule 1.3 amends section 115 of the Act by removing the requirement to publish in the Government Gazette the appointment or revocation of appointment of a director or deputy director of a health care agency. That amendment was not included in the exposure draft or the discussion paper, and I cannot understand how the public will derive any benefit from such an amendment. The coalition also opposes that change and will move amendments in relation to it in Committee. Items ,  and  of schedule 1.3 amend sections 135, 143 and 143A of the Act by extending the maximum duration of community treatment orders from three months to six months, and by requiring the Mental Health Review Tribunal to review the person's mental health, treatment and appropriateness of restrictive care.
That amendment was included in the exposure draft, and the coalition has no objection to it. Items ,  and  of schedule 1.4 amend sections 186 and 204 of the Act by removing provisions relating to emergency electroconvulsive therapy, which is known as ECT. Under the amendment applications for emergency ECT will be dealt with under the general ECT provisions and will be subject to the same requirements, including approval by the full tribunal. That has now been made easier by the use of telephone hearings, video conferencing and other technology. The amendment was included in the exposure draft, and the coalition supports it.
This group of amendments also deals with the powers of the Mental Health Review Tribunal to consent to special medical treatments such as sterilisation. The amendments bring the power of the tribunal into line with those of the Guardianship Board, which deals with people who are under guardianship but who are not patients. My parliamentary colleagues have expressed some concern about this provision. However, I note that the intention of this measure is to impose restrictions on the tribunal's power to consent to treatment. Currently no statutory restrictions are in place. Overall the amendment is supported by the coalition, although when the powers of the Guardianship Board are reviewed it is essential that the restrictions be brought in line so that there is consistency between the two bodies. Care needs to be taken to ensure that two enormous bureaucracies are not created and that the restrictions always operate in the best interests of the patients.
Items  to  of schedule 1.5 amend sections 228, 230, 234 and schedule 5 of the Act by enabling official visitors to be appointed to area health services rather than to particular hospitals, and by maintaining monthly visits by two or more officials, one of whom must be a doctor, to hospitals. However, the amendments reduce the frequency of visits to health care agencies from 12 to two a year. The amendments require that an official visitor be informed of a patient's request to see the official visitor within two days of a patient making that request, rather than seven days. The amendments also provide that, rather than losing office if they become mentally incapacitated, official visitors will have their offices suspended until terms expire or they are no longer mentally incapacitated. That applies particularly when an official visitor is a consumer.
I note that those amendments were not included in the exposure draft but arose from a separate review and consultation. The amendments are supported by the coalition. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is not only important that an official visitor be informed of a patient's request to see that visitor within two days of the patient making the request, but that wherever possible the patient should see the official visitor within as short a time frame as possible. Health care agencies will play an increasingly important role in the provision of mental health care. It will be necessary to ensure that sufficient funding is available to enable the official visitors to visit those agencies on a regular basis. The coalition supports that amendment.
Schedule 1.6 inserts a new chapter providing for the transfer and treatment of interstate patients. It provides for New South Wales patients to be treated under a community treatment order or similar order issued in another State. The new chapter also provides for the apprehension in this State of people who are liable for such apprehension in other States. These are important matters, particularly for relatives of those who cross borders for treatment. This issue, like all cross-border issues, must be addressed. I have not consulted broadly on this issue, but the amendment seems to be sensible and I would suggest that its implementation and effectiveness be monitored over time. The coalition supports the amendment. In summary, the bill generally has the support of health and carer groups. Civil libertarian-type organisations have expressed concern about some of the provisions of the bill. The coalition believes overall that these amendments, particularly the health-based amendments, are in the best interests of patients. However, the coalition has grave concerns about item  of schedule 1.2, which makes changes to the notifications to the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister for Police - in other words, the elected representatives of the people. The coalition will move amendments to that item, and the Opposition's final decision on the bill will depend on the outcome of the amendments.
Mr WATKINS (Gladesville) [11.01 a.m.]: Speaking in this debate is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had since being elected to the New South Wales Parliament. This debate and the passage of this bill signal a dramatic step forward in the care of the mentally ill. The changes to the Mental Health Act will extend and improve care by ensuring that people with mental illness will get the care they need sooner, before they become a danger to themselves and a threat to the community. All members of Parliament are aware of problems facing those with mental illness. We see them in our offices and often watch them remain untreated and alone because of limitations in the Mental Health Act. We also see their families, confused, frustrated and angry because their child, spouse, or close relative slides into mental illness episodes with little, if anything, done to protect them or provide real help. In my inaugural speech in 1995 I spoke at length about mental illness and the duty on us to take effective action to reduce the impact of its scourge. At that time I said:
. . . the main reason for me as a Labor member of Parliament to concentrate on this subject is because that treatment and care of the mentally ill remains one of the greatest continuing social injustices in our community.
For too many people mental illness means social rejection and stigma, homelessness or inadequate housing, unemployment and poverty, family dislocation, drug dependency, chronic ill-health and early death, and for an obscene number of sufferers, especially the young, suicide. It was for very good reason that the Burdekin report identified people suffering mental illness as "among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the Australian community". Just the extent of mental illness in our community is shocking. At some stage in their lives, one in five Australians will experience a mental illness varying from mild or temporary to severe or prolonged. It is estimated that at least 250,000 Australians suffer from a major mental illness.
Since that time we have witnessed several developments in the provision of mental health services in New South Wales. Most significant has been the reassessment of priorities that has seen mental illness clearly put to the forefront of the Government's health budget. That change in priority has righted a long-term blind spot in medical health services in New South Wales and not been only rhetorical. The change in emphasis has been matched by substantial increases in the budget for mental health services. This area has been crying out for years for recognition. In my view it is one of the Minister's greatest achievements that he can say that he is redressing the long-term injustice done to sufferers of mental illness. For his work in mental illness and in bringing this bill forward, the Minister for Health will be long and warmly remembered by professionals, consumers and their families.
The intention of the bill is to amend several provisions of the Mental Health Act. The need for amendments to that Act has become increasingly clear over recent years. The Act rightly empowered people with mental illness to have a say about their treatment. Whilst the Act also recognised that the nature of the illness should ensure those rights are limited, in the end it can be argued that the emphasis on civil rights of the mentally ill consumer took precedence. This resulted in circumstances in which people with a mental illness that was causing them real lifestyle, social and health problems could legitimately refuse treatment. Whilst the right to refuse treatment is a precious right that individuals
in our society have, when exercised by persons with mental illness it has led to tragic results that have benefited no-one.
Recently, a mother in my electorate came to see me very concerned about her adult daughter, who had been ill for some time. The daughter was not ill enough to be scheduled, but her health was decaying, and her living conditions and financial position were in steep decline due to her illness. In the past, when she had been scheduled and stabilised, her health had turned around for several years. She had lived a successful and happy life. However, in recent times the illness had returned and her position deteriorated dramatically. The local mental health team had been told very clearly by that woman not to return. The mother and relatives had been sent away and the woman was lonely, alone and quite ill.
I intervened in that case because of the mother's desperate appeals. But it was made quite clear to me that the hands of the carers and the family were tied. Legal constraints prevented the provision of effective care. I am sure that all honourable members can relate similar experiences amongst their constituents. It seems that the problem in these cases is that in the throes of their illness some sufferers are unaware of the serious need for treatment, unaware of the damage done to them by being left untreated and unaware that treatment will bring them relief. I understand that they often feel that the treatment is actually making them sicker and that those offering it, either health professionals or families, are trying to harm them.
The result is that too many people with treatable mental illness are outside the regime of care that can help them recover. I am especially pleased that a key aspect of the bill incorporates the broadening of the definition of a mental illness to include not only physical harm but also financial harm, harm to close personal relations and harm to reputation. This will ensure early intervention and treatment of the mentally ill. The result will be better mental health in the community, more secure and happy relatives and an increased level of dignity for those with mental illness. The amendment widens the definition beyond physical harm.
I am especially pleased that the definition includes harm to close personal relations. This amendment should bring relief to the thousands of hidden victims of mental illness, the families and loved ones. The pain and worry experienced by parents of ill children, and by spouses or children of ill parents, is impossible to quantify. But it is a sad and ever-present reality in every street of every suburb across the State. This amendment will go some way to reducing those concerns. I am also pleased with the amendment that extends the duration of community treatment orders from three months to six months. These orders are effective and successful; they have ensured that people with treatable mental illness are where they should be - in the community, in their homes, living with loved ones, and in a known world. Society has gradually come to the realisation and acceptance of the fact that institutionalised care should not be permanent except for the small percentage of people who, despite treatment, remain a danger to themselves or others.
My experience is that our community now accepts deinstitutionalisation if people with illness are properly cared for within the community. Of course, one problem has been the narrowness of the definition of mental illness. That narrowness has combined with short community treatment orders to ensure that people with illness in the community have not received treatment, which has resulted in tensions and real concern within local communities. Those concerns should not and cannot be addressed by turning back the clock, by returning significant numbers of the mentally ill to institutions. Thankfully those days have passed for ever.
These amendments should ensure that there is no need for a return to institutionalised care. Increasing the length of treatment under community treatment orders to six months should ensure significant improvement in the mental health of those under treatment in the community. There are several other significant amendments proposed in the bill, all of which are worthy of support. They are designed first and foremost to protect the health and dignity of thousands of Australians who suffer mental illness. The amendments satisfy the cry for assistance from patients, their families, loved ones and carers over the years. For those reasons the bill deserves the strongest support.
It is proper for us to acknowledge the work of those involved in achieving this result. The changes have been introduced only after extensive consultation with the community, consumers and their advocates, and professional groups. It was a model of consultative reform that is most worthy of praise. In particular, I acknowledge the vision, guidance and determination of the Minister for Health in this process. The amendments will be an enduring legacy to his ministership. Few Ministers can say that action that they initiated and supported caused such a positive change in people's lives. I continue to be proud to be part of a government that recognises that mental illness is worthy of budgetary and legislative action.
I draw attention to, and compliment, the work of the Ryde mental health team and the Ryde mental
health rehabilitation team, both of which are largely based at Gladesville Hospital. The teams act with dignity and with a great deal of care for the patients in their charge. The work of the teams is most worthy and should receive the highest level of praise. I am fortunate to have in my electorate the headquarters of several non-government agencies, such as the Mental Health Association, the Association for Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill and Mental Illness Education Australia. I thank the Opposition for its support of the bill, and I hope that that support continues through this process. As much as possible, there should be a bipartisan approach to this issue. I am pleased that the honourable member for Manly is present in the House. In my time in this place - only two years - he has been a wonderful advocate for the needs of people with mental illness. The honourable member has put on notice his amendments to the Mental Health Act.
I draw the attention of honourable members to cuts in mental health programs as a result of the Federal Government's budget cuts. The funding cuts are cruel, harmful and short-sighted. I was affronted when the Prime Minister spoke about his personal commitment to take action in relation to youth suicide. On that same day, I was talking to Mental Illness Education Australia - a non-government agency with a well-developed education program in New South Wales schools that deals with mental illness and suicide among the young - about how it will cope with the Federal cuts to its budget, which will mean that its education program will fail. I appeal to members of the Opposition to take up the cause of the MIEA. I know that it has contacted some honourable members. I am pleased that the bill is currently before the House, and it will be a proud day for the Parliament when it is passed.
Mr GLACHAN (Albury) [11.13 a.m.]: Few honourable members would not welcome the amendments to be made by the Mental Health Legislation Amendment Bill. Honourable members are often visited by people who are suffering from great distress because of the problems caused by mental illness, either affecting them directly or someone for whom they care. It is timely that the amendments are before the House and will be passed today. I have concerns about some of the amendments but, generally speaking, I support the efforts of the Minister in presenting the amendments. In addition, I acknowledge the work of the honourable member for Manly, who is keen for these changes to be made.
The Mental Health Act was introduced in 1990, and Professor Webster and his committee recommended a number of reforms in 1992. In 1994, the recommendations that were easily dealt with were adopted - and the difficult changes were not adopted. It has taken until now for those matters to be dealt with, which is a shame. While all the discussions have been taking place - important though they are - people have been suffering and they have needed the changes to be introduced. There has been a lot of discussion about the proposed amendments. A number of my colleagues and I have spoken to a range of people who represent people suffering from mental illness in one form or another. Generally speaking, most people who are interested in this issue agree that many of these amendments are needed and long overdue. Of course, not everyone agrees with everything that is before the House today - and it would not be reasonable to expect that to be so.
Mental illness is personal to the people who suffer from it or who are associated with it. The details of mental illness are not fully understood. Unfortunately, a stigma is still attached to people who suffer from some form of mental illness, which is strange because a large percentage of the population will suffer from some form of mental illness at one time or another. People have a fear of mental illness and of those who suffer from it - how people who are affected by it act and what they might do. The fears are often not justified. I am pleased that the definition of "mentally ill" will be changed, which will enable people suffering from mental illness to be treated if they are going to cause harm to their finances, reputations or relationships. In the past, they could be treated only if they were going to cause serious physical harm to themselves or to others. People with bipolar disorders were treated differently, but now all people with mental illness will be treated the same, which is important.
Many of my constituents have come to me and told me about problems that they have faced, or that the people that they care for have faced, because of the inadequacies of the law and the lack of understanding of how it should be applied. For example, a couple has a son who suffers from schizophrenia. He used to save his pension money and when he had enough money he would go to Indonesia or Thailand, get himself into serious trouble with the law and be put in gaol. He would write heart-rending letters to his parents and threaten to kill himself, as he would otherwise be confined to dreadful prison conditions, if they did not pay the fine that he had incurred. His parents, who were not well-off, would have to find the money and send it off to get him back to Australia. He would then accumulate some more cash and go again. I have read some of the letters that he wrote. No-one could
do anything about it. Try as we did, we could not control his going overseas and getting into trouble.
Recently, people from one of the hospitals in my electorate came to see me about an elderly patient who had threatened to murder the night staff when they came on duty that day. No-one seemed to be able to do anything about it; it was just brushed aside. Late that night, he threatened night staff with a metal walking stick and chased them around the corridors and wards. It was a distressing situation for everyone involved. The situation could have been avoided if someone had taken intervening action. I have a lot of examples of incidents in which early intervention was needed but, for some reason - including the lack of understanding that the threat could have been carried out, the will to do something, or whatever - it was not carried out. There are also concerns about the deteriorating physical condition of those who are mentally ill and who, because of their illness, are not able to care for themselves adequately. Their friends and family, who have had to watch their condition deteriorate, will now be able to intervene to ensure that those who need proper care receive it.
The honourable member for North Shore, the shadow minister, talked about resources, which are very important. More resources should be made available for the care of the mentally ill. Money is constantly being demanded for health and that money seems to go into what are called the normal streams of health care. If I need a heart transplant or I have some other serious illness it is expected that I would be treated quickly, adequately and well, but mental health seems to be pushed aside to some extent and does not get the same attention or the attention that it deserves. If care for the mentally ill is given properly and in a timely way, it will greatly assist them. I am strongly in favour of most of these amendments. It is about time something is done for the mentally ill.
Official visitors will be appointed to area health services rather than to particular hospitals. There will be special procedures to deal with an official visitor who, for some reason or other, becomes incapacitated. I am also delighted that the police, under certain circumstances, will be able to enter private residences and take people who are mentally ill directly to where they can receive the proper help that they need. In the past such people, who are not criminals, were taken to police stations and then before a magistrate before they received the help they needed. That should not have happened, and the police can now save them the trauma of being taken to a police station.
Also of great importance is the extension of community orders from three to six months. People should have six months to receive the right treatment, counselling and support that they desperately need but which they may not think they need. One of the great difficulties, which has been explained to me by those involved with these matters, is that often people suffering from mental illness begin a course of treatment which helps them. They feel quite well and then suddenly feel that they do not need the medication any longer and stop taking it. Their condition deteriorates and no- one is able to do much about it.
There are reasons why people stop taking medication. Medication often has unpleasant side effects. People cannot be blamed, when they feel a little better and the side effects are starting to affect them, for giving up and not taking the medication. It is only to be expected that that would happen. Extension of these orders, an excellent idea, will save a lot of suffering and concern of those who are mentally ill, especially their families and friends. One element of the proposed amendments with which my colleagues and I are not happy is that forensic patients will be released without people such as the Minister for Police or the Attorney General being notified. I genuinely believe that elected representatives of the community should have some say in whether or not this happens.
Dr Refshauge: So do I.
Mr GLACHAN: I am pleased the Minister agrees. It is of great concern to the community to know that people who might have committed some horrendous crime will be released without those in authority, such as the Minister for Police or the Attorney General, being informed. In the Albury electorate a young man accused of committing murder was not able to go for trial because of his condition. He was held in custody for a long time, which caused great stress for everyone involved. Finally, he was released because it was felt that he could not be detained any longer. He had been kept for as long as he would have been gaoled had he been convicted of the crime. This caused enormous distress to the family of the victim of the crime and to the community. People were concerned that someone like him would be wandering around in society without proper care and control.
That is one aspect of these amendments with which I have difficulty, and I hope that some adjustments can be made so that this matter will not cause the concern in the community that I think it might. Otherwise I support and congratulate the Minister on many of these amendments. The bill has taken a long time and there has been a lot of consultation. The Minister has put a lot of effort into making sure that everyone who was interested knew about it and had some say in it. There is general
agreement in the community that it has been a job well done.
Ms HALL (Swansea) [11.26 a.m.]: I welcome the proposed changes to the Mental Health Legislation Amendment Bill. I congratulate the Minister on his handling of this process. The exposure draft was released in May last year. During the intervening time there has been adequate and extensive community consultation, and that has allowed all those persons be affected by the Act to have some say in what is happening. These amendments will enhance care available for people with mental illness, a group of people within our community who are particularly disempowered and whose illness has not been understood by the community at large.
Mental illness, like any other illness, affects people and their wellbeing. These amendments will go along the track to help people suffering from this illness. At this stage I would like to give recognition to the fine work that is done by the Hunter Mental Health Service and, in particular, by the Lake Macquarie mental health team that operates within the Swansea electorate. They have worked in the most understanding and caring way possible and have done everything that they can to empower those suffering from mental illness. They have provided them with the options they need to lead as normal and active life as possible in the community.
I would like to concentrate on the definition of "mentally ill". I fully support the changes that have been made to the definition by the deletion of the word "physical" from the term "serious physical harm". Financial harm, personal harm and harm to a person's reputation will now be taken into consideration. When talking about the definition of "mentally ill" I cannot help but think about those people from the Swansea electorate who have come to see me. Not so long ago a mother talked to me about her son who was not a young person, he was 50 years old, who had a long history of mental illness. He had been a voluntary patient in the John Hunter Hospital. He was there for a couple of days, he started to feel a little better and then came home. Within 36 hours she received a phone call from the police informing her that her son was to be detained in the John Hunter Hospital as an involuntary patient. If the definition of mental illness had been broader and included financial and personal harm, not merely physical harm, intervention could have occurred earlier. This important change will mean that people needing care will no longer be turned away.
Recently I was visited by a man whose son had also been admitted to the John Hunter Hospital but unfortunately did not stay longer than two or three days because he felt better. There was enormous family tension and disputation at home and the young boy tried to take his own life. If the broader provision had been in place, the boy would have maintained a good relationship with his family and would not have attempted to physically harm himself. I welcome also the distinction between bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. I am sure all honourable members would be aware of friends, family or acquaintances who have bipolar disorder and have outlaid enormous amounts of money, some even selling their furniture. People with bipolar disorder should be treated the same as those with schizophrenia, and the bill will greatly assist people suffering from those illnesses.
I have thought long and hard about the removal of limitations that prevent people from being taken directly from a private residence to a hospital. Police will now be able to enter premises and take a person directly to hospital, not to the police station. In the case I referred to earlier, the mother was contacted by police and if her son had been taken directly to the John Hunter Hospital, the outcome would have been better. In another case, a young boy was not taken to a hospital because police could not enter his property. He refused help from the mental health team. I share the concerns expressed by the honourable member for North Shore that police must be given adequate training to enable them to understand the issues involved and to ensure that abuse does not occur.
The legislation must not impinge on people's civil liberties. Overall, this is an excellent measure and will benefit all relevant parties. The community treatment order is a step down the right track; it is in line with community counselling orders. It is important that those with mental illness be treated in their homes and have access to community programs that will equip them to obtain employment, to participate in leisure activities and to lead as normal a life as possible. That will assist their rehabilitation and help them to recover from acute episodes. I briefly mention official visitors. The bill preserves the right of appointed official visitors to remain as such and their appointment is suspended if they become mentally incapacitated.
A number of programs are being conducted within the community to provide support for people suffering from mental illness. There is a consumer advocacy program that links with other programs that encourage people with mental illness to work together to improve their own wellbeing. Club programs are operating - including one in the Manly area - that encourage those with mental illness to support each other. The removal of the right of official visitors was adverse to the wellbeing of
those suffering from mental illness as well as those who had recovered and were performing a useful role in the community. The bill will benefit the community as a whole and will enable those suffering from mental illness to live a normal life within the community, to access facilities and to help them rid the community of discrimination.
Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [11.37 a.m.]: It is generally accepted that more than 250,000 Australians suffer from a major mental illness. Ten per cent suffer from depressive disorders and 15 per cent of adolescents suffer from some form of mental health problem. It is estimated that within 10 years approximately 200,000 people will suffer from dementia, and it is to be hoped that Australian health Ministers will work towards achieving uniform national health legislation concerning this vital area of health care provision.
The purpose of the Mental Health Legislation Bill is to make a number of much-needed amendments to the Mental Health Act. It is the end product of a long and thorough review process involving much consultation. The coalition's health committee has met with many mental health care providers, advisory, lobby and consumer groups and affected families and patients. The coalition has consulted Professor Ian Webster, the Chair of the Mental Health Act Implementation Monitoring Committee, the Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Coordination Council - which represents 34 different groups - the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of New South Wales, the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales and the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill - ARAFMI.
The coalition's commitment to better mental health care was evident when the present Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Peter Collins, introduced the Mental Health Bill in 1990 when he was Minister for Health. It is pleasing to note the general bipartisan support for the legislation, which should be regularly reviewed and refined by successive governments on the basis of its implementation and community and carer acceptance. When the Hon. Ron Phillips was Minister for Health he commenced the review process that has resulted in these amendments.
In modern times mental health legislation has trodden a precarious path, taking into account improvements in treatment, techniques - both pharmacological and non-pharmacological - changes in society's attitudes, development in the law and the level of resources that are available. Mental health care provision has been controversial due to so many reported incidents of abuse and neglect, lack of accountability and supervision of psychiatric institutions and their medical-nursing care givers. These have resulted in a history of inquiries into mental health services, such as the Edwards inquiry in 1972, the Foster inquiry into psychosurgery in 1977, the Richmond inquiry in 1981, the Deveson inquiry in 1987 and the Chelmsford royal commission in 1988.
The delivery of mental health care directly affects not only the patient but also his or her family and care givers. It is a highly emotional issue, as the recent Garrawarra hospital rally showed us, and the dignity and wellbeing of the patient should be uppermost in the minds of not only health care providers but ourselves as legislators. A balance is required between the independence of the mentally ill individuals and the protection of carers, family and community members around them. Mental health and community health institutions will need more resources. Decision makers concerned with involuntary treatment of patients will need continuing education and assessment of their patient evaluation skills and delivery of ongoing care.
The exposure draft has been publicly available for comment since May 1996. The bill is based on the remaining recommendations of the Mental Health Act implementation monitoring committee report of 1992. The amendments proposed are based on those issues raised during the public consultation process. The definition of a mentally ill person is the most important amendment to section 9 of the Act. The terms of the definition determine the likelihood of involuntary admission, continued detention and treatment of an individual. The overlying prescriptive nature of the current definition - where care, treatment or control is necessary for the person's own protection, or for the protection of the public from serious physical harm - has not provided the much-needed care for persons suffering, for instance, from a bipolar disorder.
The proposed new definition will remove the word "physical" to allow for issues of financial harm or harm to a person's reputation to be considered. Moreover, doctors will be required to consider the continuing condition of the patient when making their assessment. This amendment received much public and provider support. It will be possible for persons in genuine need of hospitalisation to get this treatment faster - early intervention that will result in less overall time in hospital. People with a serious illness, including schizophrenia, often lose their ability to care for themselves whilst in an acute or sub-acute episode. This can mean not eating at all, eating irregularly or not taking adequate fluids, and not sleeping, to mention only a few of the distressing consequences. These consequences have
the potential for serious physical harm to the individual.
In assessing mentally ill persons their ability to care for themselves needs to be humanely and compassionately dealt with. Experience has shown that people with schizophrenia have a high risk of causing financial harm to themselves and damage to their reputation - early intervention will prove beneficial for these persons and, naturally, safeguards to prevent abuse of this power will exist. The amendment also allows for care to be provided when the patient's condition is deteriorating due to self neglect - early preventative intervention will avoid further serious deterioration. Elimination of the distinction between bipolar disorders and other forms of mental illness is widely supported as being non-discriminatory and caring in its interpretation. These amendments to section 9 of the Act, covering revised definitions, are long overdue. Their implementation will, I am sure, be closely monitored.
The amendment to section 24 of the Act will enable the police to take mentally ill persons directly to hospital when they have been found in places other than public places. Concern is expressed regarding the extension of police powers. Currently, police may enter a home only if it is suspected that a criminal offence is being committed. This will remain unchanged, fortunately, and the public is very relieved about that. However, section 24 would require mentally ill persons to be taken directly to hospital, instead of to police cells, for psychiatric examination after a magistrate's approval. That flexibility in treatment is warranted and welcomed. The amendment will reduce delays in treatment and reduce the distress involved to patients and carers. It is to be hoped that the Minister for Police and the police commissioner will closely examine the relevant aspects of initial and ongoing police training to provide the sensitivity and professionalism required for such visits by police. Perhaps the proposal put forward by carer groups that a medically trained practitioner accompany police officers on such visits should and could be further investigated.
Amendments to section 42 cover the power of magistrates. The Opposition is not supportive of an extension of adjournment periods from 14 to 28 days, as was the case with the review committee, due to the potential for unnecessary delays in the hospitalised detention process. A judicial determination within 14 days is reasonable and workable. Changes requiring the magistrate to consider all certificates offered are in the best interests of the patient and have received much community support. Amendments dealing with forensic patients eliminate past identified forms of discrimination. Where a person is found not guilty on the ground of mental illness, the person will be held until an expert assessment is made by the tribunal. The courts will have more flexibility as to where that person is held, not necessarily in prison. However, that is an option available if deemed appropriate and the coalition supports this flexibility.
However, the coalition has major community safety concerns in relation to the amendment removing the requirement to notify the Minister for Police when forensic patients are released from custody. Moreover, even the grounds on which the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions should be notified have been further limited. Given the Government's fanfare recently in regard to the rights of victims' rights legislation, I find it extremely disappointing, if not hypocritical, that the community is not better protected in the case of forensic, emotionally unstable persons. The public would find such secrecy, mismanagement and non-notification unacceptable. The coalition feels so strongly about the amendments to be made by schedule 1.2 and  that it intends to oppose the bill in its entirety unless the amendments are deleted and the status quo in respect of official and public notification retained.
Schedule 1.3 of the bill deals with amendments to community treatment orders and is most needed. It is proposed to extend the maximum period an order can be made from three to six months. The review committee and most carers and professionals recognise that a three-month community order is too short for effective treatment in the community. Its inadequacy has led to much public criticism of the so-called consequences of the Richmond report. Patients will now be able to remain in the community and receive professional care without the need to be unnecessarily hospitalised. Currently, community counselling orders can be made, and have been made in many cases, for up to six months and safeguards will be in place to prevent abuses of the extension of treatment orders.
Schedule 1.4 of the bill deals with emergency electroconvulsive therapy and special medical treatment. To increase accountability in the uncommon situation in which emergency ECT is required, the Opposition supports the proposal of full tribunal hearings to authorise such treatment. Currently, with the availability of video conferencing facilities, such emergency cases will be dealt with promptly. The coalition favours emergency ECT treatment being dealt with in a similar manner to general ECT treatment provisions and subject to the same requirements. Powers relating to special
medical treatment remain vested in the tribunal, reflecting its specialist knowledge and understanding. However, the tribunal's powers will reflect those of the Guardianship Board for persons who are not detained in hospital. This uniformity of treatment seems appropriate and workable. Schedule 1.5 of the bill makes amendments to the official visitor provisions. Official visitors to psychiatric hospitals now come under the jurisdiction of area and rural health services and the proposed amendment will merely give the services the ability to appoint a panel of official visitors to provide flexibility in the timing of the visits.
The Opposition supports the intention of ensuring that patients who live in the community under treatment or counselling orders can access official visitors. However, it recognises the need for more regular reviews of institutionalised care where patients can be involuntarily detained. The Opposition is aware of community support for a reduction from seven to two days in which a request to see an official visitor must be complied with, and fully supports this amendment. Provisions relating to the termination of official visitor appointments are proposed to be amended to allow for medical treatment of these appointees when needed. This would mean that there would be no termination of their visiting rights, merely suspension until they have recovered. I believe this to be workable and compassionate. Provisions allowing for transfer of patients between States are long overdue and the Australian health Ministers are to be encouraged for addressing this legislative deficiency - Victoria has led the charge and the coalition is keen to see this Government's assistance in the process of providing continued care and treatment provisions that operate across State borders.
The bill is long awaited. It provides for further care, treatment and protection of persons with mental illness whilst at the same time protecting their civil rights. I hope all honourable members will support a national approach towards mental health care that is consistent with the United Nations principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and the improvement of mental health care, and the national health statement of rights and responsibilities. It is vital that adequate resources be provided to mental health care and more community education be carried out to better inform all parties concerned of their rights in this complex area of medical service provision.
Legislators have a duty to provide standards and conditions of care, treatment, rehabilitation and other appropriate services for mentally ill persons which are in all respects at least equal to those provided for persons with other types of illnesses, whilst at the same time protecting the individual, the family and the public from those who, untreated, constitute a risk. I believe that the bill is a significant step towards providing this balance. With the appropriate amendments which have been outlined by the honourable member for North Shore, the coalition will not oppose the bill. However, if the significant aspects covered by the amendments are not rectified, unfortunately the Opposition will have no choice but to oppose the bill.
Ms ANDREWS (Peats) [11.51 a.m.]: I congratulate the Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Government on their initiative in introducing the Mental Health Legislation Amendment Bill. Of all the legislation which this Government has introduced since coming to office in March 1995, this is one of the most important and humane. I am sure that the legislation will play a significant role in reversing the very sad situation which we have all seen over the years in which many persons, obviously incapable of looking after themselves, roam our streets and parks aimlessly. This situation arose because the State's mental health legislation was framed in such a way that those people fell through the safety net and were left to their own devices.
The situation has been a blight on our so-called developed society for too long. Families of persons suffering from mental disorders have often been at their wits end as to how they could secure help for their loved ones. Professional and voluntary social workers, church workers, members of the police force and employees of various government departments have often felt powerless in having these persons detained in the first place and then detained long enough for their condition to be stabilised. Thank goodness that under the amended legislation that will no longer be the case.
The current mental health legislation has been the subject of an intensive review. Submissions were received from health professionals, persons being treated for mental disorders and a large number of other interested parties. The key to the effectiveness of the amendments is the revised definition of a mentally ill person, which had not been addressed in previous legislation but is in this bill. A mentally ill person is defined in the bill as one who is suffering from a mental illness and, owing to that illness, there are reasonable grounds for believing that care, treatment or control of the person is necessary: for the person's own protection from serious harm or for the protection of others from serious harm.
In considering whether a person is mentally ill, the continuing condition of the person, including any likely deterioration in the person's condition and the
likely effects of any such deterioration, is to be taken into account. It is important that the definition of harm will be widened to include not only personal harm and harm to relationships but also financial harm. Persons suffering from a mental disorder who go off on a spending spree will now come under the terms of the amended Act. In the past financial irresponsibility by a mentally ill person has brought great hardship and much grief to that person's family.
I am sure that members from both sides of the House have had constituents come to their electorate offices pleading for something to be done to allow a member of their family, very often a daughter or a son, or a family friend, to receive proper care and attention for his or her mental condition. All too often it has been the unfortunate experience on the central coast that the person suffering from a mental disorder has been detained in a clinic for only 24 hours and shortly after release has committed or attempted to commit suicide. This has been a real dilemma and the cause of much media comment in recent years. Now, thank goodness, the amended legislation will allow persons suffering from a mental disorder to be detained under a community treatment order for six months. Previously the maximum duration for such an order was only three months. Again I congratulate the Minister on introducing the bill. The amendments will translate into a more commonsense approach to treating persons suffering from mental disorders. The amendments will bring much relief to long-suffering families and friends and other persons who have taken a personal interest in the mentally ill and their welfare. I commend the bill to the House.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [11.55 a.m.]: I support the Mental Health Legislation Amendment Bill, which is the culmination of the efforts of many individuals and groups. I believe it heralds a dawn of new opportunity for people with mental illness. Particularly, it puts aside that narrow concept of mental illness - an illness that has been so stigmatised - that madness is badness and dangerousness. It introduces into the broader concept of the definition of a mentally ill person what is in the best interest of the patient. I really welcome that.
Mental illness is poorly understood. In effect, the bill deals with psychosis and psychotic illness. As well as being poorly understood, mental illness is an extremely complex issue. The burden of mental illness on the community is considerable. The World Health Organisation recently completed a study to estimate the burden of all diseases based on what was called the disability adjusted life years lost. It was reported that by 2020 major depressive illness would be the disease that would produce the largest burden, in 23 years time. It was noted that in 1990 that illness represented 16 per cent of the total burden of illness.
I provide these statistics and facts to the House to highlight that mental illness treatment continues to be seriously underfunded. In no Australian State does mental illness receive anywhere near 16 per cent of the health budget. Indeed, if funding of mental illness treatment were based on a mix of the burden on the community and the potential for health gain as a result of treatment, mental illness treatment would receive even more than 16 per cent of the health budget because, unlike most other areas of medicine, mental illness is very responsive to treatment. There are very effective remedies, which is not necessarily the case in other areas of medicine. It is surprising that we are not putting more money into mental illness treatment.
Times are changing and I hope that landmark legislation such as this heralds that change. The tragedy is that the lack of understanding of the illness, the lack proper legislation and the lack of proper funding often lead to suicide. I was in clinical practice for almost 20 years until I entered Parliament. People in clinical practice know the sorrow of sitting with remaining family members after yet another young person has suicided. A poignant memory of many of us who have been in clinical practice is the hopelessness one feels when a patient enters into the depths of mental illness, anticipating that such a large percentage will commit suicide. Unfortunately, Australia has one of the highest rates of suicide, particularly amongst young men, in the world. In 1994, 431 young Australians took their own lives. The Medical Journal of Australia recently reported on suicide rates in the last 30 years amongst 15 to 24 year old males. In that period the figure has risen from 6.4 suicides per 100,000 of population to 27 suicides per 100,000. The tragic outcome of untreated mental illness is very often suicide. Access to treatment - sometimes, unfortunately, involuntary - is the cornerstone to success. The 1993 Burdekin report on human rights and mental illness recognised that obstacles have stood in the way of access over the years. The report stated:
People affected by mental illness are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community. They suffer from widespread discrimination and are consistently denied the rights and services to which they are entitled.
That has become more stark and apparent following deinstitutionalisation. Prior to deinstitutionalisation the mentally ill, tragically and sadly, were locked away in asylums. Since deinstitutionalisation they have emerged into the community, and the community has to deal with them. These people,
who were previously exploited and victimised in institutions, are in many cases now lonely, forgotten souls. That fact was highlighted in a report entitled "Mental Health Crisis" produced by the St Vincent de Paul Society two years ago, which stated:
The theory behind this massive de-institutionalisation process was that it was better for people with a mental illness to be treated in the community with as little disruption to their daily lives as possible. This was seen as being far preferable to incarcerating people for long periods of time in institutions.
I would not argue with that. The report continued:
Unfortunately the theory has fallen down in practice because the resources required to treat and support people successfully in the community have not been made available by government . . .
. . . a significant proportion of people with mental illness do not receive the treatment and adequate support they need.
The report referred to the elements of this bill when it stated:
A major problem for services is in regard to the Mental Health Act. A person having a psychotic episode will not be placed in hospital care unless they have hurt themselves or others.
That goes to the very core of what the Minister has achieved in this legislation. Patients with psychotic illness have no insight into their illness. They do not realise they need treatment. By denying that they have an illness they deprive themselves of the means to restore their ability to recognise their illness. There is a chilling irony about that, which those who understand mental illness would recognise. By denying anything is wrong they deny access to treatment.
Patients who have been successfully treated for mental illness are able to lead an essentially normal life, as are patients who have been successfully treated for diabetes or heart disease. With modern medication, schizophrenics can lead a normal life. It would be tragic to create obstacles or deny access to treatment. The 1990 Act prevents many people from taking the opportunity of undergoing treatment. I refer, as I did two years ago, to the case of Mark. His mother, who is one of my constituents, is a doctor. Mark is a 20-year-old boy who developed a psychosis about three years ago. He was a top student at his school, he was a promising musician, and he was well liked and respected by his peers. His parents' relationship with him was good, and they hoped he would develop into a well-adjusted adult who would be able to take his place in society. His mother stated in a letter to me:
. . . today, he is wandering the beaches and streets of Manly, to all intents and purposes a "homeless youth."
His psychosis . . . takes the form that he believes he has to convert all to Christianity because all are doomed to go to hell. He cannot explain why he believes this and he seems to think the world is going to end soon. He gives away his belongings and money to people he believes God is directing him to save, e.g. he gave away $2,000 at Christmas. This was his entire savings.
For a while he was bringing home vagrants and they would spend the night in his bed while he wandered the streets looking for more people to save. We lost various possessions to these people, some of whom were also obviously suffering from psychoses themselves. He deprives himself of sleep as he believes he has to be "working" i.e. evangelising.
He has lost all his friends and his relationship with us is under great strain as he puts his "work" before all other considerations. But he is not a danger to himself or to others so he cannot be taken to hospital under the present Mental Health Act. He does not have a sustained disturbance of mood.
The doctors involved say he would probably benefit from medication for his psychosis and they want to put him on the clozapine program but their hands are tied until such time as he deteriorates further and does things to actively harm himself or others. Meanwhile his family suffers, his relationships with all his mates are lost, he loses all his money, he smells, he neglects all that he formerly held dear when he was well.
I think it is a disgrace that our society can let this happen, and I know it is not just my son to whom this is happening. It involves many other youths who are also wandering the streets in the grip of mental illness.
He was not dangerous, so he was denied access to treatment. This bill will rectify that situation. He could not be scheduled, and he did not fall within that narrow definition of one who may cause serious physical harm to himself and others. People suffering from a physical illness are not denied immediate assistance. People in a diabetic coma are taken to hospital - their permission is not sought - and they are treated and made well. People with a mental illness should be allowed the same access to treatment. I introduced a bill in October 1995 to remedy this situation and to extend community treatment orders to six months. I also circulated a letter to all members of Parliament, asking them to support the bill.
The elements of my bill are reflected in the bill before the House, and for that I thank the Minister. My bill did not have support from either of the major parties. They argued, logically, that more work needed to be done on it. Without being overcritical, I believe that has taken too long. In November 1995 I met with the Mental Health Co-ordinating Council, which supported my bill in principle. It asked where the discussion paper was. It was frustrated at the delays and pointed out that it had commenced discussions with the previous Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in March 1994. That is over three years ago. Neither of the major parties has moved as quickly as I would have liked them to. In any event, the bill is now before the House. [Extension of time agreed to.]
In July 1996 the Department of Health produced a discussion paper entitled "Caring for Health". I cannot speak too highly of that thoughtful document. It highlights two problems in regard to the definition of mentally ill persons. That definition is pivotal to involuntary treatment. The first problem is the narrowness of the definition, which I have already referred to. It is based on dangerousness, which is an outmoded and almost stigmatised concept that people who are mad are dangerous. Some are, although often people who are mad are most gentle but are embroiled in the grim nature of the disease. The other problem is that the definition is discriminatory in that it creates an artificial distinction between people who suffer from bipolar illnesses such as manic-depressive psychosis and those who suffer from schizophrenia.
I do not know the history, but I believe it dates back to a debate which took place in 1988 or 1989. It does not seem to be logical, because manic-depressive psychosis in particular does not warrant a broader definition. It does, however, have a broader definition under the Act, which leads to both financial harm and harm to reputation. The discussion paper also highlights the United Nations principles, which were accepted by all State and Territory Ministers. I will recount those principles, the terms of which are reflected in the bill. The United Nations principles for the protection of persons with mental illness and for the improvement of mental health care state:
(i) That, because of that mental illness, there is a serious likelihood of immediate or imminent harm to that person or to other persons; or
(ii) That, in the case of a person whose mental illness is severe and whose judgement is impaired, failure to admit or detain that person is likely to lead to a serious deterioration in his or her condition or will prevent the giving of appropriate treatment which can only be given by admission to a mental health facility in accordance with the principle of least restrictive alternative.
Part (i), which has been described in the discussion paper, refers to preventative detention and part (ii) refers to the concept of the best interests of the patient. Those principles are reflected in proposed new section 9 of the bill by the inclusion of other kinds of harm, such as financial harm and harm to reputation, and the issue of deterioration in a person's condition when assessing whether a person is mentally ill. The definition in the Minister's Act is perhaps more subtle than in the proposed Mental Health Amendment Bill introduced by me. That bill was more prescriptive in its definition of mentally ill persons by referring to physical and financial harm, damage to reputation and persons who are unable to care for themselves or are not receiving appropriate treatment and care. The definition arrived at by the Minister is sufficiently inclusive to cover all of those.
I will make a brief comment on two other parts of the bill. The extension of the maximum duration of community treatment orders from three months to six months is widely supported by mental health advocacy groups and particularly by health service providers. At the moment the review of the orders after three months creates a considerable administrative burden and the work involved is a disincentive to extend the orders. An ability to revise the community treatment orders after six months is a good idea. The second matter is the appointment of official visitors. I ask the Minister to respond in his reply to this matter. This is sought to be simplified by the appointment of official visitors to area health services and the reduction in the frequency of visits to health care agencies from one month to six months. I ask the Minister to consider the appointment of official visitors to licensed boarding houses.
I have written to the Premier about a recent experience I had when I visited seven inner-city licensed boarding houses which, I understand, are the worst there are. I was appalled and shocked at what I saw of the management of the mentally ill. As I understand it, the official visitors program does not include licensed boarding houses. The boarding houses are licensed by the Ageing and Disability Department or the Department of Community Services, but the Department of Health has a responsibility to the mentally ill residents. Perhaps the official visitors program should be extended to include licensed boarding houses within the health care agencies. I do not intend to move an amendment but merely to draw it to the Minister's attention and seek a response from him. To conclude on an optimistic note, the bill is landmark legislation. It has taken its time coming but is thoughtfully compiled. It will save lives. Dozens of mentally ill persons commit suicide every year, many because they do not have access to treatment. This bill is humane and will save lives.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [12.14 p.m.]: Let me begin where the honourable member for Manly finished: this is landmark legislation and it will save lives. It is well overdue. The Minister for Health deserves the congratulations of this House. Having listened to the debate to date, I note the bipartisan support for the legislation and the praise given to the Minister for Health for the wide consultation during the lead-up to these amendments. The bill has the support of health providers, non-government organisations and the community in general. One of the saddest aspects of modern life is the number of dysfunctional families in our society. Much of the dysfunction relates to mental illness. Every member of the community - including members of
Parliament who deal with constituents who suffer from a mental disorder, people who have family members with a mental disorder, and people who relate to other families - would have contact with a family that is suffering from the stress of caring for a mentally ill person.
The current legislation is inadequate. The pendulum had swung too far in one direction. Although that legislation was introduced with the best intentions, its consideration of the individual's rights was a little too far from the need to take into consideration the rights of the community - that is, the carers and families of the mentally ill, as well as the mentally ill persons. As other members have pointed out, this issue needs to be dealt with in several ways. It is a legislative issue, a resourcing issue and an issue of community education and understanding of mental illness. To date we have failed in the third area because very little is known in the community about mental illness or how to best help a mentally ill person. These amendments will go a long way to addressing all of those problems.
I congratulate the Minister on his immediate attention to the mental health issue on coming to government by looking at the resources and shifting them. I pick one program to highlight that point, that is the $2 million grant towards the national Neuroscience Institute for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders, an interdisciplinary model of research into the causes of schizophrenia The institute encourages research in a practical way so that many young people in our community, particularly men, who suffer from these destructive disorders will have the potential opportunity for effective treatment, a better understanding of their illness, and hopefully a far more humane approach to their treatment and life in the community. There is a terrible impact on the emotional and physical health of a person suffering from a mental disorder and that person's family. There is a terrible loss of potential of that life either in the contribution to work or culture or the life itself.
It is a sad fact that many people suffering from a mental illness take their lives. As the honourable member for Manly pointed out, an unfortunate aspect of many psychotic illnesses is that sufferers do not recognise they have an illness and do not take steps to seek effective treatment, so access to treatment needs to be provided and in a humane way. A proactive stance needs to be taken to ensure that the treatment can occur. The draft bill was sent out in May last year. After an enormous effort of consultation there was general acceptance of the need to revise and broaden the definition of a mentally ill person to take into account not only physical harm but emotional harm, personal harm, harm to relationships and financial harm. It is significant that the distinction between bipolar disorders and schizophrenia is to be removed.
Undoubtedly honourable members have dealt in their offices, not daily but often, with people suffering from both of those disorders. In dealing with those people or their parents, it is obvious that it is discriminatory to have a different approach. This bill will widen the net. The new definition will provide people suffering from a mental disorder with more timely access to treatment, and it will give patients, carers, families and the community much more effective use of the health dollar. As has been pointed out, those suffering from a mental disorder respond to effective treatment if it is timely. The amended definition will go a long way towards that. The amendment enabling police to remove mentally ill persons from places other than public places and take them not to a police station but to a hospital where they can receive effective treatment will be an important part of this legislation.
I have the honour of being the member for Newcastle. Within my electorate is a large, significant Department of Housing estate and the James Fletcher Hospital, which is a hospital for those suffering from psychiatric disorders. There are enormous difficulties in Department of Housing areas because people who are obviously suffering from a disorder are not cooperating with their mental health crisis team or their treatment order, or perhaps they simply do not understand their illness and take the necessary medication for it. Those people will have the advantage of the combination of the broadened definition and the ability for them to receive treatment in a timely manner. Health professionals may need the police to intervene to ensure that these people receive effective treatment.
I strongly support - as every speaker today does - extending community treatment orders from three months to six months, so that more time is available to deal with whatever issues may be affecting a person. That means that those suffering from a mental disorder can get a sustained level of treatment and support. The broadened definition of a mentally ill person, the extension of time for treatment and the ability, when necessary, to receive treatment in a timely fashion, in conjunction with health professionals, will benefit persons who are obviously a danger to themselves physically and in terms of their health, or are causing harm to others. All honourable members know of parents who are extremely concerned about their children who are suffering from psychotic disorders because those children fail to look after themselves; they do not
eat properly, they may be using drugs, they fail to care for their bodies and, as the honourable member for Manly said, they may end up living in filth and stinking and unable to receive timely treatment.
These changes are pivotal to a much more humane approach to the treatment of people suffering from a mental disorder. They will give other family members and the community the support they need. From my perspective they will result in a much more effective use of health resources within our psychiatric hospitals and in the community. I pay an enormous tribute to the non-government organisations in my community that exist to support those suffering from mental disorders. I mention in particular the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association in Newcastle, which puts in an enormous effort to support those with a mental disorder who live in group homes in the community. The association also provides the daily access to community contact that those people so richly deserve and need. Such organisations do not receive sufficient support. It is necessary to provide more education to the broader community about its responsibilities in terms of better understanding people with a mental illness.
I mention the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill, which the honourable member for Gladesville also mentioned. ARAFMI operates in my community and gives great support to the friends and relatives of the mentally ill. ARAFMI and other organisations must be commended. I commend also the health crisis team which has the enormous task of trying to cover the high health needs of the many people with a psychiatric illness who live in the community. As I said earlier, it is a matter of legislation, and this bill addresses those issues. It is a matter also of resources. I congratulate the Minister for Health on his efforts to date to improve resourcing both within the system and in the community. It is a matter of educating the community. A greater effort must be made to educate people in the community about mental illness and what they can do as carers and community members. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House. As other honourable members have said, this is probably the most significant legislation in human terms that this Government has brought into the House. I congratulate the Minister for Health and I congratulate the Opposition on supporting the legislation. It will be a great piece of legislation for those in our community who suffer from a mental disorder.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [12.28 p.m.]: I refer in particular to those provisions in schedule 1.2 on page 6 of the bill relating to the release of forensic patients. The amendments affect the existing requirement to notify the Minister for Police and emergency services of the release of a forensic patient. That requirement is no longer necessary. I am troubled by the amendments, particularly when I read the Minister's second reading speech in support of the proposition, which is to the effect that these amendments will also remove the current requirement that the Minister for Police be notified of the proposed release of a forensic patient. This provision is no longer necessary as, pursuant to the recently proclaimed Victims Rights Act, procedures exist for victims of crime to be kept informed of the release or escape of offenders, including those held as forensic patients. Whilst the Opposition supports the Victims Rights Act and the very important right that victims now have to be informed of such releases, I have fundamental difficulty in accepting that notification of victims is any substitute for notification of the Minister for Police, because the focus of such notification relates only to victims, or, if the victim is deceased, his or her immediate family and other people affected by the imminent release of the person who committed the crime.
The requirement to advise the Minister for Police must relate to the general public interest as distinct from the interest of a particular victim. A victim, or his or her friends and relatives, has no capacity to represent the public interest from the perspective that a Minister for Police would bring to the proposal for such a release. Notification of the victim or the victim's relatives is notification of an individual and in no way could be regarded as notification of the public from the perspective of the Minister for Police. I cannot understand why the provision relating to notification of the Minister for Police will be deleted. I regard notification of the general public from a policing perspective as being of paramount importance and something that should remain of paramount importance when one considers the nature of some of the crimes committed by forensic patients, many of whom may be incarcerated for many years. When they are subsequently released it is plainly in the public interest that the Minister for Police be notified.
I cannot understand how notification of a victim of crime, or his or her relatives, regardless of his or her right to be notified - a matter that is not disputed by the Opposition - is in some way a substitute for notification of the general public through the Minister for Police. As the shadow health minister and others have stated, this area of the legislation is causing fundamental problems. Should these amendments be persisted with, the Opposition, regrettably, will have no option but to oppose the bill, and that would be a great shame because many aspects of the bill are extremely
important and deserve to be supported. However, the concern of the Opposition about notification provisions is so great that ultimately it will influence the view of the Opposition on the bill as a whole.
I refer to issues similar to those raised recently on the Four Corners program, which related to a study of extremely serious criminals who had been incarcerated for long periods. When dealing with such people I believe that notification to the Minister for Police is fundamentally important. I hope the amendments can be reconsidered separately so that the other good aspects of the bill may proceed. As I said, many aspects of the bill deserve to be supported. The Opposition baulks at the amendments to be made by schedule 1.2, which relate to the release of forensic patients. I baulk at the removal of the existing requirements to notify the Minister for Police of the release of a forensic patient. Therefore, if the Government persists with these provisions, the Opposition will oppose the bill.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [12.34 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the Mental Health Legislation Amendment Bill. I congratulate the Minister for Health, Dr Refshauge, on the introduction of the legislation. I commend the consultation process that has taken place, not only during last year with the release of the draft discussion bill, but also during the whole of the seven years since the introduction of the Mental Health Act and the establishment of the monitoring committee, which was set up to keep an eye on the implementation of the legislation to enable amendments to be made to it from time to time when required. During that period the monitoring committee has suggested changes, some of which were adopted in 1994. We are now considering further changes recommended by the committee, which has maintained an involvement with organisations the memberships of which comprise relatives and friends of the mentally ill and professionals and carers associated with those living with mental illness.
I should like to comment briefly on the closing remarks of the honourable member for Eastwood, who expressed concern on behalf of the Opposition about the removal of the provision requiring notification to the Minister for Police on the release of forensic patients. He indicated that insistence on the amendment may lead the Opposition to oppose the bill as a whole. I suggest that the Opposition consider voting with the Government at the second reading stage and take the opportunity to move appropriate amendments in Committee, rather than oppose the second reading of the bill. I acknowledge the multipartisan support that the bulk of the amendments have won in this House today, not only from all major parties but also from the Independent member for Manly. To avoid repeating much of what has been said already in the debate I shall take a slightly different tack and comment on some aspects of the Labor Party's policy on mental health, which derives not only from the Minister, the department and various members of Parliament but also from people outside the parliamentary system and the official health system, including, for example, trade union people, who have a strong input into Labor Party policy. Page 55 of the 1996-97 Labor Party policy states:
The process of developing new mental health legislation which commenced under the Wran Labor Government has been long and difficult. There is a need to monitor, and where appropriate, amend existing legislation. A Labor Government will maintain the Mental Health Act Monitoring and Implementation Committee to ensure that difficulties are dealt with as they arise.
Hence this bill is in accordance with what the Labor Party as a whole and the Labor movement both inside and outside the Parliament are interested in and want to achieve for the benefit of the people of New South Wales. With regard to official visitors the Labor Party policy states:
The New South Wales ALP will review the system of official visitors to mental health services in consultation with consumers, carers and professionals. Where appropriate, the powers of the official visitors will be strengthened.
New section 228 of the Mental Health Act deals with the appointment of official visitors. The 1990 Act appointed official visitors to hospitals. The amendment will result in the appointment of a panel of official visitors to area health services, which will ensure greater flexibility in arranging visits to gazetted units in an area. New section 230 relates to inspection of hospitals. Patients living under community treatment and community counselling orders will now be able to access official visitors. At the same time, it is important to address the practical difference between the operation of a hospital, where patients are subject to substantial interference with their rights and wishes - being involuntarily detained in institutionalised care generally for periods of a few days or weeks - and health care agencies responsible for administering orders of three months to six months for persons who are not otherwise subject to restraint and who live in the community. Therefore, a requirement for less frequent visits will permit a proper balance and reflect the practical differences in hospitals and health care agencies. New section 234 deals with a request by a patient or other person to see an official visitor. A period of time is allowed in which a request by a patient to see an official visitor must be met. Currently the Act sets out a seven-day period. The amendment will reduce this to two days, which
is a more appropriate and meaningful time frame for patients.
Schedule 1.5 inserts new clause 3A of schedule 5 to the Act, relating to the suspension of office of an official visitor. Currently an official visitor can be removed from office if that person becomes a mentally incapacitated person. The official visitors program is a consumer advocacy program with a large number of appointees being consumers of mental health services. Some of these appointees may, from time to time, have a relapse of their illness which makes them mentally incapacitated for a short period of time. The current provisions completely remove such individuals from their official visitor appointment, irrespective of the length or nature of their illness. The amendment will preserve their appointments, simply suspending them from their official visitor status for the period of the mental incapacity. Honourable members would agree that is a progressive amendment. The Labor Party policy manual states:
The New South Wales ALP recognises that many persons with a mental illness or psychiatric disability are currently and inappropriately held within the New South Wales prison system. Management of persons with a mental illness or psychiatric disability should be outside the goal system where possible.
Amendments contained in the bill change the way in which forensic patients are to be treated. The Opposition has expressed disagreement with one or two aspects, but it is worth noting that by and large these changes have the support of most of those involved in mental health care, who recognise that changes need to be made. Removal of the words "strict custody" in section 101 is cognate to an amendment to section 39 of the Mental Health (Criminal Procedure) Act which removes the requirement that a person found not guilty on the grounds of mental illness be held in strict custody until such time as his or her case has been assessed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal. This change means that following a court finding the courts will now have greater flexibility in determining whether a person is held in a hospital or a prison pending the outcome of a review by the Mental Health Review Tribunal of his or her care and treatment needs. That greater flexibility is important to the freedom of patients.
I turn to the definition of mental illness, which is being widened. Most speakers in the debate have accepted that the widening of the definition will enable more people who are in need of care to receive that care. The amended definition deletes the word "physical" from the phrase "serious physical harm"; removes the distinction between bipolar disorders and schizophrenia; and clarifies the meaning of "continuing condition" as used in section 9 of the Act. There is strong support for this amendment, as it reforms the narrow definition of mental illness. The kind of harm taken into account for the purpose of determining whether a person should be detained as a mentally ill person will be widened to include personal harm, harm to relationships and financial harm. It will also enable the detention of persons whose condition is likely to deteriorate, another important matter to come out of the review process and the ongoing review by the monitoring committee.
One other matter that has been a little controversial concerns the amendment to section 24, which relates to detention after apprehension by the police. The Act will be amended to remove the limitation that prevents the police from taking a person directly to hospital unless he or she is found in a public place. As have other members who have spoken in the debate, I have had reported to me by my constituents incidents in which people in desperate need of being taken in for health care were not able to be taken to hospital because of the previous restriction. On balance, this amendment will in the long run be better for the health of people. It really does not extend police powers, in that under common law police have the right to enter premises if they believe that a criminal offence has been, is being or is about to be committed.
The amended section 24 will have the same test, but will simply vary what police can do after the person is detained. Rather than the police being required to take such people to the cells, with a psychiatric examination occurring after an application to a magistrate, the amendment will allow the person with a mental illness to be taken directly to a hospital. This change will have a positive impact on the quality of care for persons suffering from a mental illness, and it will be supported by guidelines to be developed by the Department of Health and the Police Service. In conclusion, I express the thanks of Government members to those who made submissions - about 100 in all - on the discussion draft last year. I repeat my congratulations to the Minister and my thanks to Opposition and Independent members for their overall support for the amendments.
Mr JEFFERY (Oxley) [12.45 p.m.]: My contribution to the debate will be brief, but it would be remiss of me not to say a few words about the bill. Whilst in the main I support this bill, I have concerns about some of its amendments, particularly those relating to the release of forensic patients. The Minister for Health will be aware that I have made many representations to him in his time as Minister and to the former Minister for Health, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It was under the direction
of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the process for this legislation began. Changes to the present legislation are needed, but I am concerned in regard to the release of forensic patients.
It is obvious that the Minister for Health understands, as I do, the need for changes to be made to our mental health legislation. I have attended a meeting of the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill, ARAFMI, in the Nambucca Valley and meetings with groups in the Macleay Valley, which heightened my recognition of the need for change. I must admit that before I became a member of Parliament I did not realise the extent of mental illness in the community and the effects of mental illness on a patient's family and friends. I was so moved by the meetings that I asked my wife, Margaret, to attend one with me. The community generally does not understand the effects of mental illness on a sufferer's family and close ones. Attending those meetings gave me a better understanding of what people wanted in the way of legislative change and what they wanted of their local members of Parliament.
The introduction of changes to the legislation is welcome but it is important to recognise the need to commit increased funds to mental health. The honourable member for Manly told the House that at the moment the cost of mental illness to society is about 16 per cent of the cost of all illnesses and that the percentage is increasing. It is my understanding, however, that mental health funding comprises less than 10 per cent of the total health budget. That would appear to constitute an imbalance, and may perhaps relate to a lack of awareness of mental health issues on the part of the general community. We must remember that those in society who can help themselves the least often need the most assistance. I implore the Minister to review his budget. It is important that the public recognises the need to support mental health care. People will always point to other priorities, but money spent on mental health care is well spent and gives a return to the community. As the honourable member for Manly pointed out, by the year 2020 mental illness will account for the highest illness cost to society.
In the past there have been instances in which the Attorney General has successfully asked the tribunal to reconsider the release of a forensic patient. I have great concerns about the amendments concerning the release of forensic patients. One lass made representations to me concerning the release of a forensic patient. She had been notified of the impending release of the patient only at the last minute. The advice given to that girl by a psychiatrist was that she should leave the State or her home. I was outraged by that case and at the time made representations on the girl's behalf. I am neither a psychiatrist nor a mental health professional, but I took the step of asking the Attorney General, the Minister for Health and the authorities to consider the potential danger to my constituent. Fortunately, the correct decision was made, which demonstrates the necessity for the retention of this provision.
The amendments to be made by schedule 1.2 detail the occasions on which the Attorney General is to be notified. I recall what the Minister had to say in his second reading speech and what the Premier and others have said about victims' rights. This inconsistency in the bill must be cleared up now; it will be too late after the legislation has been proclaimed. Strong concerns have been expressed about this provision. I admit that the legislation has some excellent provisions, but I am concerned about this particular proposal. I hope the Minister takes my concerns on board and ensures that the matter is spelled out clearly to avoid any misunderstanding.
We have all seen what has happened with other legislation which seemed to mean one thing but which when proclaimed meant something else. Reference was made earlier to police powers. Police must have the power to detain mentally ill persons in places other than public places. Reference was also made earlier to the fact that, under common law, police have the right to enter any premises if they believe that a criminal offence is being committed, has been committed or is about to be committed. This provision, which provides the same test, varies what the police can do after an offender is detained. In the past police would take an offender to the police station on the application of a magistrate. However, the proposed amendment will enable police to refer a person directly to a hospital. That commonsense provision is in the best interests of patients requiring urgent treatment.
The bill makes the maximum duration of community orders consistent with the length of community counselling orders. Other speakers in this debate said that the present three-month period was too short and that the period should be extended to six months. If all honourable members took an interest in mental illness, they would have a better understanding of its impact, in terms of cost and personal trauma, on relatives and society. If we make better the plight of those with a mental illness, we will be regarded as members of a caring Parliament. It is up to us all to get such a message across and break down the barriers in our community. The Minister, who I know is keen on education programs, could succeed in this regard by obtaining the necessary funding to match the Government's commitment. In general, I support the bill. However, the provision relating to the release of forensic patients is flawed, and I again ask the Minister to take on board the concerns expressed by the Opposition and address that vital issue.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [12.54 p.m.], in reply: I thank all those who participated in debate on this legislation. I will respond to all the issues that were raised but first I shall respond to those that relate to the proposed amendments. Honourable members will then have an opportunity between now and when debate on this matter resumes to consider the issues. The original Act required the publication in the Government Gazette of every appointment and reappointment of a director of a health care agency. That included cases in which directors were on leave or otherwise absent.
Unless an appointment was published, a process taking at least several days, a health care agency could not fulfil all its obligations in relation to community orders. The director of a health care agency had a pivotal obligation under the Act to include approval of treatment plans, which form the basis of community orders. These requirements raised considerable problems particularly where sudden and unexpected absences of directors occurred. Without the availability of an officer community orders simply could not be renewed and new clients accepted. The continuation of the treatment and care of patients under community treatment orders was also jeopardised.
In response to these concerns amendments were made by the previous Government, pursuant to the statute law revision program, with the intention of removing the requirement of the publication of appointments and reappointments. Unfortunately, the amendments, as drafted by the previous Government, did not have the intended effect. They addressed only part of the problem of publishing appointments, leaving the secondary requirement of publishing reappointments. This Government is addressing what the former Government's statute law amending legislation failed to address. The Opposition should withdraw its amendment; this proposed amendment is in line with what the coalition intended to introduce some years ago.
Of more serious note is the concern raised by the Opposition about the loss of executive discretion in the release of forensic patients. I say at the outset that this Government does not intend to lose executive discretion in the release of forensic patients. Discussions between the honourable member for North Shore and others appear to have convinced the honourable member that executive discretion was being removed. While this legislation was being debated I asked Parliamentary Counsel to provide written advice as to how that executive discretion is being maintained. Honourable members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the removal of executive discretion, so it is only fair that I allow the Opposition time to look through the advice that I have received from Parliamentary Counsel. I will ensure that the advisers who have been talking with Opposition members are able to be contacted so that they can work through that issue.
When this Government came to office New South Wales had the worst funding for mental health services of all the States. In fact, we were way behind other States. That situation did not eventuate overnight. Past State governments spent more money, but often not were it was most needed. The present Government has targeted funding more satisfactorily. The Government, since coming to office, has significantly increased the mental health budget and it intends to continue to do so. Obviously, I cannot give details of budget deliberations until the budget is brought down, but there is no doubt that this Government has a commitment to mental health funding.
The honourable member for Oxley referred to the need for a mental illness education program and asked what was happening in that regard. The Government has put in a certain amount of effort but it is accepted that there is an important national approach to this problem. Unfortunately, the Howard Government's funding cuts to the health budget have impacted on and resulted in cuts to the mental health budget and, in particular, the planned education program. I ask the honourable member for Oxley to join me and others - I know that many Opposition members -
Mr Jeffery: I know where we can get $72,000.
Dr REFSHAUGE: We will need a lot more than $72,000.
Mr Jeffery: It's a start.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for Oxley would do better to talk to his Federal colleagues, as I know some of his colleagues have done, and ask them not to cut the mental health budget. I again thank all those members who participated in this debate. It is obvious that mental illness is now taken much more seriously by members of Parliament than it has in the past. These days people talk with pride about the needs of those with mental illnesses. I hope that will continue in the future for the benefit of our society.
Debate adjourned on motion, by leave, by Dr Refshauge.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Clough) left the chair at 1.00 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of a number of electorate officers. I welcome them to the Parliament.
JURY AMENDMENT BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
PROTECTIVE SECURITY RESPONSE GROUP
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [2.17 p.m.]: After disturbing evidence of corruption, rorts and other unprofessional practices, on 12 March this year the special branch was disbanded and all its files secured. The Government and the royal commissioner supported Commissioner Ryan's actions. To put it simply, special branch is dead and the Government will not allow it to be resurrected. The Government will not approve a special branch under a new name. The commissioner has advised that a new unit, the protective security response group, has been established, but the unit currently exists in name only - it has no staff, no office and no operational role.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will wait until the House comes to order. This is a ministerial statement and the Opposition will have an opportunity to respond.
Mr WHELAN: The whole process was always expected to take many months. That is why interim arrangements were put in place to undertake the necessary functions of the former special branch, functions such as ongoing VIP security. Let me state clearly that no new unit will be operational until the Government decides what role such a unit should have. The Government wants Commissioner Ryan to get on with the job of reforming the Police Service. It has confidence in his capacity to get the job done. Post-royal commission, the public expects the whole Police Service to be accountable, not just its component parts. However, the Government recognises that higher standards should apply to any unit with unusual functions. That is, any such unit requires an even higher level of scrutiny than most.
The Government wants independent oversight of any new unit. I have already taken steps to investigate how this can be done. Yesterday I met with the Police Integrity Commissioner, Judge Urquhart. I asked him to examine his existing statutory role and functions and to report to me as a matter of urgency on what role the Police Integrity Commission could play in monitoring and/or auditing the functions and operations of any new Police Service unit. The Government will await Judge Urquhart's advice before examining other possible options. In the meantime, I have informed Commissioner Ryan that the unit is not to become operational until the issue of independent oversight is conclusively resolved and the royal commissioner delivers his final report. To put it again simply, special branch is dead, and the Government will not allow it to be resurrected.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [2.20 p.m.]: Whatever the Minister for Police might say, it is quite plain that special branch in a new form was re-established no later than 7 April 1997. That much appears very plainly on page 15 of the Police Service weekly of 7 April 1997, which contains an expression of interest document for the protective security response group and states that the protective security response group has been established. Minister, the words "has been established" are in the past tense. That happened less than three weeks after the original special branch was disbanded and after the police commissioner made it plain that interim arrangements were already in place for VIP security, Olympic security and every sort of security and interim arrangement that special branch was required to undertake. No doubt the new unit was set up, but what staggers me is that the Minister did not have the courtesy to inform all the people in New South Wales, including the Hon. Meredith Burgmann and others who have genuine concerns about the special branch, that the unit had been again set up.
No, it was buried in the bottom of the Police Service weekly. The Minister is not on top of his portfolio. Who is running the Police Service? The Opposition states clearly that these matters are and should be for the Government. They are policy matters, not operational matters. The Opposition exposed this from the Police Service weekly. Frankly, this Minister does not know what is going on within his Police Service or within his portfolio. The Opposition has to read the Police Service weekly to find out what is going on. The Minister is a disgrace, he does not know what is going on. The Opposition members say that this has to be done upfront, out in the open, in conjunction with the royal commission and following royal commission reports being made public. That is the proper order of proceedings; this is back to front, upside down, like everything else the Minister does.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan, agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow:
(1) general business notice of motion (general notice) No. 82 to have precedence on Thursday, 17 April 1997; and
(2) the moving of a further motion to reorder a general business notice of motion to follow notice No. 82 on Thursday, 17 April 1997.
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, Mr Brogden, Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Cruickshank, Mr Debnam, Mr Ellis, Ms Ficarra, Mr Fraser, Mr Glachan, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Dr Kernohan, Mr Kerr, Mr Kinross, Mr MacCarthy, Mr Merton, Mr Oakeshott, Mr O'Doherty, Mr D. L. Page, Mr Phillips, Mr Photios, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Mr Schultz, Ms Seaton, Mrs Skinner, Mr Slack-Smith, Mr Smith and Mr Tink.
Petition praying that Ryde Hospital and its services be retained, received from Mr Tink.
Petition praying that Kiama remain part of the Warilla police district, and that all police officers presently stationed at Kiama police station be retained, received from Mr Harrison.
Taree and Old Bar Policing
Petitions praying that adequate police be provided for Taree, that forward planning be undertaken for a police station at Old Bar and that the Old Bar police patrol be increased, received from Mr Oakeshott and Mr J. H. Turner.
Pennant Hills Policing
Petition praying that the Pennant Hills patrol not be closed and that the police resources available to the Pennant Hills patrol be increased, received from Mr O'Farrell.
Petition praying that the position of Inspector at Bega police station is maintained and that the Bega police patrol is not downgraded, received from Mr Smith.
Petition praying that the community policing centre in Railway Parade, Guildford, be manned twenty-four hours a day, received from Mr Yeadon.
Gosford and Wyong Shires Water and Sewerage Service
Petition praying that the present administration of water and sewerage supply by Gosford and Wyong shires be retained, received from Mr McBride.
Hassall Grove Traffic Calming
Petition praying for the installation of traffic calming devices in Colebee Crescent and Buckwell Drive, Hassall Grove, received from Mr Gibson.
Lithgow Water Quality
Petition praying for additional funding to improve water quality in the areas supplied by the Fish River supply, received from Mr Clough.
Perry Park, Alexandria
Petition praying that the proposed development of an indoor basketball centre in Perry Park, Alexandria, be opposed, and that the park be retained as an open and public area, received from Mrs Grusovin.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Postponement of Business
Motion by Mr J. H. Turner agreed to:
That business with precedence notice of motion No. 1 be postponed until tomorrow.
Motion by Mr J. H. Turner agreed to:
That business with precedence notice of motion No. 2 be postponed until tomorrow.
REORDERING OF GENERAL BUSINESS
Lakemba Electorate Street Prostitution
Mr STEWART (Lakemba) [2.37 p.m.]: I move:
That general business notice of motion (general notice) No. 74 have precedence on Thursday, 17 April 1997.
The motion should have precedence because illegal street prostitution is a matter of critical public importance not only to the community in the Lakemba electorate but to the wider community in New South Wales. This problem is certainly being looked at by this Government. I am pleased to report that the essence of this motion congratulates the Carr Labor Government for addressing this concern, unlike the Liberal coalition that for seven years neglected the streets of Lakemba and left the residents for dead and the children to pick up -
Mr Cochran: On a point of order. The member is required to address the issue, which is
one of urgency. He is deviating from the sessional orders and I ask you to direct him to the question before the Chair.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The notice of motion relates to illegal street prostitution along Canterbury Road and surrounding areas. The member was addressing the reordering of the notice of motion.
Mr STEWART: Honourable members should be concerned about illegal street prostitution because of its ramifications for the wider community. It affects residential amenity; it creates low-level crime and drug problems; and, most importantly, as a sex industry operating within an unregulated environment it creates huge concerns about HIV infection. That should be of concern to everyone, though obviously not to some members of the Opposition. They would like to allow an unregulated sex industry to take place, in the face of community concern, without government control.
Through Operation Crystals, the Government is successfully dealing with this problem. I applaud what the Government is doing. This motion should have precedence because it highlights how important it is to deal with outbreaks of HIV infection resulting from illegal street prostitution, unregulated sex industries that create these problems and, importantly, the exploitation of prostitutes, who are involved in a vicious cycle. They are often involved in drug addiction. Recently, concern was expressed publicly about a 15-year-old girl who was twice arrested on the streets of Belmore for prostituting herself. Thank goodness Operation Crystals was in place. Thank goodness the State has a police Minister who is concerned not only about the needs of the Lakemba electorate but also about dealing with the victims of this problem. That is what this police operation is dealing with. I note that Operation Crystals is now spreading to other parts of New South Wales, including - [Time expired.]
Wallis Lake Oyster Contamination
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [2.40 p.m.]: I move:
That general business notice of motion (general notice) No. 81 have precedence on Thursday, 17 April 1997.
This motion is important because it gives an opportunity for the Minister for the Environment to explain her behaviour to the people of New South Wales. It gives her the opportunity to let honourable members know why she attacked the oyster industry at Wallis Lake, why she attacked Great Lakes Council, why she threatened a $1 million fine, why she threatened $125,000 fines to individual officers and why she destroyed the industry overnight with her bully-boy tactics. The history of this Minister in regard to Wallis Lake and the destruction of the seafood industry in New South Wales is a litany of incompetence. The House deserves an opportunity to fully debate how and why the Minister went about the destruction of the oyster industry, why she destroyed the seafood industry and why, within 24 hours of her threat to impose a $1 million fine, she had a briefing in her hand from the Environment Protection Authority telling her that she had got it wrong. Has she apologised? No. Has she said anything to the people of New South Wales? No. The Minister for the Environment may laugh but this is an extremely serious matter. The Opposition now knows that by 28 February, two days after she made her allegations, the Premier would not back her up. He could not be seen for smoke; he was gone. A few weeks later the Minister for Land and Water Conservation refused to back her up. He said, "We do not know where the pollution has come from." The Minister is still saying, "We are going to attack you and fine you $1 million."
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Illawarra will cease interjecting.
Mr HAZZARD: A $45 million industry has been destroyed by this Minister overnight. [Time expired.]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Attorney General has written to me about this matter as follows:
It is my understanding that the Opposition may wish to raise questions canvassing the views of one or more Ministers responsible for the actions of the various agencies relating to the contamination of Wallis Lake oysters.
I am advised that a large number of persons who contracted Hepatitis A, allegedly as a result of eating Wallis Lake oysters, have commenced proceedings in the Federal Court. The action is against the relevant Council, the oyster farmers and processors.
Insofar as the debate might seek to canvass the actions of any of the parties involved in the proceedings, I am of the view that the matter would constitute a breach of the sub judice rule. Further, to debate possible culpability by other governmental agencies would traverse the issue of responsibility for the contamination of the water in Wallis Lake which is the very issue before the Court. As the Council or any other party may conceivably wish to join such agencies as defendants in the proceedings, it is equally inappropriate, in my view, for any such debate to proceed pending resolution of the matters in issue before the Court.
The House should, in my respectful view, take care to ensure that any discussion of the general issues does not touch, directly or by inference, the matters with which the proceedings are concerned.
JW Shaw QC, MLC
For the House's edification I allowed the member to proceed with this matter. I did not want to stifle debate because it was basically a matter of whether his motion should receive precedence. I draw the attention of the House to the limitations as advised to me by the Attorney General, if this matter should come before the House.
Mr Clough: On a point of order. It was my intention to raise a two-pronged point of order. You have already dealt with the first aspect. The second aspect is that I recommend that the House nominate the honourable member for Wakehurst for an academy award.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr Collins: Mr Speaker, with regard to the letter you received from the Attorney General, I acknowledge that you allowed the matter raised by the honourable member for Wakehurst to proceed. The Opposition certainly agrees with that course of action.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wyong to order.
Mr Collins: The matters raised by the Attorney General in his letter would certainly extend the sub judice rule as it has been understood by this Parliament. Should the Attorney wish to extend the sub judice rule, that should be done through the Standing Orders and Procedure Committee because we on this side of the House acknowledge that criminal proceedings which are currently under way should not be interfered with. That rule has been rigorously upheld by you and by former Speakers and it is a rule which the Opposition would seek not to infringe. However, in this instance the Attorney General has referred to civil action in the Federal Court of Australia. As I understood the Attorney's letter to you, no Minister or New South Wales Government department is a party to those proceedings. Therefore, I consider that the Attorney General is drawing an extremely long bow in seeking to extend the sub judice rule to proceedings which do not, to the best of my knowledge, currently involve any Government Minister or any New South Wales Government department. The Opposition reserves the right to rigorously challenge matters that are before a civil court but which do not involve a jury or a criminal charge.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will not hear further on that issue. The House has advice from the Attorney General but the House makes its own decisions. I am obliged to read to the House correspondence which relates to that matter, and I have done so.
Question - That the notice of motion of Mr Stewart be reordered - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Carr Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Rumble
Mrs Grusovin Mr Scully
Ms Hall Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knight Mr Whelan
Mr Knowles Mr Woods
Mr Langton Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr Oakeshott
Mr Beck Mr O'Doherty
Mr Blackmore Mr O'Farrell
Mr Brogden Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Cochran Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Downy Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Ms Seaton
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kinross Mr R. W. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Ms Moore Mr Kerr
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Slack-Smith
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Mr CARR: I advise honourable members that during the absence of the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women I will answer questions relating to her portfolios.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
BUS DRIVER ASSAULTS
Mr COLLINS: My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Does a State Transit document dated 7 April on bus safety show that only one in 10 assaults on bus drivers is reported to police? Does that mean that when the Minister advised the House last week that there were six assaults on bus drivers in March, he really meant there were in fact 60?
Mr LANGTON: The first point to be made about the document that was referred to last week, the document that the member for Ermington was waving around on television on Friday night, is that it is not and was not a secret or elite document.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister's reply will be heard in silence.
Mr LANGTON: In fact, the document was sent by the Australian Services Union representative on the Transport Safety Advisory Committee, Mr George Panigiris, for listing on the agenda of the committee's next meeting. The only thing this memo exposes is that the Government has been working for a long time to find solutions to the problems of bus driver safety.
Mr Collins: On a point of order. The Minister seems to be confused about the document dated 7 April to which I referred in my question. I am happy to make the document available to the Minister to solve that confusion.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr LANGTON: That clearly shows that we are an open Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members who continue to interject will be called to order.
Mr LANGTON: The Transport Safety Advisory Committee has representatives of government and private transport operators; consumers; employees, including the Public Transport Union and the Australian Services Union; and police and community groups such as parents and citizens associations. Safety and security issues are openly discussed. They are put on the agenda for discussion because we have nothing to hide.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr LANGTON: The Government is about improving the safety of bus drivers and of people who travel on public transport.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr LANGTON: The Government is happy for all that to be made public. The other point that needs to be made is that the document lists every type of incident. The other day the honourable member for Ermington was so keen to show these figures and to create a scare campaign that he chose not to show that the incidents reported related to all incidents. In fact, a large number of the incidents related to objects being thrown at the outside of buses.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order.
Mr LANGTON: The member for Ermington clearly tried to suggest in the most deceitful fashion that the figures related to assaults on bus drivers. They did not, and they do not. I am advised that the figures I provided to the House last week are recorded incidents in relation to occupational health and safety, and I am advised that they are and were correct.
CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE BY TEACHERS
Mr STEWART: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Education and Training. What further action has the Government taken to protect children in our schools following receipt of the second Slattery report?
Mr AQUILINA: Only last week I warned an Opposition member of this House not to interfere in the investigation involving the 37 teachers removed from New South Wales classrooms. Former judge Mr John Slattery has recommended that those 37 teachers remain out of the classroom until investigations are complete. I did not reveal the identity of the honourable member concerned as I
did not want to identify the school or the victim. But on Monday I received a second letter from the office of the honourable member, as well as a phone call from his electorate staff. The member may want to defend a constituent but I cautioned him and his staff to let the investigation take its course.
Last week I announced a range of new measures to ensure the protection of children in our schools. Today I can announce that the Government has received the second report from former Supreme Court judge Mr John Slattery concerning the 106 teachers, a figure later increased to 107, mentioned in the royal commission as being monitored in the classroom because of allegations of improper conduct. It is inappropriate to release Mr Slattery's report as it may publicly identify teachers and students. Mr Slattery has found no grounds on which to remove the 107 teachers, who remain in the classroom at this stage. Further, he recommends that 78 of them should be monitored and reports on their conduct and behaviour obtained.
Mr Hartcher: Secret police, special branch.
Mr Carr: Idiot!
Mr AQUILINA: The Premier is right. The honourable member for Gosford is an idiot; he does not know what he is talking about. I have directed that all 107 teachers be interviewed by the new chief investigator of the case management unit, Glenys Parry Blackadder, and her team. I have also directed that if there is sufficient or new evidence to indicate unacceptable risk to any student, the Department of School Education will immediately remove that teacher. As for the 78 teachers to be monitored, the Department of School Education has been directed to obtain monthly reports from principals on the teachers' behaviour. The reports are to go directly to the new chief investigator of the case management unit and her team. Again, Mr Slattery has been critical of the department's management of files in relation to these cases, which date back to 1972. In particular, he noted the poor state of departmental files and, in some instances, an absence of necessary records.
One reason for the poor file keeping was the longstanding practice of the department which permitted the destruction of records of unproven allegations. Last week, in the presence of the Governor, I amended the regulation under the Teaching Services Act to permit records of unproven allegations to be kept confidentially by the case management unit. I have also directed the department to clean up and audit all of its file management processes relating to allegations of sexual misconduct. That process is to be independently and externally audited by the recognised child protection expert and former member of the New South Wales Child Protection Council, Ms Jan Shier. I repeat: these measures are interim until the royal commission reports on its paedophilia reference on 30 June.
BUS DRIVER ASSAULTS
Mr PHOTIOS: My question is directed to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. Was State Transit bus driver Barry Hook, in his fifth attack, robbed, bashed and stabbed with a blood-filled syringe on his bus at Bankstown last year? Was pressure applied by State Transit management to wind up counselling sessions, despite doctors' concerns that Mr Hook was suffering a severe case of post-traumatic stress?
Mr LANGTON: There is no doubt that such incidents are the worst kind of crime. The trauma is ongoing and the fear of a deadly infection compounds the actual assault. In recognition of the severe nature of this kind of crime, harsher penalties were introduced by the Parliament in 1991. I am advised by the State Transit Authority that the bus operator concerned was held up by a person armed with a syringe that was apparently filled with blood; that his cash tray was stolen and in the scuffle he was stabbed with the needle. This is a tragic incident, as the bus operator suffered not only the assault but also the anxiety that the syringe injury could result in his contracting HIV.
I am advised that the State Transit Authority immediately organised trauma counselling, including HIV counselling. I am further advised that the bus operator has been found to be clear of any HIV infection, though understandably he remains stressed. I understand that on his doctor's orders he was working only morning shifts and he is still undergoing trauma counselling. The State Transit Authority further advises me that the bus operator is currently on stress leave. the STA assures me that it will continue to do all it can to assist the bus operator to deal with the trauma and anxiety caused as a result of the assault, including providing ongoing counselling.
Mr Photios: On a point of order. My question related to the pressure applied by the State Transit Authority, outrageous pressure applied by State Transit -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr LANGTON: I am not sure whether honourable members were listening to the John Laws radio program yesterday, but for the benefit of any who were not I quote from the transcript:
John Laws: You're a grub, Michael, aren't you?
John Laws went on to describe the honourable member for Ermington as an ego-riddled, ineffectual, power-hungry, manipulative politician.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. If the Minister is going to read a quote from the John Laws program, could he also read what John Laws had to say about the Minister for Education and Training? That was extremely edifying and everybody would love to hear it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr Kerr: On a point of order. The Minister is bound by Standing Order 138. The honourable member for Ermington did not interject; he is not entitled to be responded to. The Minister should resume his answer to the question that was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr LANGTON: In relation to the question asked by the honourable member for Ermington, if there are any concerns whatsoever about the response of the State Transit Authority to Mr Hook. they will be referred to the Ombudsman for investigation, as part of her current inquiry into the State Transit Authority. The House should be aware that the Government is actively working to improve bus driver safety and passenger security. It is working to implement important measures recommended by safety specialists in March 1996, including security awareness, training for bus drivers, increased police patrols of buses, enhanced security-incident reports to improve police intelligence and response to security incidents, and crime prevention audits of known trouble spots.
REDFERN LAW AND ORDER
Mrs GRUSOVIN: I ask the Minister for Police what effective measures the Government has put in place to curb problems in the Redfern area.
Mr WHELAN: The Carr Government is taking a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to addressing the needs of the Redfern community. It is determined to reduce crime and improve living conditions in the Redfern area. However, given the tortuous history of police-Aboriginal relations in Redfern, it must be recognised that there needs to be sensitivity in the policing of this community. It will take time. Honourable members will recall that police commissioner Ryan chaired an historic Redfern community safety summit on 24 January. This followed community concerns about the increase in the number and the seriousness of offences committed in Redfern. Representatives from the Redfern community, government agencies, Aboriginal groups and police attended.
Today I am pleased to announce that much progress has been made. But I must say that the Government recognises that there is still much to be done. The local Commander, Kevin Rafferty, has advised me that crime in Redfern has fallen sharply since the summit. For example, stealing from people has decreased by 61 per cent; assaults have decreased by 22 per cent; break, enter and steal offences have decreased by 18 per cent; robberies have decreased by 52 per cent; and drug detection has increased by 28 per cent. Thirteen additional police, including five Aboriginal officers, have been assigned to the Redfern patrol since 28 January.
On 17 February this year an additional six probationary constables were transferred to the Redfern patrol. Foot patrols in Redfern have increased, and police are maintaining a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week presence on the streets to combat crime. Two Aboriginal liaison officers attached to Redfern patrol are effectively improving liaison between police and the community. These measures have led to impressive results. Under this Government, police will continue to work with other departments to combat crime and improve community safety for all residents.
Mr Debnam: Hardly!
Mr WHELAN: Police are working closely with local government.
Mr Debnam: I said, hardly.
Mr WHELAN: What would the honourable member for Vaucluse know? One of the best examples of community-based policing was achieved by this Government, through the Council on Crime Prevention, giving $150,000 to Waverley Council to work with the local police and local groups in Bondi to reduce crime in Bondi. And what did the honourable member for Vaucluse do about that? He did nothing, not one thing. The result in Bondi was outstanding, yet the local member contributed nothing to it - nothing whatsoever. In the year before last there were 45 police calls to Bondi. Last year, as a result of the Government's initiative and its funding of the Council on Crime Prevention, there were no arrests in Bondi. This local member -
Mr Kerr: On a point of order. The House would be interested if this exchange were interrupted by the answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister was responding to an interjection. He has made his point and should return to his answer.
Mr WHELAN: As honourable members would know, the measures taken in Redfern have achieved impressive results. Under this Government the police will continue to work with government
departments to combat crime and improve community safety for all residents. Police are also working closely with local government. South Sydney City Council has removed a speed hump and pedestrian crossing at the top of Eveleigh Street that was being used by offenders to interrupt the safe passage of motorists. This is but one interagency forum in which the Police Service is involved, designed to find solutions for the underlying social problems in Redfern. Another is the Redfern-Waterloo Community Development Committee. I established that committee in August 1996 to review approaches to policing in Redfern.
The committee is chaired by the honourable member for Heffron, who deserves great credit for actively bringing together previously disparate forces in a combined and concerted approach to longstanding problems. The committee has identified, and will continue to address, key social and law enforcement issues affecting the quality of life of all Redfern residents. A specific concern has been the South Sydney Police and Community Youth Club, which has been doing excellent work with Redfern youth. I am pleased to announce that I have provided from my ministerial discretionary fund $6,000 for the South Sydney PCYC to support an educational and diversionary program for young people. Local police are actively participating in the committee. Commissioner Ryan agrees that there needs to be firm policing of criminal behaviour - a stand backed by the Carr Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order.
Mr WHELAN: Unlawful activity, whether it be in Redfern or any other suburb, will not be tolerated.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Gordon on three calls to order.
Mr WHELAN: The Carr Government has acted quickly to resolve those issues, which can be dealt with immediately. Indeed, today the Government, through the crime prevention division of the Attorney General's Department, allocated $78,000 for a program to help young Aboriginal offenders in south Sydney. The Koori justice program will offer immediate and long-term help for young Aboriginal offenders, particularly those already in the juvenile justice system. The program will run special counselling groups and camps to work with young people and their families to break the cycle and reduce offending. The Carr Government will continue to explore ways to prevent crime and to improve community safety in Redfern. The Government has started, but it will take some time.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT SAFETY
Mr O'FARRELL: My question without notice is to the Minister for Transport. In light of the cases of driver assaults raised in this House, will the Minister now institute an independent review of bus driver and passenger safety?
Mr LANGTON: I have outlined to this House on a number of occasions the action this Government is taking as a result of assaults on bus drivers, which include many incidents that happened long before the last State election. However, the Government is still picking up the pieces of debris left over when Labor took office.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Cronulla to order.
Mr LANGTON: The Carr Government will continue, with independent experts, to ensure that public transport is as safe as possible for passengers and drivers. If there are any concerns about the way any of those matters have been handled, they will be investigated by the Ombudsman.
BONDI BEACH RAIL LINK
Mr NAGLE: My question without notice is to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. What progress has been made on the proposed Bondi Beach rail link?
Mr LANGTON: Honourable members would be aware that in December last year this Government invited expressions of interest from the private sector to build a rail link to Bondi Beach. Basically the project would require a three kilometre extension of the eastern suburbs rail line, which was opened by the Wran Government in 1979.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much interjection by Opposition members.
Mr LANGTON: Studies undertaken in 1993 by the State Rail Authority reveal that it is technically feasible to have a tunnel from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach with an underground station at the southern end of the beach. The eastern suburbs railway has proven to be one of the most popular people movers in the country, largely due to its proximity to the Sydney central business district and to high density development around the Bondi Junction major regional centre. Of course, Sydney is one of the few major cities in the world that can claim an internationally famous beach on its doorstep. Unobtrusive and sympathetic design will therefore be essential considerations in assessing these proposals.
In inviting expressions of interest the Government sought proposals that were at nil net
cost to the taxpayer and did not restrict the operation of current or future bus services in the Bondi Beach area. The closing date for expressions of interest was 4 April. The Government has received two submissions, one from Transfield and another from a consortium of Lend Lease infrastructure and the Macquarie Bank. Rail Access Corporation has commenced a stringent evaluation process of both proposals to consider financial, technical and environmental criteria among other things. I am advised that the evaluations are expected to be completed by July.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time. I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the first time.
Mr LANGTON: If it proves to be financially, environmentally and practically feasible, the proposed rail link should provide much needed relief to traffic congestion along Bondi Road and Campbell Parade. I look forward to keeping the House advised of any further developments on this project.
LAKE COWAL GOLDMINE DOCUMENTATION
Mr ARMSTRONG: My question without notice is to the Minister for Mineral Resources. In view of the unanimous Court of Appeal ruling that the Government should table documents relating to the decision to block the Lake Cowal gold mine, will the Minister now table those documents so that the real reasons for denying North Limited's proposal are finally made public?
Mr MARTIN: I do not have those documents. The Leader of the National Party should ask his question of the appropriate Minister.
LANE COVE RIVER NATIONAL PARK CARAVAN PARK
Mr WATKINS: What is the Minister for the Environment doing to assist long-term residents of Easts Van Village in Lane Cove River National Park?
Ms ALLAN: I thank the honourable member for Gladesville for his question on behalf of his constituents. I bring to the attention of this House a situation that has caused enormous grief to a group of battlers living at this caravan park in Lane Cove River National Park. Of course, the former Government allowed an unscrupulous caravan park operator to mislead these men and women. The residents invested their life savings in mobile homes located within the park even though the operator knew they had no right to be there. Some of these people are in their eighties. They were devastated after receiving from Mr East before last Christmas a notice to vacate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Wakehurst on two calls to order.
Ms ALLAN: The lessee of Easts Van Village, Mr Phillip East, had knowingly been in breach of his lease with the National Parks and Wildlife Service for several years. When the service took action, his response was to threaten to throw many of these elderly men and women onto the streets. The honourable member for Gladesville and I were outraged at the treatment meted out to these battlers. Many of these people had occupied their caravan sites in the park for well over 10 years. I met with the residents, many of whom risked losing everything if they were forced to move immediately. I instructed the National Parks and Wildlife Service to advise Mr East to defer his eviction notice, and to meet with each caravan owner to determine the extent of personal hardship and economic impact if they were forced to leave the park.
Subsequently, National Parks and Wildlife Service officers met with 45 residents who occupied 41 separate sites within the park. Of these, 30 sites had been occupied for 10 years or less, and the remaining 11 sites had been occupied for more than 10 years. Paulette and Brian Oliver, each in their sixties, occupy a site at the caravan park. They were told 10 years ago by the caravan park operators that they could remain permanently. Consequently, the Olivers undertook extensive renovations to their van. Brian Oliver is 60 years of age and would find it difficult to get another job if he and his wife were forced to move from the caravan park. Their van is valued at approximately $52,000 and would be worth very little if they had to move. Obviously Opposition members do not care, but the Olivers were devastated, particularly as they were misled by the caravan park lessee. Enid Richardson is another resident, and she has occupied the same site in the caravan park for 44 years. She is a single parent pensioner and has no alternative accommodation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the third time.
Ms ALLAN: Yet Mr East gave an eviction notice to Mrs Richardson before last Christmas. It was not only Phillip East, a known friend of the New South Wales Liberal Party, who misled the residents; the State Opposition also played a role. The former honourable member for Gladesville - how we miss him on this side of the Chamber - encouraged Phillip East to take on additional permanent residents from the Meriton Caravan Park at North Ryde, which closed several years ago to
make way for the construction of a huge apartment complex. Of course, the honourable member for Gosford was environment Minister at the time and he also encouraged Mr East to breach his lease and the National Parks Act -
Mr Hartcher: How? Produce the documents, Pam.
Ms ALLAN: We will talk about that later, won't we, Chris?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order for the second time.
Ms ALLAN: It seems that in the past that side of the Chamber has been more concerned about the lessee of this caravan park than the long-term residents. The Government has decided to draw a line across the page and provide certainty to those residents. I am pleased to advise that I propose to permit all residents who have occupied a site for more than 10 years to remain at the caravan park indefinitely. Those who have occupied a site for less than 10 years can reside on that site until the end of 1999. I am also prepared to consider submissions on a case-by-case basis from residents who would like to remain longer. Finally, given that Mr East's lease has expired I am considering a range of options for the future management of this caravan park.
One attractive option is for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to employ a contract manager with all profits being used for the management of the national park. The service has prepared a draft business plan for the facility. The service has estimated that it can make $500,000 per year as opposed to the current $150,000 collected from Mr East. I assure the long-term residents of the caravan park that they have a home in that area for as long as they choose.
M5 EAST EXTENSION
Mr SOURIS: Is the Minister for Roads aware that on Monday, 14 April, a 34-year-old Bardwell Park resident telephoned the Premier's office and the Roads and Traffic Authority to tell them that she was about to - and later did - take an overdose of tablets because of ill health and depression caused by his M5 East plans? Given the increasing community anxiety, and environmental concerns expressed by the Environment Protection Authority, will the Minister now admit that he simply got it wrong on the M5 East?
Mr SCULLY: As the honourable member for Upper Hunter is well aware, an environmental impact statement on this matter is being prepared. The people of Bardwell Park, Arncliffe and surrounding suburbs have put strong views to me and to the Government and I am absorbing those concerns. Submissions have been made about compensation, location of stacks, location of the tunnel and how we should address those issues. It will take some time to address those matters. In the next few weeks I hope to be able to tell the House and the community whether the Government is able to address those concerns. As to the individual matter, I will be able to comment later.
M5 EAST EXTENSION
Mr SOURIS: I ask the Minister for Roads a supplementary question. Given his answer, does he have any sympathy or compassion for the woman who attempted the overdose as a result of his plans and his arrogance about the M5 East?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Leader of the National Party is totally out of order in asking a supplementary question in such a manner. On a previous occasion when he asked a supplementary question in a similar manner I warned him about his manner of questioning but allowed the question. On this occasion, given the manner in which the question was asked, I will not accept it, although technically it is in order. In future if he wishes to ask a supplementary question he should do so, and immediately resume his seat.
Mr MARKHAM: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries. What action does the Government propose to better control spearfishing in New South Wales waters?
Mr MARTIN: The honourable member for Keira is a very keen activist for the protection of our fish resources. It is only fitting that a member from the Illawarra who has taken such a keen interest in this matter should ask such a timely question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much interjection and audible conversation. If there is further interruption, members who have already been called to order will be placed on three calls to order.
Mr MARTIN: Spearfishing is a relatively small recreation in New South Wales, but very popular among its participants, many of whom belong to spearfishing clubs and attend spearfishing competitions at local, State, national and international levels. Spearfishing is undertaken exclusively in marine waters. Most spearfishing takes place along rocky coastlines and offshore islands and reefs. Today the Government is releasing a discussion paper to seek views on standardising
many different spearfishing regulations. Our long coastline provides a variety of biogeographical regions. Spearfishers undertake their sport in waters ranging from subtropical to cool temperate, in which a large variety of species is available. Spearfishers harvest a range of edible, sedentary rocky reef species, including red morwong, rock blackfish and leatherjackets. Tuna, kingfish and mulloway may be taken by the more skilled divers.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Pittwater on three calls to order.
Mr MARTIN: Spearfishers and underwater collectors may also harvest a wide range of crustaceans and molluscs, including lobsters, crabs, squid, abalone, scallops and urchins. Spearfishing is a highly selective sport because divers have the opportunity to observe the target species before capture, and they limit their by-catch.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The tolerance of the Chair is exhausted. All members who have been called to order are now deemed to be on three calls to order.
Mr MARTIN: By comparison with other commercial and recreational fishing techniques, there is a limited by-catch from spearfishing. The sport requires experience and considerable skill to effectively harvest fish, and a small number of participants suggest that their impact on the fishery resource is likely to be slight by comparison with other fishing techniques. Unfortunately, there has been a long-running, but relatively low-level, conflict between SCUBA divers and spearfishers over the use of fishery resources. SCUBA divers do not harvest fish, but seek to observe marine life in its natural environment. Spearfishers, on the other hand, seek to harvest fish for food or sport. The conflict is characterised by allegations that spearfishers are responsible for the decline in the abundance of the resource.
The Leader of the Opposition should listen. Daily I receive calls from spearfishers who tell me that he looks like an undertaker. So he should stick to his day job.
Mr Collins: What about you?
Mr MARTIN: The Leader of the Opposition should stick to his day job as an undertaker; that is where he belongs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr Collins: No more helping you out.
Mr MARTIN: Now listen, at least we have policies, at least we have directions, at least we go places; not like you lot. So fair is fair, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order.
Mr MARTIN: I apologise for the rude interruption from members opposite. The conflict here is one of major concern. Indeed, the SCUBA industry usually admits its claims are anecdotal. The few published surveys of spearfishing found that participants had an average catch rate of about 1.45 species per hour. That is a relatively low exploitation rate compared with commercial fishers and anglers. New South Wales Fisheries manages fish stocks for long-term sustainability. This can be achieved through sensible management decisions based on accurate scientific data. I am aware that there has been insufficient information on the impact of recreational fishing. I have recently moved to address this issue by creating a recreational fishing research unit within New South Wales Fisheries.
This group will begin to gather scientific data on major recreational fisheries, including spearfishing, and its impact on fishery resources. Furthermore, the review of spearfishing regulations which this Government has initiated will provide the opportunity for all users of the fishery resource to comment on spearfishing matters. This is very important because rather than to allow the more active or media-astute groups to dominate the discussions, it will be done through sensible negotiations. I expect that the review will result in a more conservative approach to the harvest of fish stocks by spearfishers in New South Wales.
The review committee has been established and, after considering a range of issues, a discussion paper has been prepared and released today. The discussion paper will be widely distributed and I look forward to receiving community comments on the issues raised. I cannot emphasise how important it is for all members in this Parliament to realise that this Governments wants to have full consultation with interested parties by 14 June. The paper entitled "1996/7 Review of Spearfishing Laws" is being released today.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister needs no assistance. I remind members that this is the ninth question, with one question yet to be asked.
Mr MARTIN: I want to inform Opposition members, who often make representations to my office, that spearfishing is already prohibited on all ocean beaches except for the last 20 metres at each
end of the beach. There are 44 closures to spearfishing in New South Wales estuaries.
The honourable member for Wakehurst should take his tablets. The discussion paper contains a simple mail-back questionnaire, because the Government seeks information on research into spearing. The Government wants to know, for instance, whether wobbegong sharks should be totally protected. The great white shark and many other sharks are already protected. We need to know more about the banded morwong and whether it is under threat. We need input from people involved to obtain answers to those questions.
Mr O'Farrell: On a point of order. It is clear that the only threat here is a threat to the Minister from Harry Woods.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Government members will remain silent. The honourable member for Northcott is very close to being asked to leave the Chamber. There is no point of order.
Mr MARTIN: I am sorry that the mention of wobbegong got him upset. I was not calling him names, I promise. The Government wants to know more about the sawtail surgeon, bag limits for abalone, fishing gear for abalone and bag limits for each of the types of lobsters. This is an important survey for fisheries management. I am sorry it has taken so long but it is important that Opposition members understand because ignorantly, day by day, they try to create mischief. I am sure that Government members are well acquainted with recent developments in fisheries management, and I hope members opposite took in what I have had to say.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Private Health Insurance
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [3.46 p.m.]: I seek to have a notice of motion declared urgent because the Federal Government is making decisions now that are affecting private health insurance and will subsequently affect the public hospital system. As the Federal Government develops its budget it will factor in the inference that its support for private health insurance is costing the taxpayers, and the effects on people in New South Wales and in other States in the public health system. A number of commentators have condemned the Federal Government's decision. It is important that before those decisions are finalised, we make it very clear that the Federal Government is going in the wrong direction. I urge support for my motion.
Prisoner John David Lewthwaite
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove) [3.47 p.m.]: My motion is urgent because it relates to the hearing on Friday before the Serious Offenders Review Council of John David Lewthwaite.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! As there appears to have been a power failure, I will leave the Chair until the ringing of one long bell.
[Mr Speaker left the chair at 3.48 p.m. The House resumed at 3.58 p.m.]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member's time will recommence.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove) [3.58 p.m.]: The matter I bring before the House today is urgent because it relates to the release of John David Lewthwaite. Honourable members will know that Lewthwaite was convicted of a horrendous murder. He murdered a five-year-old girl while she was at home in her own bed. He entered the house because he had -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. Mr Speaker, you have ruled many times on this matter, as have Speaker Rozzoli, Speaker Kelly, Speaker Abbott, Speaker Young and every former Speaker whose name appears on the wall of this Chamber. The honourable member is obliged to establish why her motion is urgent and should be heard first. No leniency is extended to her to canvass the substance of the matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: This matter is urgent because I am advised that John Lewthwaite is to appear before the Serious Offenders Review Council on Friday.
Mr Debus: Friday?
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: I was advised by the Serious Offenders Review Council that he would appear on Friday, which is why this matter is urgent. The matter is urgent because Mrs Gwen Hanns, who is in the gallery today, has been fighting to make sure that Lewthwaite is not released. For many years she has been fighting and she needs the authority of this House to -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. I am reluctant to take a point of order but it does not matter who is in the gallery today. The honourable member must establish why her motion should take
precedence over the motion notified by the Deputy Premier. She has no right to canvass the substance of the debate. I ask you to bring her back to what she is supposed to be proving to the House: why her matter is urgent.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: This matter is urgent because we need the authority of the House today to get the Minister for Corrective Services to act. The matter is urgent because the circumstances which relate to Lewthwaite -
Mr Debus: On a point of order. The honourable member for Lane Cove has suggested her matter is urgent, yet when this man's sentence was redetermined in 1992 the former Government, in which she was Minister for the Status of Women, did nothing. Now the honourable member claims that the matter is urgent.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: The matter is urgent because the Minister for Corrective Services has an opportunity to make a submission to the Serious Offenders Review Council under legislation which he introduced last year and which he has failed to use in respect of this case. The matter is urgent because the Opposition needs the authority of the House to force the Minister to use that legislation, to act on behalf of the victim of this crime, Mrs Hanns, who is in the gallery.
The matter is urgent because, in asking the House to debate it today, the Opposition may finally put some backbone into the Minister for Corrective Services and make him do what he, as Minister for Corrective Services, has the right to do, that is, to make that submission to the council. The Minister may do what the Premier said he would do in 1994 when he was Leader of the Opposition, that is, he might make a submission which would ensure that Lewthwaite is not released. Nothing has changed since 1994 when the former Leader of the Opposition said, "There is no doubt that the release of Lewthwaite back into the community, a brutal child killer - "
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. The honourable member is canvassing the substance of the debate. You have upheld the standing orders many times, Mr Speaker, and they have been upheld many hundreds of times by Speaker Rozzoli and I do not know how many times by Speaker Kelly. I ask you to bring the honourable member back to what she should be doing, that is, proving that her motion should be dealt with in preference to the motion notified by the Deputy Premier. That is the only right she has under the standing orders.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: The matter is urgent because the circumstances have not changed since 1994 when the former Leader of the Opposition said that the release of this man back into the community would be unacceptable to the people of New South Wales. The former Leader of the Opposition said it then. Why is he not directing his Minister for Corrective Services to act to ensure that this man is not released back into the community? The Minister for Roads, the honourable member for Smithfield, has argued time and again that the Minister for Corrective Services should take action. The Minister knows he should take action. No discussion has taken place about him directing the council; the discussion has been about him making a submission to the council. He is not prepared to act.
Question - That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Marrickville be proceeded with - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Carr Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Rumble
Mrs Grusovin Mr Scully
Ms Hall Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knight Mr Whelan
Mr Knowles Mr Woods
Mr Langton Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr Oakeshott
Mr Beck Mr O'Doherty
Mr Blackmore Mr O'Farrell
Mr Brogden Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Collins Mr Photios
Mr Cruickshank Mr Richardson
Mr Debnam Mr Rixon
Mr Downy Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kinross Mr R. W. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Ms Moore Mr Kerr
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Slack-Smith
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Mr ROZZOLI, by leave: I wish to make a personal explanation regarding comments made by the honourable member for Londonderry when taking points of order during the last debate. He said that I, as Speaker, ruled hundreds of times that honourable members could not make substantive contributions in establishing urgency. That statement is a total inaccuracy and falsehood. That procedure was introduced only during the Fiftieth Parliament. There was not enough time for dozens, let alone hundreds, of rulings on that subject. I rarely, if ever, upheld the point of order and Speakers Kelly, and Young were not members of this House when that procedure was introduced.
PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.10 p.m.]: I move:
That this House condemn the Federal Government for its proposed changes to private health insurance which will dramatically shift costs on to the public health system.
The Commonwealth Government has supported recommendations of the Productivity Commission which will shift costs from the private health system to public hospitals to increase the profitability of private health insurance funds. It is imperative that this House condemn those changes. On Monday, under the weight of condemnation from health representative groups, the Federal health Minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge, was forced to back down on his iniquitous plan to remove palliative care and rehabilitation from the general private insurance package. Despite a clear message from the Prime Minister, John Howard, that euthanasia was not the way to go and that palliative care was more important, the Federal Government has cut funding for palliative care. Michael Wooldridge initially supported the removal of palliative care from the general private insurance package, and this Government certainly welcomes the fact that he has backed down on that plan.
The proposed changes would have shifted an extra $60 million onto the New South Wales public health system and $180 million to $200 million onto public hospitals throughout the nation. The New South Wales Opposition should act responsibly and help to ensure that other attacks on the public health system are stopped. The Federal Government has accepted recommendations to stop what the commission calls hit-and-run membership of private health insurance funds. The commission estimates that such cases have a net cost to health funds of between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of benefits, and recommends that this cost be transferred to public hospitals. A 2 per cent shift of those benefits would cost New South Wales public hospitals $27 million. The Federal Government will not provide the State with extra funding to compensate for that. That will be the cost to the New South Wales public health system, for which there will be no compensation. Only those health funds that provide for hit-and-run members will benefit. Liberal and National members in the House do not even have the shame to deny that that is what will happen, nor do their Federal colleagues. The Productivity Commission report, which was clear on this issue, stated:
In encouraging early entry and penalising those who only choose to buy private insurance when they anticipate high claims, some people will inevitably make greater use of Medicare.
The Productivity Commission stated that that greater use of Medicare will cost the States more. The Federal Government is knowingly shifting the burden of the sick onto our public hospitals. Among the procedures affected are obstetrics, cataract surgery, and hip and knee replacements. It will not surprise me if the Liberal members opposite support this attack on young families, the sick and the
elderly. The Liberal Party's health policy has always been captive to the wealthy profiteers. However, that is not the case with the National Party. National Party members will be aware that the proposed changes target rural and regional electorates and will hurt their constituents. It is important to understand some of the other changes and how they will result in extra costs being put onto New South Wales and, indeed, every other State.
The removal of the requirement for health funds to pay benefits for nursing home type patients for the first 35 days will cost New South Wales at least $1.3 million next year. Much of that burden will fall on small hospitals, country hospitals and multipurpose services, which are almost exclusively in country regions, because they are much more likely to have nursing home type patients in acute beds. Allowing private health insurers to increase premiums for people who wait until they are over 30 to join health funds is a massive subsidisation of Liberal voting electorates at the expense of Labor and National voting electorates. I have seen the figures. The geographical spread of private health insurance is concentrated on the north shore of Sydney. Blue ribbon Liberal electorates such as Ku-ring-gai have 50 per cent more privately insured families than the State average.
Electorates represented by National Party members, such as those in the Richmond, Tweed and the mid north coast areas, and those represented by Labor, such as Clarence and Broken Hill, have 33 per cent fewer privately insured families than the State average. Every area of New South Wales represented by a member of the National Party is below the State average for privately insured families - most are significantly below that average. Liberal voting electorates, especially those on Sydney's north shore, have dramatically higher rates of private health insurance than the New South Wales average. The proposition is simple: the Federal Government's proposal will reward those who are born rich and punish those who cannot afford private insurance until they are over 30 by forcing them to spend the rest of their life paying higher premiums to subsidise the rich - and they get slugged with an extra bill if they do not! Meanwhile the tax concession goes to those Liberal voting city dwellers who currently have private health insurance.
The Liberal Party is overlooking the fact that, for most Australian families, private health insurance is not an ideological statement in favour of the capitalist way. Most Australian families must make a tough decision about whether the family budget will stretch to covering private health insurance premiums. Young families starting out with a mortgage, possibly a higher education contribution scheme bill and an extended waiting period for obstetric care may well feel that they are being blackmailed into private health insurance by a fear of spending the rest of their lives paying higher premiums. Older Australians forced to wait extended periods for elective surgery such as cataract removal, hip replacements and knee replacements may simply be unable to afford the financial burden and choose to return to the public system, because in fact they have no choice. While that burden on the public system is increasing, the Howard Government continues to cut funding for public hospitals. Through tax concessions and these proposed changes, John Howard is making a huge contribution to the profits of private health insurance funds and the households of the young, the healthy and the wealthy. In relation to the the billions of dollars of tax concessions, taxpayers' money, being offered for private health insurance, the Productivity Commission report stated:
They are likely to have a moderate, but predominantly short term impact on membership levels (unless the subsidies were to increase in line with premiums).
The report went on to say:
The fact that the vast bulk of the rebates will go to existing fund members . . . means that the net budgetary effects will be negative.
In other words, the money will be wasted; that money will be taken out of the health system. Even if the scheme were to meet its aims and encourage the young and the healthy back into private health insurance, it would not do an enormous amount for public hospitals because the young and the healthy are not those who are mainly using public hospital resources at present. By far the greatest users of our public hospitals are the elderly and the chronically ill. They are the people who cannot afford the premium increases. They are the people who gain very little benefit from tax breaks and are not going to be affected by the Medicare levy increase because they do not earn over $100,000 a year. Private health insurance changes would benefit the public hospital system only if they helped the poor, the sick and the aged into private health insurance, and these changes do exactly the opposite.
The Liberal Party at the Federal level is not even trying to hide it, although its colleagues here in New South Wales do not understand the issue. The Liberal Party supports recommendations which it baldly states will increase health insurance company profits, reward the healthy and wealthy, and stop the sick and elderly from using private health insurance. This morning on 2BL Dr Michael Wooldridge was quoted as saying that the Australian public hospital system will be in crisis within 15 years. Despite
being aware of this risk, he has rejected the recommendation from the Carr Government, the Australian Medical Association and now the Productivity Commission to establish a broad inquiry into the Australian health care system. While the Federal Liberal Government has accepted the nasty recommendations from the Productivity Commission, the final recommendation - the key recommendation - for a broad public inquiry into Australia's health system has been ignored. The commission recommended that even if a broad strategic inquiry were unmanageable, a number of specific issues should be undertaken, including financing issues. [Time expired.]
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [4.20 p.m.]: What hypocrisy the House has just heard. What double standards! The Minister for Health, the Government and the Premier want to have a bob each way.
Mr Jeffery: They want two bob each way.
Mrs SKINNER: Yes, perhaps even 10 bob each way. On the one hand the Carr Government says that the number of people dropping out of private health insurance funds will have a detrimental effect on public hospitals. Yet on the other it says that measures should be put in place to encourage people not only to stop dropping out of private health insurance schemes but also to take up new health insurance. Far from being restricted to the rich, the elite and all of the other socialist-type, negative classifications that the Minister spouted forth, private health insurance is taken out by many battlers who struggle to take it out because they know that they cannot get the necessary services in the public hospitals administered by the Minister for Health.
I refer the Minister to Charlie Campbell, whose wife Colleen died because she could not get the intensive care bed that her surgeons so desperately sought for her. Charlie Campbell sat in the gallery here during a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health. He is a former Labor Party voter, someone who wanted to do everything possible to assist his wife, someone who felt obliged to take out private health insurance because the Minister failed to fund public hospitals to a level sufficient to enable his wife to get the treatment she required. The Minister's words are hypocritical in the extreme. All that the Minister is trying to do is shift blame, and that has been very evident to anyone who has listened to what he has mouthed over the past few months. It is interesting to note that the sudden decision to shift the blame on to the Commonwealth came after a meeting between the Minister and the Premier to develop a media strategy to try to divert attention away from the terrible flak the Minister is receiving from the public about the way in which he administers the health system.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The member needs no assistance from the honourable member for Georges River or from the honourable member for Fairfield.
Mrs SKINNER: It came as no surprise to any honourable member on this side of the House, nor I suspect to any honourable member on the other side of the House, to learn that the Minister for Health has the lowest popularity rating of any Minister in the Government and that health is the issue that is hurting the Government the most. The tactic adopted by the Government is designed to do nothing but divert attention away from the failings of the Carr Government and the Minister for Health. The cuts to the health budget made by the Carr Government in the State budget of May 1996 are responsible for the disastrous situation in the public hospitals. I have been very careful to go through a number of Government documents to try to determine exactly how much money the Government will need to boost the recurrent health budget in the next financial year merely to catch up on the cuts it has imposed on hospitals to deal with the shortfall of funding.
Dr Refshauge: On a point of order. I am reluctant to interrupt the shadow minister for health displaying her ignorance, but the motion before the House is about the Federal Government changes to private health insurance. I ask you to bring the honourable member for North Shore back to the leave of the motion. That may in fact shorten the debate, as she does not appear to have anything to say.
Mrs SKINNER: On the point of order. I shall not comment on the hypocritical, cynical and sarcastic comments made by the Minister. I point out that I am talking to that part of the motion relating to the shifting of costs on to the public health system. One of the reasons costs have shifted on to the public health system is the cuts made by the Carr Government, and therefore my comments are completely in order.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I am sure that the member will return to the essence of the motion in due course.
Mrs SKINNER: It is interesting that no less a person than Graham Richardson, a former Federal Minister for Health, was one who in the first instance identified the need to bring on board measures to prevent the drift away from private
health insurance and that some of the measures that have been considered and proposed by the current Federal Government are very much in line with those proposed by Graham Richardson. I realise, of course, that Graham Richardson and the Minister belong to different Labor Party factions, which probably indicates that they are not always in agreement.
I have read the report of the Industry Commission from cover to cover. There is no doubt that the Industry Commission and many others have argued for many years - as in fact the Minister argued in a newspaper article some years ago before he was elected to office - that the decrease in the number of people in private health insurance schemes, which has reduced from about 70 per cent to about 40 per cent in the past 10 years, has a very detrimental effect on the capacity of public hospitals to meet demand. The claim made by the Premier that negotiations for the new Medicare agreement should involve an increase to the State of more than $240 million is simply ridiculous. It is nothing more than an ambit claim, particularly given the statistics to which the Minister has just referred. The Premier was right in saying that something needs to be done to encourage people not only to remain in private health insurance but to take it out.
I plead with everybody to remember that if they want access to hospital treatment without the disastrous delays that are being caused by the activities of the Carr Government, they need to consider private health insurance. I believe that the recommendations made by the Industry Commission, particularly those proposed to be adopted by the Commonwealth Government, are designed to assist people come to the conclusion that private health insurance is for them. The Industry Commission report contained some 22 recommendations. The Commonwealth Government is not adopting all of the recommendations, although it is adopting many of them. It is clearly spelt out in the Commonwealth parliamentary debates that the intention of the Federal Government is that people should continue to take out private health insurance.
It is recognised by many people that our health system is based upon a partnership between a number of players, including Medicare, the public hospital system, the private health system, and private health insurance. Without that balance, Medicare is in danger of not meeting demand. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that. These recommendations, which have resulted from extensive deliberations by the Industry Commission, are designed to encourage people to either stay in private health insurance schemes or get back into them. Surely without private health insurance hospital waiting lists will increase. I point out that the waiting lists level is higher now than it has ever been. In the past 12 months the number of people added to the hospital waiting lists is almost 26,000. The length of time people should expect to wait for an operation has also increased.
It should be remembered that when the Minister for Health took office New South Wales led Australia in terms of hospital waiting times. Under the coalition Government this State had the shortest waiting times for operations. A policy and a program had been put in place from which this Government benefited for its first 12 months in office. Since December last year the figures and the waiting times have increased. Between December and January the expected length of time people had to wait for operations doubled. The initiatives that hospitals have had to adopt to ensure that budget overruns were clawed back as much as possible have caused waiting lists to further increase. These initiatives included strategies such as cancelling operations, closing entire operating theatres in some hospitals, closing beds and freezing staff appointments.
More than anything else, extended closures of elective surgery over Christmas and the Easter holiday school break caused waiting lists to blow out. It is no surprise that between December last year and January this year waiting list numbers jumped by 6,000. Almost throughout the summer the Government's policies and lack of hospital funding left hospitals with no alternative other than to restrict surgery as a budgetary measure. The Minister for Health has the nerve to talk about any initiatives that are designed to encourage people - [Time expired.]
Ms HALL (Swansea) [4.30 p.m.]: I support the motion. The comments of the honourable member for North Shore about the impact of Federal Government funding cuts on New South Wales hospital waiting lists were most interesting. Those cuts are absolutely disgusting, and I sincerely hope she takes that message to her friends in Canberra. This State is hurting from those Howard Government cuts. New South Wales people are not stupid. They know that these cuts are from the Federal Government; they know where to attribute the blame. The honourable member for North Shore claimed that people must realise that private health insurance is for them. That is all very well if they live on the north shore and have plenty of money to spend. It is not the same for the elderly people in the Swansea electorate, for those on fixed incomes, for the chronically ill, for those who are not healthy or for the young.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! Opposition members will cease interjecting. The honourable member for Swansea has the call.
Ms HALL: If the Howard Government continues to support the recommendations of the Industry Commission to shift costs from the private health system to the public health system, New South Wales patients will suffer. Once again the families, the elderly and the people of the Hunter will suffer - not those on the north shore, not the people with plenty of money. It is imperative that this House condemns these changes. I am sure many Opposition members are keen to support this urgency motion because they realise where the problems are: they are in Canberra. The Opposition should act responsibly by ensuring that these attacks on the public health system are stopped. The Howard Government accepted recommendations to stop what it calls hit-and-run membership of private health insurance funds. The Howard Government is looking after its mates - the wealthy and the healthy - while members of this side of the House are left to look after the people of New South Wales.
The Industry Commission estimates that hit-and-run cases have a net cost to health funds of between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of benefits. The report recommends that this cost be transferred to the public health system. I know that members on the other side of the House are outraged by that thought. They do not want a cost increase in the public health system in this State or, for that matter, the other States of Australia. That cost to New South Wales will be $13.5 million at 1 per cent and $27 million at 2 per cent. New South Wales cannot afford that impost. I have not heard the Federal Government offer to reimburse New South Wales, but I am sure those on the other side of the House will take that message to their friends in Canberra.
That proposal is nothing more than a cost shifting exercise and will devastate the people of New South Wales. If the Opposition cares about the health of the New South Wales community, it will join the Government in condemning these Federal Government cuts. Some members on the other side of the House are nodding in support. By allowing private health insurance funds to increase premiums for those who wait until they are over 30 years of age to join is a massive subsidisation of Liberal electorates like the North Shore at the expense of National Party and Labor Party voters. The people of the electorates of Swansea, Marrickville, Wallsend and Fairfield know why this has happened and they condemn the Howard Government for these cuts. [Time expired.]
Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [4.35 p.m.]: What a bunch of hypocrites! Government members condemn the Federal Government after the lousy performance of State Government Ministers in every portfolio, particularly the health portfolio. Any community poll will show that no-one has confidence in the Government. There are 26,000 people on hospital waiting lists, a fact that was recently acknowledged by the Minister for Health. An article in the St George Leader on 12 March stated:
Commenting on elective surgery, Dr Refshauge acknowledged waiting lists were continuing to blow out.
. . . the number of people dropping out of private medical insurance . . . had led to enormous pressures on hospital systems.
"The evidence of a national health crisis is mounting, be it in the emergency department, the operating theatre, the out-patients' clinic or the community health centre," he said.
"Waiting lists and times for surgery will continue to blow out across Australia unless something is done."
What happened? The Federal Government wants to do something. Is there bipartisan support? No. There must, of course, be bipartisan support for the mental health legislation but there cannot be bipartisan support for something as important as providing general health services to New South Wales and the other States of Australia. Every decent health Minister and every decent Opposition health spokesperson acknowledges that the system must be reviewed. The system stinks and needs to be overhauled. That is what the Productivity Commission was considering. Everyone - Labor, Liberal, Independents - acknowledges the importance of private health insurance. Too many people have dropped out of private health insurance and that is imposing a heavy cost on State and Federal health systems. Instead of political point scoring, all health Ministers, whether they have Labor or Liberal backgrounds, should ask, "What the hell can we do to deliver more services to the elderly and the chronically ill?" The honourable member for Swansea might be interested to learn that my electorate has a high percentage of elderly people, probably more than in her electorate. They vote Liberal and the Opposition will look after them better than Labor. Look at what is happening in the Hunter, the Illawarra and in western Sydney!
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Swansea has had a chance to contribute to the debate.
Ms FICARRA: The waiting lists in those areas are escalating and the people in those electorates are unhappy. Why? Because New South Wales has an $80 million shortfall in this year's budget. What will happen in the next budget?
Approximately $423 million is needed to stop the haemorrhage from the system. What will the Minister deliver in the next budget? The waiting list at St George Hospital increased by 286 during January: there has been a 20 per cent increase over the past two years. The figures are now far higher than when the Carr Government came to power.
On 12 March the Sydney Morning Herald published a report showing that 75 per cent of 50 hospitals listed have higher waiting lists now than when the Government came to office. Waiting times are starting to blow out, so the former Government's great record is slowly and surely being ruined by the Government's mismanagement. What a joke to condemn the Federal Government after all the fiascos that the Government is experiencing in all its portfolios, not only health. Look at the Olympics, which has been politicised; look at roads and the M5. Look at the controversy over the Eastern Distributor. Look at education, corrective services and transport - they are all in a mess. Yet the Government has the hide to condemn the Federal Government. Is that because the Government is blame shifting, not only cost shifting?
Dr Refshauge: On a point of order. I know the honourable member for Georges River knows nothing about the health care system, but this debate is not about the Olympics or any other portfolio. I ask that she be directed to speak to the motion.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order. The member for Georges River will return to the motion.
Ms FICARRA: I have been working in the health system for many years. The recommendations in the report of the Productivity Commission will have far-reaching implications and will be properly considered by the coalition Government in Canberra, which currently has a high popularity rating and great credibility amongst electors, by comparison with the Carr Government. The most intractable underlying problems forcing up health costs and health insurance premiums are waste in the public health hospital system and overservicing in private hospitals and service laboratories. Private health insurance is an important part of the overall health service picture. It is important that all parties work together to arrest the decline in private insurance take up. I turn now to palliative care. [Time expired.]
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [4.40 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the motion moved by the Deputy Premier that this House condemn the Federal Government for its proposed changes to private health insurance, which will dramatically shift costs on to the public hospital system. It is important that I read that motion onto the record because the two Opposition members who contributed to the debate spent more time discussing State issues than the impact of the Federal changes on New South Wales.
Mr MacCarthy: State issues are more relevant.
Mr MILLS: The honourable member for Strathfield interjects. He has been in the Chamber for only a short time and really ought to do more homework to find out the close inter-relationship between State and Federal jurisdictions when it comes to health. If he would like to consult any of his State colleagues, or the people on the front bench, he would find out the deep impact that any minor Federal Government decisions can have on State health finances. He really is talking off the top of his head without thinking about what he is saying. I ask whether the New South Wales Liberals, who I think are opposing this motion -
Mrs Skinner: That is the first time you have been right.
Mr MILLS: It is on the record at last: the Opposition opposes this motion. I ask whether the New South Wales Liberals believe that the changes that the Productivity Commission and Dr Wooldridge were talking about last week will truly encourage more people back into private health insurance. Do the Liberals believe that? Each State Liberal Party and health Minister does not agree; they are opposed to the Productivity Commission recommendation. I am disappointed that the State Liberals do not understand this adverse impact on the health system and finances. The members of the Opposition front bench, and some other frontbenchers who are not in the Chamber at the moment, should ask themselves whether they really want to be in government in 1999? If they do, they should be thinking strategically and should support this motion for two reasons. What is being done by John Howard and Michael Wooldridge through these changes to private health insurance will mean that the health cupboard will be bare.
Ms Ficarra: They haven't even done anything.
Mr MILLS: The cupboards will be bare after the 1999 election, whoever is in government. The cupboards are not bare now because the Government put in $632 million during the past two years. Every conservative State Liberal Government is opposed to these health insurance changes. It is about time the New South Wales Liberals woke up to that change. A front-page article by Jodie Brough and Marion Downey in the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday is particularly instructive. It stated:
Older people will be penalised for not taking out private health insurance and younger people will get cheaper premiums for life under the Federal Government's scheme for arresting the decline in private cover.
The changes, outlined in a Productivity Commission report . . . will also clamp down on "hit-and-run" members who take out insurance . . .
However, for important contrast the article stated:
Under the present "community rating" system, everybody pays the same for their health insurance regardless of their age or health risks.
The Government believes that the proposed changes, apart from being contrary to the principles of social justice, will definitely not encourage people to take out private health insurance. In particular, the changes will hurt the elderly, a matter about which the Minister said during debate last week:
The total health expenditure in Australia is approximately $25 billion. Two-thirds of that expenditure is spent on patients over 60 years of age.
All the States acknowledge that the Wooldridge-Howard decisions will mean that fewer elderly people will take out private health insurance, which will be a massive cost shifting onto the States' finances at a time when the Federal Government is cutting grants to the States. This shifting of responsibility for budget problems from the Commonwealth will affect vulnerable members of the community, particularly the elderly. [Time expired.]
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.45 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members who contributed to this debate, particularly the honourable member for Wallsend and the honourable member for Swansea. I will comment on a number of the important views put forward by the honourable member for North Shore, who quite clearly stated that people would take up private insurance because of difficulties experienced under my administration. I inform her that there has been a fall in private health insurance rates. Obviously her statement was a ringing endorsement of my policy. I thank her for informing honourable members that on her measure the people of New South Wales are delighted about what the Government is doing.
I also thank the honourable member for Georges River for contributing so significantly to this debate by suggesting that the health care system stinks and that there needs to be a total overhaul. She obviously supports my earlier contention that the Productivity Commission's recommendations that we conduct a full and far-reaching inquiry should go ahead. Dr Michael Wooldridge and John Howard do not support that proposal, but no doubt the New South Wales Opposition does. It is important to recognise that there is an absolute and fundamental belief by the Liberals opposite - and I make it clear that no National Party members spoke in this debate, because they understand what will happen in the bush. The members from the north shore and Liberal electorates clearly put their reputation on the record when they stated that the changes will increase private health insurance rates.
They also said the changes will not disadvantage the elderly. When the next analyses of the private health insurance rates carried out by electorate and age are published we will see - by their marker, their decision and their recommendation - their ability to understand the health care system. I would hope that the changes to be brought in would have the desired effect; that is, those who want to take up private health insurance would be happy to continue to do so and more people would be encouraged to do so, if that is their choice. I have no problem with that. Over the years the Federal Government has put $1.5 billion into private health insurance and the Productivity Commission suggests that the Federal Government will reap about $300 million value out of it. That is $1.2 billion of taxpayers' money going out of health, out of our hospitals. Another interesting point in the valuable contribution by the honourable member for Georges River was that the Federal Government is cutting our State budgets.
Ms Ficarra: I did not say that.
Dr REFSHAUGE: She said that and it is really important that she has put that on the record.
Ms Ficarra: I said you are cutting.
Dr REFSHAUGE: No, the honourable member for Georges River clearly said, "The Federal Government has been cutting our budgets." It is also interesting to see how out of step the Liberals in New South Wales are with their counterparts in other States. There is no doubt that Howard and Costello are putting the screws on Wooldridge although he does not believe any of this. Howard and Costello, and I suppose Wooldridge, are being supported by the Liberals in this State, but by no other State.
The Liberals spent New South Wales taxpayers' money to go down to see Jeff Kennett to hear what he had to say. What did Jeff, with his bouffant hairdo, say? He said, "John Howard and Peter Costello are cutting our health budget. Give
them a message to stop cutting that budget." I notice there is more bouffant hair on some of the members of the Opposition, although the honourable member for South Coast does not have much to bouffant, but he is doing his best after his visit to Jeff.
The members of the Opposition realise that no other State Liberal Minister supports the Federal Government's move in this direction, that they are the only ones. That raises the question, "Why?", which was answered by the debate today. The National Party did not turn up because it does not support the Federal cuts. The National Party knows that its constituents are going to hurt, and the genius who ran the election campaign for the Liberal Party and delivered Gladesville, Parramatta before that, and Badgerys Creek to Labor has no doubt at all, when he turns his mind to the electoral cycle that what will happen is that this decision will return to bite the members of the Opposition. The coalition has supported the decimation of the Federal responsibility on health. [Time expired.]
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Ms Moore
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Carr Mr Nagle
Mr Clough Mr Neilly
Mr Crittenden Ms Nori
Mr Debus Mr E. T. Page
Mr Face Mr Price
Mr Gaudry Dr Refshauge
Mr Gibson Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knight Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Farrell
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Brogden Mr Phillips
Mr Chappell Mr Photios
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Downy Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Small
Mr Glachan Mr Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Hazzard Mr Tink
Mr Humpherson Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Kernohan Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Kinross Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers,
Mr Oakeshott Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Collins
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
NEW AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRIES
Matter of Public Importance
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.00 p.m.]: I ask the House to note, as a matter of public importance, the value of emerging agricultural industries to the economy of New South Wales, to job growth in rural and regional communities, and to the prospect of long term viability for farmers in this State. It is fair to say that the prominent industries in the agricultural debate are the wool industry, the grain industry, livestock and its various related industries, the cotton industry, which is always in the news, and the rice industry, which has had another successful year. And of course horticulture, the citrus industry and the ever successful wine industry dominate media coverage and public debate. I want to highlight the fact that the Government takes seriously the emerging agricultural industries in New South Wales and is committed to providing assistance wherever possible. Although I have referred to emerging industries, some have been in existence for many years but have not received any prominence; and
some are new industries which have received attention only in the past few years.
Since Labor came to office in April 1995, a number of Government decisions have had a direct influence on the establishment of new agricultural industries in this State. Those decisions were either avoided or rejected outright by the former Government and its National Party members, who claim to represent, and be the friends of, farmers in rural New South Wales. Industries associated with rabbit farming, hemp production, olives, meat goats and sheep milk for cheese-making hold great promise for the future of farming in this State. In September 1995 I announced that the Government would allow the growing of low-grade tetrahydrocannabinol indian hemp under licence. Initially one permit was issued to the University of New England to conduct trials of the crop. In the spring and summer of 1996/97 another four trials were conducted by interested groups. In February of this year New South Wales Agriculture again advertised for expressions of interest for additional fibre hemp trials and a decision on the applications will be made later this month.
A lot of interest has been shown in the potential of hemp growing as a commercial crop in New South Wales, but it is still early days and a lot of work needs to be done before its viability can be assessed properly. It is important to note that the former Government would not even legalise a trial of this crop - another phobia of the former Government, which held back a number of emerging industries in New South Wales. The former Government would not have carried out the work currently being undertaken in New South Wales. The same can be said of the rabbit farming industry, which has grown rapidly since it was given the go ahead by this Government in September 1995. I was pleased to note that earlier this week the Australian Broadcasting Corporation highlighted the success of the rabbit meat industry and its offspring, rabbit pelts, which are used by Akubra hats and similar industries.
The National Party rabbit phobia denied farmers and regional communities in New South Wales and those seeking to establish an abattoir or rabbit farm - which have already been established in New Zealand and Western Australia - the opportunity to develop another potential money earner. It is incredible to think that New South Wales had the potential to trial or to develop a successful industry such as that which exists in New Zealand, but was held back by the narrow-minded phobia of the former Government. Since rabbit farming was given the go ahead, 163 commercial licences have been approved. Those licences would not have been approved if the coalition had won the 1995 election and I believe the Government should make that point whenever it passes any milestone in respect of the rabbit industry. If people ask why the Government did not do this sooner, it should sheet home the blame to the conservatives in this State.
The majority of licences were issued in coastal areas of the State, with a number also centred around Tamworth. Slaughtering trials have been conducted at Kempsey and an abattoir at Tamworth is in the final stages of approval. I was pleased to read the media report on Cabinet's visit to Tamworth and to see that progress had been made on the abattoir. My department has been working with interested parties to ensure that proper guidelines are followed to establish and construct rabbit farming facilities, control disease and prevent the rabbits from escaping. Again I need to point out that under the former Government none of this would have happened; this emerging industry would not have got off the ground. The rabbit meat industry is developing rapidly and markets for meat, wool and skins already exist.
For example, I was pleased to receive a deputation from the Mayor of Kempsey, who spoke about the Akubra Hats company - a household name in this country, if not worldwide - that uses 60,000 rabbit skins each week. The release of the calicivirus and more effective reduction of feral rabbit numbers has placed pressure on that company. If these new industries can assist that company, it will go a long way towards reducing the necessity for imported pelts, on which Akubra Hats is heavily reliant. New South Wales Agriculture, in conjunction with the Department of State and Regional Development, has been involved in a number of seminars on rabbit farming and other emerging agricultural industries. These positive steps have been undertaken to encourage potentially valuable agricultural enterprises. Another initiative undertaken by the Government is the appointment of a new advisory position within New South Wales Agriculture to work alongside these emerging industries.
I believe this is one of the core roles of New South Wales Agriculture because many of these new industries do not have the associations and cash reserves to conduct research, publish material or promote their products. At least in the early stages, before the industries get a foothold, the department can provide the sort of advice and information on which its reputation has been built over many years. The emerging industries extension officer based at Yanco will assist in developing production technology and market focus for industries such as olives, herbs, chestnuts and quandongs. In recent times between 500,000 and one million olive trees
have been planted nationally. This has been highlighted in some of the specialist media programs that have concentrated on rural areas.
In New South Wales most plantings of olive trees have taken place during the past two years around Tamworth, Dubbo, Warren, the Riverina and the upper Hunter. Industry optimism is being driven by the rapid growth in consumption of olive oil and table olives. Imports have increased by 300 per cent in the past decade. The 17,000 tonnes of olives imported annually are valued at approximately $100 million and this figure is expected to double by the year 2000. Previous attempts to grow olives in Australia failed because our product was not competitive with imports. If the industry is to succeed in the future, work needs to be done to address impediments such as lack of processing facilities, market research and market development.
The emerging industries extension officer will also provide assistance to other horticultural industries such as chestnuts, herbs and quandongs. The Government will continue, wherever possible, to identify areas that offer potential for farmers and rural communities. I am pleased to say that the appointment of the emerging industries extension officer came as the direct result of a deputation I received from the olive industry following the Government's Cabinet meeting in Tamworth. The rabbit farming industry, the fibre hemp trials, the olive industry, the herb industry and many more small but potentially valuable industries will provide farmers in New South Wales with a diverse income base which will complement existing farming enterprises and provide new opportunities for rural and regional communities. My colleague the honourable member for Waratah will outline the growth of the boer goat industry - another fine example of an emerging industry with great potential. Some of the issues I have raised today highlight the fact that although the agricultural industry will always concentrate on major produce, farmers have a great opportunity to diversify. [Time expired.]
Mr SMALL (Murray) [5.10 p.m.]: I am pleased to speak to the matter of public importance. Some areas of the agricultural industry have shown a definite improvement, for example the wine grape industry, which is developing throughout New South Wales. The Minister has criticised the previous Government. However, in its seven years in office the coalition Government did an enormous amount of work and its effort to help rural people in most difficult times was outstanding. Apart from the few areas referred to by the Minister, rural New South Wales is hurting. Country towns are hurting. Banks have closed. What has the Minister done to keep banks open in country areas?
What about the Minister's overreaction to staffing in Agriculture, in which agronomists and wool and livestock research officers have put their hands up and left the department voluntarily. The department has lost the benefit of that experience and it will take some time to rebuild it. After an $8 million cutback the department now has to spend to re-employ staff. Veterinary research facilities at Wagga Wagga and Armidale and the Biological and Chemical Research Institute at Rydalmere were closed. When the coalition was in government I led an inspection of that site following a recommendation from senior members of the Department of Agriculture. My recommendation to the then Minister, and the recommendation of the body of which I was chairman, was that the facility was too important to close.
These important services have been lost, and although it has been claimed that the facilities have been transferred to other areas of the State, that is not the case. Most of the work that was previously carried out at Rydalmere is likely to be carried out in Geelong. Many industries along the Victorian border may decide to move their business to Victoria, where they will be better looked after. New industries may also open in Victoria. I would like to see it happen in New South Wales. Even the Rural Assistance Authority seems to have wound down. This winding-down is occurring at both Federal and State levels.
In many areas country people are not getting what they need. I am not criticising the Minister; he has at least visited country electorates and met the people. Problems arise because he is acting on the poor advice he receives. I referred on a previous occasion to budgetary constraints. The Minister apparently did not fight Cabinet to stop those constraints. The $8 million cutback was originally to have been $34 million. Thankfully the industry was saved that further drastic budget cutback.
Unfortunately, this Government is a seaboard government. Only three members of the Government live in rural New South Wales, which explains the lack of solid information. The Land newspaper has published figures relating to beef sales in Dubbo. On 6 January 1997 prices for cows ranged from $271 to $353. Those figures applied to cows ranging in live weight from 400 to 520 kilograms, with most sales at about 67.9¢ per kilogram. The median price for cows was $312 per animal. On 8 January 1997 the median price for a cow, live weight per kilo, was 82.5¢. This equates to an average price for a cow ranging from $330 to $429, with a median of $380.
This is not the fault of the Minister. We have to look at the big picture. It is totally out of order for the Minister to praise the work of the Labor Party through the Labor Government in New South Wales.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
M5 EAST EXTENSION
Mr SCULLY: I wish to provide some further information to the House in relation to a question asked of me today by the Deputy Leader of the National Party. The question concerned a telephone call received by the Roads and Traffic Authority about the proposed M5 east. I am advised that at approximately 2 p.m. on 14 April a woman who identified herself only by her Christian name called an RTA officer on his direct line. She told him she had done so because she had spoken to him on previous occasions and he had treated her and other members of the community with respect.
The woman complained about the M5 east proposal and indicated that she was experiencing difficulties of a personal nature. She said she had taken an overdose of tablets before phoning the officer. The officer asked the woman what type of tablets she had taken, when she had taken them, and how many she had taken. He also requested her address but she refused to give it. The officer indicated to a colleague to telephone police and attempt to have the call traced. He then engaged the woman in a pleasant conservation to try to prolong the call. He eventually succeeded in persuading her to give her address. He advised her not to go to sleep but to walk around and keep active until help arrived.
After completing the conversation the officer immediately contacted police, who attended the woman's address. He was subsequently advised by the police that the woman had responded successfully to medical attention. The RTA officer deserves strong praise for his actions in ensuring the welfare of the woman. I commend him for his thoughtful and sensitive action. But for the actions of the RTA officer, this unfortunate incident could have had a tragic outcome. Given the circumstances I have just outlined, I am disappointed that the Opposition raised this incident in question time today in an effort to score political points on a road project over which no final decision has been made.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
BEGA ELECTORATE POLICING
Mr SMITH (Bega) [5.17 p.m.]: I raise the concerns of my constituents over the Government's intention to downgrade Bega police station. On numerous occasions I have raised with the Minister and on the floor of the House problems with policing in my electorate. I have referred specifically to the lack of staff on the ground, despite the fact that the patrol was operating at authorised strength, and to the continual problems of having calls referred to the Warilla radio operations centre, almost 500 kilometres away. The Bega patrol had a difficult time for many months because of the ill health of the patrol commander. That resulted in a succession of acting commanders, which in turn - coupled with the lack of staff - led to low morale within the patrol. That was exacerbated by a spate of burglaries and petty crimes in Merimbula and Tathra as well as in other centres.
Fortunately, the patrol has recently come under the direction of Inspector Beaumont, who has finally succeeded in bringing it up to full strength, lifting its profile with the public, and getting the patrol working as a cohesive unit. That has boosted police morale, not to mention efficiency. Unfortunately, this happy picture is about to be completely disrupted by the proposal to amalgamate the Bega and Batemans Bay patrols, with the command to be centred at Batemans Bay. The area to be covered by these new boundaries will be from Batemans Bay in the north to the Victorian border in the south, which is 250 kilometres away, or over four hours drive. The Minister is making great play of the fact that no police stations will close but makes no mention of the downgrading of stations and the impact of that on public confidence.
After 50 years of having an inspector in charge at Bega, under the proposed structure there will be only a sergeant. Despite the marvels of the electronic age in which we live, I suspect that the sergeant will be obliged to spend a considerable amount of time at his new headquarters nearly two hours away at Batemans Bay attending meetings and receiving instructions. The decision to remove the only commissioned officer from Bega will plunge my constituents into fear and uncertainty once more. The Bega patrol comprises the major towns of Bega, Merimbula and Eden as well as smaller population centres and villages. Local knowledge of both the area and its residents is essential and, as I have mentioned on previous occasions, referring criminals
to a remote centre has proven time and time again to be ineffectual. For example, Cobargo, a town just north of Bega, has been confused with Bargo near Goulburn. On another occasion it was almost impossible to describe to the telephone operator in Warilla exactly where Brogo was located after a serious road accident had occurred on a remote section of the Princes Highway.
I do not believe that the Minister for Police fully appreciates the distances involved in rural policing. Amalgamating police forces in metropolitan areas, where backup and support are often less than a suburb away, is different from merging patrols in country areas. Inspector Beaumont has shown that strong and effective leadership pulls together an effective team. The current proposal, whereby the command centre is based at the northern extremity of a large patrol area, is simply not acceptable to my constituents. It has not gone unnoticed that a similar situation exists within the Clarence electorate. Despite the fact that Grafton and Coffs Harbour are only an hour apart, the position of inspector will be maintained at Grafton when those two patrols are merged.
Petitions are circulating throughout the district objecting to the downgrading of Bega police station and calling on the Minister not to amalgamate the Bega and Batemans Bay patrols. Today I tabled part of that petition in the Parliament. Only two years ago I attended the official opening of the new police station at Batemans Bay and welcomed its establishment 18 months later as the first 24-hour police station in my electorate. The status of the Batemans Bay patrol needs to be maintained, but I am strongly opposed to any move to downgrade the Bega police patrol. I call on the Minister to assure my constituents that the present status of the Bega patrol will be maintained and that a commissioned officer will be retained at Bega police station. [Time expired.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.22 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Bega for raising this matter. I will ensure that his contribution and the details of his petition are referred to the Minister for Police for necessary attention. I shall make a couple of points without referring specifically to the Bega patrol. Honourable members are aware of comments of the Minister for Police that there will be more police in the Police Service than ever before as a result of the Government's actions. The new arrangements, the new Commissioner of Police and the new regions will improve the efficiency of service delivery by the New South Wales Police Service. Whilst the honourable member referred to the loss of an inspector and his replacement by a sergeant, the honourable member did not refer to the loss of any police numbers. Surely, a matter to raise in the House would be the number of police working on the street, because people are concerned about that. They are not concerned about whether their local police station has a senior sergeant, a senior inspector or a senior superintendent as officer in charge.
Amalgamating patrols or introducing an area command does not cut down on police servicing or the number of police on the street; as a general rule it cuts down on administration. The Government, the Police Service and the new commissioner are about taking police away from their desk jobs and putting them on the streets. A glaring omission from the honourable member's contribution was the number of police stationed at Bega who will perform general duties and the number who will perform patrol duties. Although the honourable member's contribution related mainly to whether the officer in charge will be an inspector or a sergeant, I do not believe that people in the Bega electorate will be disadvantaged in any way if the rank of the officer in charge is changed as a result of reorganisation of the New South Wales Police Service.
CENTRAL COAST WATER SERVICES REVIEW
Mr McBRIDE (The Entrance) [5.24 p.m.]: Today I tabled a petition relating to the Gosford and Wyong shires water and sewerage service signed by more than 4,500 concerned central coast constituents. It is the largest block of petitions I have tendered to the Parliament on behalf of central coast residents. The petition was first circulated at a protest meeting of workers, their families and residents that was held two weeks before Christmas 1996. The meeting was the largest protest meeting ever held on the central coast, with more than 2,000 people attending the rally in Graham Park, Gosford. The petition requests that the Government, first, conclude the review as a matter of urgency; second, support the retention of the current administration of water and sewerage supply by both councils; and, third, support the maintenance of relevant jobs for employees on the central coast.
The community is particularly concerned about the agenda of the inquiry, that is, the motive for instituting another inquiry when Government reviews in 1986-87 and 1992-93 clearly demonstrated that existing services are both cost effective and efficient. Furthermore, the 1994
KPMG management consultancy report commissioned by the two councils, and regular Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal reviews, confirmed that the councils were operating efficiently and found no reason for radical change. In summary, the Government's reviews in 1986-87 and 1992-93, the KPMG report and regular IPART reviews confirmed the efficiencies of the existing system. That being the case, the local central coast community is rightly sceptical about the intentions of the bureaucrats in the Treasury initiating yet another inquiry.
The community believes that the intention is to raid the assets of the services under the flag of economic rationalism. Given the record of Treasury bureaucrats in such matters, such a conclusion by the community is patent commonsense. The community is also concerned about the impact of changing the system by either corporatising or - far worse, in my view - amalgamating the services with those of either the Hunter Water Corporation or Sydney Water. Again, I agree with the community and believe that its concerns are justified. History relating to power distribution on the central coast supports this view. When the local power distributor, Shortland County Council, merged with Sydney County Council, the level of local service greatly reduced. The level of service in times of emergency is even worse, and I, like thousands of central coast residents, speak from first-hand experience.
I totally support the community's view that any change to the existing system will result in a decrease in services to ratepayers, an issue of particular concern to aged residents and young families on the central coast. The community is also concerned about the impact of job losses on its social fabric and quality of life. A change to the system will, without question, lead to a loss of jobs. All Australians have witnessed the devastating loss of jobs in regional Australia that resulted from economic rationalism policies of State and Federal governments. As for the private sector, I remind honourable members that changes to the banking system have resulted in fewer jobs and higher costs to consumers. That is what economic rationalism means to ordinary families.
Currently, the water supply and sewerage system directly employs 300 people. Any change to the existing system threatens that level of employment. The central coast cannot afford to lose one job in the current job climate. Local jobs for local residents is the most important social issue confronting the central coast today. In conclusion, I repeat the request I made to the Treasurer in my private member's statement on 30 October last year. I ask the Treasurer in another place to direct his department to wind up this review as quickly as possible, to support retention of the status quo, and to leave central coast water supply and sewerage services under the control of local councils, thereby supporting the will of the central coast community on this issue. As I said, today I tendered petitions containing 4,500 signatures representing 4,500 residents of the central coast who have expressed their will unequivocally on this issue.
Mr RIXON (Lismore) [5.29 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House problems relating to the pricing structure of units of electricity in the area of the north coast serviced by NorthPower. The difficulty is in relation to the practice of charging a minimum fee for the provision of electricity to premises. It has been reported to me that the Upper Clarence Historical Society has been asked to pay a minimum charge of $71 even if the total of electricity units would cost much less. This means that the society, which maintains an historical pioneer cottage in Urbenville that is opened only occasionally for viewing, when electricity needs to be used, has a very great drain on its limited resources. Indeed, the Upper Clarence Historical Society may be forced to have the electricity cut off. The Kyogle Presbyterian Church has written to me expressing a similar difficulty. The church first wrote to NorthPower on 19 November 1996 in the following terms:
PO Box 110
Attention Mr Mal Moy
Our committee of management have expressed concern at the surcharges on our accounts . . . Kyogle Presbyterian Church. Our aim in life is to provide religious teaching and encourage christianity in the areas of Wiangarie (where services are conducted once a month) and Woodenbong (services are conducted weekly at 5pm) A perusal of these two accounts will show that the cost of power consumed is quite small and the surcharge hovers around the $28.00 mark. We are also obliged to provide services for people who do not contribute to church funds but have no hesitation in requesting burials and funerals.
As well our contributors to church funds are mostly pensioners and as such our income is severely restricted.
Is there any way that we could avoid these quarterly surcharges?
We would be prepared to pay a sum up in advance suggesting say $50.00 and we would be prepared to read the meters every 3 months and offer the thought that NorthPower read the meters every 12 months for your satisfaction and we could adjust any errors at that time.
The Wiangarie service is conducted at night so power is used for lights and playing the organ and Woodenbong really only needs power for playing the organ and possibly electric fans.
I would appreciate your considering our request and look forward to your reply in the near future.
Recently I received a letter from the Kyogle Presbyterian Church dated 11 April 1997. The letter reads as follows:
Enclosed is a copy of a letter forwarded to Northpower in November 1996, which is self explanatory. Also is a copy of the latest account where the minimum charge has now gone to $29.00. We only received a phone call from Northpower saying we get the power at a reduced rate and we wrote to them asking them to answer our query about paying $50.00 in advance and are unable to get a reply in writing.
I would appreciate if you could make investigations in this matter and if appropriate forward it on to the appropriate minister to see if he can do anything to assist us in this excessive overcharge. You will note our power used in the quarter was $1.11 for Woodenbong and $6.38 for Wiangarie and we have been charged $62.00. This amounts to an excess payment of $54.51 multiplied by four comes to $218.00 paid which to me seems a big rip off.
We like most churches are finding extreme difficulty in staying solvent and charges like this are not helping and I would appreciate it if you are able to assist us.
The two letters explain two things. First, all of those low-income charitable and non-profit groups are being charged for electricity they have not used and they cannot afford the cost. I am asking the Parliament - both sides of the House - about the ethics of this. Surely consideration should be given to implementing a policy of asking charitable non-profit groups to pay only for electricity used. Second, I am concerned that NorthPower had not by 11 April 1997 replied in writing to a letter written on 19 November 1996. There is an expression, "A king should be judged on how he treats the lowliest of his subjects." Those sentiments should apply also to a business such as NorthPower, and perhaps to Parliament as well. I ask the Parliament to give this matter special consideration.
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [5.34 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of honourable members the problem of home invasion and the form of sentencing that can flow from such crimes. In the electorate of Waratah one Mr William O'Neill, aged 80 years, was in November last year attacked in his home, being woken from a deep sleep by intruders breaking in through a window. The intruders were two young men aged 19 and 18 who were armed with broomstick handles. By the assessment of the judge, Judge Job, the intruders broke into Mr O'Neill's home with the intention of robbing him. This matter was canvassed fully in the Newcastle Herald on Friday, 11 April 1997.
It should be borne in mind that the two assailants broke into a house. They were armed, within the ambit of the Act, with weapons. The intruders attacked the elderly gentleman. At 80 years of age one does not have a great deal of fight, although I give it to Mr O'Neill that he certainly had a go. For Mr O'Neill's trouble he suffered a bleeding nose, bruising and abrasions and was held in a headlock while his house was ransacked. The sum taken, according to the court hearing and the prosecution, was $165 from a wallet. Mr O'Neill says that he cannot prove it but $1,500 set aside for his late wife's headstone and grave surround was also taken. That charge was dropped because of lack of evidence. Mr O'Neill's wife had died not long before the attack.
The two young men convicted were handed down a sentence of home detention. Home detention is a great system; I have no difficulty with it personally, but I worry about its application to crimes of violence. Detainees must wear an anklet or bracelet so their movements can be monitored over the telephone. In this way they are able to go to work and attend a number of other activities. Home detention is fine, but I question its application for people who have been convicted of attacking someone in his home - a premeditated attack with a weapon - and stealing from him. In this particular case bail of $500 was set for each of the two young men until 1 May so that they could be assessed to determine whether they were suitable for home detention.
I hesitate to criticise the judiciary. I believe that the legislation is adequate in terms of the medium of sentencing and I believe the range of options available to the bench is sufficient. This may be a matter of judgment, and I certainly was not in the court and did not hear the evidence. However, I have seen the victim and I am aware that he has been contacted by many people, including police officers, who have expressed concern at the kind of sentence that could come as a result of this decision. We are not here to punish those who do not deserve punishment but we are certainly not here to punish the victims. I know that Mr O'Neill is entitled to apply for a victim's compensation award, but that is hardly the point. He is an elderly man who has been through a life-threatening experience. The court has ruled in favour of the prosecution but the sentence would appear to be most inadequate.
I have raised this matter with my colleague the Minister for Corrective Services and I hope he will comment on it. The incidence of home invasion in
my electorate is increasing. There have been a number of incidents in the Kurri Kurri and western Cessnock area and in Wallsend. This is a matter that cannot be treated lightly. It is about the sentence implications and the carrying out of the sentence that I am concerned. I would like this matter referred to the department or back to the Director of Public Prosecutions to check the sentence to determine whether it is considered to be adequate, because if it is and if this is the way violent crime is to be dealt with I have a personal concern about the structure of the law and its application. I know that Mr O'Neill is looking forward to some action in this matter and he is entitled to consideration. This was a dastardly crime performed by two cowardly young men. Our community should be free of such appalling crime. There was no criticism of the police in their action of apprehension of the intruders, but the sentencing certainly appears to be out of order and its application will be even worse. [Time expired.]
Mr DEBUS (Blue Mountains - Minister for Corrective Services, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts) [5.39 p.m.]: It would be improper for me, of course, to comment directly on a matter that is before the courts for decision. However, for the benefit of the honourable member, in general terms home detention is not available to people convicted of murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, armed robbery, offences involving a firearm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, domestic violence and so on. Even if an offender does not fall into one of those categories, an assessment must be made as to suitability for a home detention order. Such assessment must take into account the criminal record and likelihood of reoffending, any drug dependency, the possibility of domestic violence, any circumstances that would make monitoring an order difficult, and, most significantly in the present instance, whether the making of the order would place at risk of harm any person who would be living with or in the vicinity of the offender, which obviously includes the victim of the offence.
Assessments are carried out by experienced officers of the Probation and Parole Service, and the safety of the community is the primary consideration. If the assessing officer considers that the offender poses a substantial threat to any member of the community, including the victim, the offender would be deemed unsuitable. I am advised by the Assistant Commissioner, Community Corrections, that the officers currently conducting assessments of the offenders referred to by the honourable member for Waratah are aware of the sensitivity of the situation. Merely being eligible and passing this rigorous assessment process does not entitle an offender to be sentenced to home detention. The judge, who makes the final decision, is free to reject a favourable assessment and instead confirm the sentence of imprisonment originally imposed. I am happy to refer the honourable member's concerns to the attention of the Attorney General.
CITYRAIL TRAIN DELAYS
Mr KERR (Cronulla) [5.41 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House the suffering experienced by train travellers as a result of a most chaotic train system. In the time I have been a member of this House I have not heard so many complaints about this State's train services. An indication of the many letters and phone calls I have received are the concerns of a Kurnell resident who said:
I would like to express my total dissatisfaction with the present running of the train system.
I travel to work by train from Cronulla to St Leonards each day.
It is now taking me, on an average, 20 to 60 minutes extra in travelling time each day than it did about a year ago.
Just about every day there seems to be . . . either a train running late, or that doesn't turn up or is cancelled. As I catch two trains I miss the "connecting" train and I have to wait for next train (if that one hasn't been cancelled).
On the Sutherland line it has become a slower journey with the additional stops introduced with the new timetable of Rockdale and Peakhurst. There are also delays, I assume, partly caused by the construction of the Airport connection.
After the slower trip there are long delays at Caringbah waiting for a train to come up from Cronulla along the single track. It is quite frustrating to be so close yet so far away from my final destination.
Honourable members would be aware that these are only some of the experiences of train travellers from my electorate. One person wrote to me saying that it was not work-related stress that is killing people but the stress of getting to work. The Government claims more people now travel on trains and buses. To the people of my electorate, that certainly seems to be the case. I am not in a position to say whether that claim is correct. However, people are certainly spending more time on trains getting to and from their destinations than they ever have previously.
AUBURN ELECTORATE OLYMPIC GAMES ACTIVITIES
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [5.43 p.m.]: I refer to the Olympic activities that will be take place in the Auburn electorate. Last week during private members' statements I thanked Ms Diane Stone and Ms Kimberley Goff for their help during their recent visit from the United States. I reiterate those comments. Ms Diane Stone was responsible for Olympic community activities in the local
government area of Decatur, DeKalb County, Georgia, where some Atlanta Olympic Games events were held. Kimberley Goff was the Atlanta Games coordinator and organised accommodation and pre-training for those athletes who came early to Atlanta to prepare and acclimatise for the Games. These two women met community members from my electorate and encouraged them to discuss a range of Olympic projects including beautification, culture, education, transport, the House of Nations concept, festivals, and the disadvantaged and poor children's ticket program. These two women gave their time and expertise to generate enthusiasm in my electorate for the Sydney 2000 Games. Seven seminars were held and many matters evolved. A public meeting will be held in the near future for those who have expressed interest in being involved in the various activities in the Auburn electorate during the years up to and including the year 2000, the year of the Games.
The people of Auburn, Berala, Regents Park, Silverwater and Lidcombe will have the opportunity to establish a local coordinating and organising Olympic community committee. They will be able to meet often and will work with an overall coordinating body that I trust will be sponsored by the local council. This community committee will be responsible for preparing the Auburn community for the 2000 Olympic Games. During a study tour of Atlanta I saw first hand the preparations for the 1996 Atlanta Games, which included a range of matters with which my community can be involved. I am pleased that the Minister for the Olympics is in the Chamber. I commented last week that he is doing a good job preparing this State for the 2000 Olympic Games.
One project in which I have taken an interest is the purchase of tickets for children of the poor, and disadvantaged and disabled children in my electorate. I shall push this scheme hard to ensure that those children receive free tickets to various Games events. The tickets will be purchased as a result of the efforts of local businesses in the Auburn electorate. Already I have had an excellent response from a number of big companies which have offered donations. I propose that my electorate raise the funds to purchase approximately 600 tickets. It has been estimated that $50,000 will be needed to meet that commitment. The children will know that many people have put a great deal of effort into raising the money to give them the advantage of attending the 2000 Olympic Games.
I thank John Laws and Alan Jones from 2UE and Mike Bailey from 2KY for their support of this project. It is an excellent project and if the quota is reached to enable sufficient tickets to be purchased, those children will enjoy the 2000 Olympic Games. More than 22 per cent of people in the Auburn electorate are unemployed. The tickets will be distributed fairly and equitably. I thank Diane Stone and Kimberley Goff for their encouragement during their visit. The Auburn electorate has residents of 40 different nationalities. These include Arabs, Lebanese, Turks, Chinese and the ever-increasing Indian community, as well as Ukrainians, Croatians and on to the nth degree of the 40 nationalities. I shall be coordinating another project, the creation of national houses, with the help of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Minister's office. In Atlanta a barn was converted to represent the House of Ireland. It was sponsored by Guinness, and athletes and coaches would visit to relax during the Games. [Time expired.]
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown - Minister for the Olympics) [5.48 p.m.]: The honourable member for Auburn, as all honourable members are aware, has a special privilege in representing the electorate in which the majority of facilities for the Sydney Olympic Games will be located. That special privilege brings with it a special responsibility. I am pleased that he has been vigilant in fulfilling that responsibility by ensuring that his community is involved in the Games at all levels, and that it derives the maximum benefit from the Sydney Olympics or, as he sometimes likes to call them, the Auburn Olympics. I join with the honourable member in acknowledging the contribution of Diane Stone from the DeKalb Business and Visitors Bureau and Kimberley Goff from the Georgia Sporting Alliance, who were here in January. The honourable member for Auburn and others were involved in raising funds for their airfare and accommodation, but Diane and Kimberley received no wages, salary or stipend. They came because they are enthusiastic about the Olympics and saw how the Olympics had benefited their communities. They were keen to share that spirit and their information. We thank them for their contribution.
The honourable member for Auburn also mentioned a number of media people who assisted him with fundraising. Amongst those he mentioned was Alan Jones from 2UE. This is an appropriate time to indicate that Alan Jones will broadcast live from the Homebush site on Friday morning to share information about the Games and spread enthusiasm for them. That enthusiasm is felt by most members of Parliament. The honourable member for Auburn is certainly in the lead, but members on both sides of the House are supportive and enthusiastic. I only wish that we could get the Leader of the Opposition to join in, and we would all be there.
NOXIOUS WEED CONTROL FUNDING
Mr SMALL (Murray) [5.50 p.m.]: I raise the issue of State Government funding for the control of noxious weeds, particularly for 1996-97 and for the future. I am pleased that the Minister for Agriculture is in the House to respond to my concerns. The shires of Balranald, Corowa, Hay, Jerilderie, Lockhart, Urana, Wakool and Wentworth receive direct funding for weed control, which is an important issue for those areas. The Central Murray County Council includes delegates from Deniliquin, Berrigan, Windouran, Murray and Conargo. The council's purpose is the eradication of noxious plants. In 1991 the former Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Ian Armstrong, increased funding for weed control to $5 million. That was a large increase, but there has not been an increase since then.
Since that time inflation may not have been high, perhaps only 2 per cent per year, but wages and the cost of chemicals have increased. The cost of chemicals has increased above normal inflation rates. Two shires have written to me concerning this matter. One, the Jerilderie Shire Council, received $28,000 in 1993-94, $30,000 in 1994-95, $28,000 in 1995-96, but the funding decreased to $25,200 in 1996-97. With a 2 per cent inflation rate the council should receive another $6,000 this year, which will take its funding to a minimum of $31,000. I have received a letter from the Lockhart Shire Council which states:
For your information I advise that Council has again maintained its provision for noxious weeds control in 1996/97 based on the application made for $38,525 matched grant funding. Due to funding received being only $28,800.00 Council has had to make up the shortfall of $9725.00. Council received $32,000.00 matched grant funds in 1995/96. It is paramount that sufficient grant funds are made available for the continued control of noxious weeds at the current level as a reduction in funding may have serious long term effects which will be even more costly to rectify.
I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the shires receive the necessary funding to fulfil their important weed control function. Within tight budgetary constraints it is important that the need for weed control funding not be ignored. Farm land, nature strips, Crown land and areas controlled by the Rural Land Protection Board State Council, through which there is movement of stock, all need weed control. Following years of drought new varieties of weeds have been discovered. They are carried in the wool of sheep or through the digestive systems of cattle as they are transported from one area to another. These weeds have serious consequences in rural areas. I appeal to the Minister; I know the Minister is sincere in wanting to help with this problem, and I appeal to him for assistance.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.55 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Murray for his contribution, with which I have very little disagreement. I certainly agree that the funding for the eradication of noxious weeds should be enhanced. The honourable member was correct when he said that funding was last increased in the 1990-91 financial year. At that time it was increased to $5 million. I certainly take this issue on board and will continue to lobby for increased funding for that specific purpose, funding which will go to the various control authorities.
The honourable member for Murray said that funding to the Jerilderie Shire Council dropped from $28,000 to $25,200. That decrease was not a result of the State Government cutting noxious weed funding; it was a result of the unused funds from the previous year having a flow-over effect. In the previous year there appeared to be a larger amount of money available for weed control, but that was not as a result of increased government funding in that previous year. The Government's allocation has been static at $5 million. Last year a greater amount than that was made available. This year, because of the carryover arrangement, allocations will return to normal.
Many control authorities received, in effect, a lesser allocation. I acknowledge what the honourable member for Murray has said about the drought easing in many parts of the State. With the movement of stock many new weeds have appeared, and that problem is worsening. I will bear in mind the responsible comments of the honourable member for Murray when I lobby for an enhancement of weed control funding. Later this year I will respond to public comment on the weeds discussion paper, which I released in Dubbo last year. A new discussion paper will be released later this year. As the session unfolds honourable members will have plenty of opportunities to discuss issues relating to weeds.
CANTERBURY HOSPITAL ROADWORKS
Mr MOSS (Canterbury) [5.57 p.m.]: I support the funding allocated by the Roads and Traffic Authority under the 3 x 3 program for roadworks and associated works around the new Canterbury Hospital site. An offer has been made to the Southern Sydney Region of Councils, which includes Canterbury City Council, of a one-off grant for a project of regional significance. I do not know of any project more worthy of the classification "of regional significance" than a new public hospital. Of the submissions by the various councils, Canterbury City Council's submission for associated works around the hospital site must have priority. The
funding is needed because the Government has allocated $80 million to build the new hospital, but no funding has been made available for infrastructure.
I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if the Canterbury Hospital site were being privately developed to the tune of $80 million, under section 94 of the Local Government Act councils would be able to insist that infrastructure be included at the developer's cost, including kerbing and guttering, road resealing, footpath paving and the like. The new hospital will occupy a full block. It is surrounded by four streets and the area is in poor condition. A good deal of the proposed work is absolutely necessary and will complement the new hospital - and I am not talking only about beautification of the site. Included in the council's submission is provision for an additional lane of traffic to access the hospital site from Canterbury Road. That is necessary because the hospital will be much larger than it was previously. A considerable amount of traffic will be entering and leaving the site because parking is being provided there. Unless Canterbury Road is widened it will be heavily congested.
The application also includes a request for the provision of dedicated turning lanes in Canterbury Road. That would involve kerb and gutter realignment, road pavement and footpath reconstruction, as well as replacement and augmentation of the traffic control signals to suit the proposed realigned intersection. In addition, a bus bay is proposed on the site. It is hoped that a portico will be established to the bus bay to provide shelter and access directly to the hospital's administration block. Vehicular crossings to service the hospital are to be constructed. I have not yet heard of a development in which the local council had to provide crossings for motor vehicles, but that would appear to be the case with the new Canterbury Hospital.
However, the good news is that all of the work I have mentioned is estimated to cost only $1.22 million. That is a very reasonable figure when one remembers that the hospital has a four-street perimeter. The application meets the funding criteria of the Roads and Traffic Authority, which stresses that the project should develop and improve transport interchanges, and provide off-road parking to enable bus and transit lanes and improved movement of public transport. I appeal to the Minister for Roads to look favourably on this new 3 x 3 funding application which will undoubtedly enhance the State's newest and most modern public hospital.
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown - Minister for the Olympics) [6.02 p.m.] Although these are not matters for which I have responsibility since relinquishing the roads portfolio last year, the honourable member for Canterbury has put a strong case. Whether the Minister for Roads is able to provide funding within the current budgetary constraints is a matter that only he can decide. I will certainly draw the attention of the Minister for Roads to the strong representations made by the honourable member for Canterbury.
NEEDLE AND SYRINGE EXCHANGE PROGRAM
Mr SCHULTZ (Burrinjuck) [6.03 p.m.]: I speak on a matter of deep personal concern to myself, to my constituents and to others in both the Sydney urban area and in rural New South Wales. That matter is the so-called needle exchange program that has been operating for some years. I commonly refer to it as the needle distribution program because in my opinion that is an apt description. I have become concerned about the increase in the use of heroin, and to some degree I believe that is related to the distribution of needles and syringes through the needle exchange program. In January of this year I made some inquiries of the South West Centre for Public Health at Albury about the program. I asked a number of questions of the centre by fax. Those questions related to the location of distribution points, and how many needles and syringes were being distributed in the Greater Murray Area Health Service.
After a number of phone calls I finally got some answers. One answer of particular concern to me referred to the handing out of 35,000 fits in 1996. A fit is a pack containing five needles or syringes, five condoms and sterile water. That is 175,000 needles distributed in the Greater Murray Health Service. This month I asked questions about the needle and syringe exchange program of the Southern New South Wales Public Health Unit, which covers the electorate of Burrinjuck. I received no answers to those questions. On 9 April I received a letter advising that my inquiries have been referred to the Minister's office. My concern centres around the veil of secrecy that seems to be endemic in the New South Wales health system in relation to the number of syringes and needles being distributed.
In 1989, two million needles were distributed and today two million needles are being distributed by the New South Wales Pharmacy Guild, which only gets 68 per cent of them back. That means that there are 750,000 needles on the beaches, in the parks or wherever. They pose a serious threat of needlestick injuries. Unofficially I have been told that in 1997 the health department will distribute 3.5
million syringes. That is a massive total of 5.5 million needles that are being distributed in this State. After I made further inquiries I got my hands on a document entitled NSW Needle and Syringe Exchange, Policy and Procedures Manual, dated May 1994. Having read that document the reason for the cloak of secrecy around this program became evident to me. Page 18 of that document, under the heading "Police Liaison and Relationships", states in part:
II Staff do not become involved in any interactions between police, IDU [intravenous drug user] and dealers.
III Information to the police should relate only to the program itself, authorised outlets and authorised persons . . .
IV d) They do not give to police any information regarding activities of IDU or dealers.
That is a classic example of the cloak of secrecy to which I referred. Page 22 states in part:
Staff should endeavour to adopt a low-key professional approach at all times keeping in mind that public perception of the service is crucial to its success.
The document states that no records of names are kept, especially in relation to drug-user activities, which should be treated as strictly confidential. What is happening to society today when those sorts of instructions, which are issued by the health department, are curtailing the efforts of the Police Service to combat the ever-increasing use of heroin in our community? On page 29 under the heading "Advertising" the manual states:
To protect the anonymity of clients -
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE HOLSWORTHY LAND
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [6.08 p.m.]: At times in this House politics must be thrown aside and members must work together for the good of the community. Again I raise the issue of the proposed airport at Holsworthy. I call upon my Liberal Party colleagues from the electorates of Sutherland, Miranda and Cronulla to join with the member for the Federal electorate of Hughes, Danna Vale, and myself to halt this ridiculous proposal. For 18 months we have been fighting the proposal by the Federal coalition Government for an airport that will foist 360,000 aircraft movements on my electorate and the adjoining electorates, which are represented by Liberal members.
To her credit, Danna Vale at least continues to argue about this disastrous proposal, although after 18 months of publicity the Federal Liberal Government is hell-bent on pursuing this proposal. There is no need for a vote on this issue, might I add. Danna Vale is running around the Sutherland shire saying she will vote against this issue when it comes before Parliament. Let me tell honourable members and the people of New South Wales, and the people of my electorate in particular, that there is no requirement for a vote. Any decision by the Federal Government to ensure the Holsworthy proposal will be made by Federal Cabinet, and it will be implemented immediately without a vote in Federal Parliament. The time has come for people such as the honourable member for Cronulla, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and the honourable member for Sutherland to start making noises, not only in this House but also by telling their colleagues in the Federal Liberal Party that we will not cop this airport in Holsworthy.
I will tell honourable members why the matter has not been mentioned. I have called a public meeting for 30 April at 7.30 p.m. in the assembly hall of St John Bosco school in Waratah Road, Engadine. I have done so for one specific reason: the significance of holding the public meeting there is to inform the people of Sutherland shire that our children's education will be seriously affected by the number of aircraft movements over Engadine, Heathcote and the Sutherland shire, including Kirrawee, Cronulla and Gymea. The time has come when politics must be forgotten. I want the three honourable members from the Sutherland shire to get themselves out of their closets and up onto the podium with Danna Vale and me and start making some noises on behalf of their constituents. Some serious questions have to be answered. Why is Holsworthy being considered as the site of a second airport when it has been rejected on two occasions? Why does the Minister who represents the Federal seat of Goulburn continue to say that Goulburn is not the place for the second airport?
At a public meeting in Goulburn some months ago, only four of the 150 people who attended said that they would not support the proposal. Is the Minister more concerned about sheep than he is about his constituents? Perhaps the fact that he is the farmers' representative is more in keeping with the fact that he does not want an airport in the Goulburn region. Let us consider the two proposals. An airport at Goulburn would not affect as many residents as an airport at Holsworthy would. The Goulburn people want the airport. The Federal Government has developed a proposal for the introduction of a very fast train between Sydney and Canberra. No other government in the world would consider putting an airport in a place such as Wattle Grove. In every other country in the world the airport is situated within 45 minutes of the major central business district. Here the Government, unbeknownst
to anyone, is maintaining an agenda to put the airport at Holsworthy. An article in today's Sydney Morning Herald relating to road options for this airport proposal clearly indicates that Sutherland shire, Engadine and the Woronora River will be devastated by the road infrastructure that will be required for the airport. I hope that my Liberal colleagues will start to get their act together and support the cause.
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown - Minister for the Olympics) [6.13 p.m.]: I am happy to record my support for the comments made by the honourable member for Bulli. He has mounted a strong and vigorous campaign to stop this abomination that sections of the Federal Government seem intent on inflicting not only on his constituents but on the constituents of the honourable member for Cronulla and those of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I hope that when the honourable member for Cronulla has an opportunity to speak he will not be silent on this important issue that will affect his constituents. It is also an issue that will very dramatically affect my constituents in the electorate of Campbelltown.
The honourable member for Bulli said that Danna Vale, the Federal member for Hughes in the Sutherland area, will support the Opposition on this issue. We hope that her voice will be heard; we hope that her views will actually have some clout with the Federal Government and that she is not simply going through the motions. I must say that that is in marked contrast to the Federal Minister for Finance - a former Premier of this State and now the Federal Member for Macarthur at the other end of the constituencies affected by the proposed airport at Holsworthy - who time and again has refused to voice his opposition to the airport on behalf of his constituents. I certainly urge him to take up the cudgels on behalf of those who elected him and join with Danna Vale, the honourable member for Bulli and my colleague the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, who strongly oppose this abominable proposal.
Private members' statements noted.
[Mr Acting Speaker (Mr Mills) left the chair at 6.15 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]
NEW AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRIES
Matter of Public Importance
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [7.30 p.m.]: I was referring to the price of cows sold through saleyards. In 1987 the price per kilo, in live weight, was 82.5¢; in January 1997 it was 67.9¢; so prices for beef have dropped markedly in the last 10 years. The supermarket price of a carton of milk in June 1987 was 80¢; in January 1997 it was $1.14. The yield in cartons of milk per cow was 475 in 1987 compared with 274 in January 1997. Fuel is a commodity that is heavily used by landholders. In 1987 one litre of super-grade petrol cost 55.9¢ a litre, and in January 1997 it cost 72.8¢ a litre. Those prices were detailed in a newspaper report, but I suggest a litre of fuel would probably cost closer to 80¢ a litre. In 1987 farmers could purchase 690 litres of fuel for the price of a cow compared with 433 litres today. That demonstrates the significant fall back in agriculture.
Ten years ago the price of a standard Commodore car was $19,598; today it is $29,610. In 1987 the number of cows or beef cattle that would have to be sold to purchase a Commodore was 51; today it is 94. This again demonstrates that purchasing power has decreased severely over that 10-year period. There is a dire need for the State Government to address this fall, particularly in light of the fact that many businesses are relocating and hence taking vital dollars out of New South Wales. Businesses and producers must be encouraged to work smarter, not harder, to address this fall in their economic standard of living.
The Government has a responsibility to market New South Wales better and more aggressively to businesses on a global basis, and to restore its purchasing power. Technology has changed the way the Government and other private sector organisations carry out their business. The Government does not recognise this, nor does it encourage a macroeconomic approach to marketing the goods and services that this State can provide to the rest of the world. Rural Australia is changing. These changes must be modified for the better rather than for the worse. It is a question of constantly keeping in mind the repercussions and implications that decisions made in the city have on people in country New South Wales.
We are debating the value of emerging agricultural industries to the economy of New South Wales, to job growth in rural and regional communities, and to the prospect of long-term viability for farmers. Their viability is secure provided governments and agriculture Ministers act responsibly and properly to ensure that it happens. This city-based Government cannot ignore the needs of New South Wales and the economy it produces for the welfare of this State and our nation.
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [7.35 p.m.]: Because I have a rural background, having come from Young many years ago, this matter is close to my heart. The emergence of a number of new agricultural industries in this State is the direct result of decisions taken by the Carr Government. This
Government told farmers it would deliver, and it has proved once again that it does deliver. The agriculture Minister has a real grip on his portfolio, and the beneficiaries are the farmers. Industries such as the rabbit-meat industry and the fibre hemp trials that are being conducted across the State have the potential to create significant benefits for farmers in rural communities.
Mr Amery: And the Opposition blocked both of them.
Mr GIBSON: That is right, and the farmers in this State should know that. It is good to see the Minister and the department encouraging farmers to move away from traditional crops. When I was on the land in Young, sheep and wheat crops and orchards were the main farming activities. Nobody ever thought about trying anything different. Farmers are now growing olives and hemp. The full extent of the economic benefits are not known. I am happy to support the Minister in this debate because it is important to support the development of new agricultural industries in New South Wales.
In particular I refer to recent developments in the boer goat industry, which is new to New South Wales. I have been a member of this House for 10 years and in that time I have never heard a reference to that industry. The first introduced boer goats were released 18 months ago, following an extensive quarantine period. This goat, which comes from South Africa, is the only selectively bred meat goat. With fast lean growth, superior feed conversion and an excellent carcase conformation, this new breed has the ability to improve the quality and value of the Australian goat-meat industry.
This shows the diversion of the farming industry in this State, and I am proud to be part of the Government which introduced the boer goat from South Africa. Boer goats, purebred or crossbred with Australian feral goats, are an exciting alternative industry for New South Wales producers. About three weeks ago I received a letter from somebody in a place called Wombat, a little town eight miles out of Young. The writer of the letter congratulated this Government on taking the initiative with the boer goat industry. He said that in time this meat will be most beneficial for consumption because of its low fat content.
Goat meat is the most eaten meat in the world today, but this is the first time it has been referred to in this Chamber. It is a great addition to our stocks. Australia has developed an export industry based largely on managing and harvesting feral goat herds. Traditional sheep and cattle graziers now have the opportunity to diversify their farming enterprises with boer goats. For many years farming industries in this State and country have had problems. They had the capability to diversify, but change comes at a price and many people are reluctant to change. Farmers are now being encouraged to change from their traditional methods of farming.
In New South Wales approximately 40 stud herds and 100 commercial units are utilising both purebred and crossbred animals, and I am sure those numbers will increase considerably over the next few years. Boer goats require less management intervention than sheep herds and in fact are able to deliver management advantages to producers. Money is being invested in the boer goat industry because these animals produce meat at a lower cost than traditional sheep and cattle herds. Goats may run in conjunction with sheep and cattle, aid pasture management and deliver significant benefits in terms of weed control, which is important. As a man on the land many years ago, I know that weed control is important, particularly in such areas as Young, Wombat, Murringo, Greenvale and Kingsvale, with the cherry orchards and so on. [Time expired.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [7.40 p.m], in reply: I am indebted to the honourable member for Londonderry for his support on this matter of public importance and for introducing into the debate another emerging industry in this country, and certainly in this State. His comments about the boer goat are timely because the association representing that industry visited me recently to obtain assistance from the Department of Agriculture with regard to providing farmers with information, helping with publications and so on. That is what this motion is about. Whilst the Government accepts that the major industries - wool, grain and livestock, which I mentioned earlier - will always dominate the agricultural debate, the honourable member for Londonderry highlighted the many opportunities for farmers to diversify. I accept his point that farmers are reluctant to change, and before they do it will be necessary for the Government and the department to provide information to give them confidence to diversify and take those opportunities.
The honourable member for Murray, who led for the Opposition, made his contribution in a responsible way, but I must criticise some of the points he made. He concentrated on the more traditional markets and agriculture industries and made little reference to emerging industries. Whilst he must be commended for that, he did not address the topic of debate. The honourable member asked about the closure of bank branches in rural New South Wales and what the Government was doing about that. All honourable members know that those closures are based on commercial bank decisions.
However, the Government has recognised the decisions by banks to close rural branches, and the Office of Rural Communities has investigated the impact of those closures on rural communities. As a result, the Government has allocated funds to Creditcare to promote credit unions in rural New South Wales. The Trangie branch of Westpac closed, and following representations for which the Premier can take credit, a local credit union is now operating out of the bank building.
I was pleased to open the Agristaff credit union at Leeton. That highlights the fact that the Government is promoting the use of credit unions in towns where bank branches are closing and banks are not supporting their traditional customers. I remind the honourable member for Murray and the honourable member for Wagga Wagga that when the honourable member for Northern Tablelands was the Minister he defended the banks and opposed the Farm Debt Mediation Bill, which was introduced by the Labor Opposition. We stood up to the banks.
Mr Schipp: We were defending our farmers.
Mr AMERY: No, you were not; you were defending the banks. Hansard clearly shows that you defended the banks. Bank officials were sitting in the gallery at the time.
Mr Schipp: On a point of order. I have been accused of defending the banks. Indeed, I was one of the honest brokers who got your people to agree to our deal.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The honourable member will have an opportunity to make a personal explanation at the end of the debate.
Mr Kerr: On a point of order. The Minister should be addressing the House in reply, not introducing fresh material.
Mr AMERY: The honourable member for Murray introduced this subject.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is in order.
Mr AMERY: Opposition members did not make any new contributions to the agriculture debate or provide any new policies. We had the same old comments about the closure of the veterinary laboratories and the Biological and Chemical Research Institute at Rydalmere. Opposition members did not promise to reopen the BCRI at Rydalmere. They had nothing new to say about the emerging industries. I thank the honourable member for Murray for acknowledging that I visit many country areas, including his electorate. I take on board his concerns about the beef industry and beef prices. Whilst beef is not an emerging industry, the problems in that industry are probably the reason that many beef and other producers who are suffering as a result of reduced commodity price are considering some of the emerging industries. The Department of Agriculture is at the forefront of supporting those emerging industries and will undertake the necessary research to make them a success in this State. [Time expired.]
CONVEYANCING AMENDMENT BILL
Debate called on, and adjourned, on motion by Mr Gibson.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion, by leave, by Mr Amery agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the consideration forthwith of committee reports.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Report: A 50km/h General Urban Speed Limit for New South Wales
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [7.48 p.m.]: Speeding is a major factor in road trauma and the major cause of more than one-third of the fatal crashes in New South Wales each year. Speeding ranks with drink driving as the leading cause of crashes on our roads. If the Government is ever to make a dent in the speeding problem it must break the present speed culture. I believe that a 50- kilometre-per-hour speed limit will go a long way to achieve that and make young people realise they should not speed. Hopefully the next generation will carry through that achievement and break down today's speeding culture. The general urban speed limit in New South Wales and throughout Australia is 60 kilometres per hour, which is very high by world standards. Most other countries have an urban speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, and in many jurisdictions the speed limit is even lower. Some countries have urban speed limits of 40 and even 30 kilometres per hour. It is important to note that I am speaking only of residential streets; not main roads or thoroughfares, just where people live. I suppose that what the committee is trying to do in the report is to give the streets where people live back to the families and the people to enjoy.
The report outlines the way in which the Staysafe committee would like to see a lower
general urban speed limit put in place: as one action within an integrated package of measures associated with traffic management, traffic law, police enforcement, and communications strategies designed to educate drivers. If the initiatives on drink-driving and compulsory seat belts have been the most important developments in reducing the road toll, the adoption of a lower general urban speed limit can be seen as another significant piece in the road toll puzzle. Indeed, there is a good argument for proclaiming a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit as the single most important factor in the attempt to reduce the road toll by a significant margin over the next few years.
Research evidence and statistics show that for every one kilometre per hour reduction in the average speed of motor vehicles on our roads a 3 per cent reduction in road crashes can be expected. Every study throughout the world has supported that finding. It is hard to estimate exactly, but I suggest that it would be reasonable to project a reduction in road fatalities and road trauma by about 7 to 10 per cent a year if New South Wales implements a 50- kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. That is, there would be a drop of 30 to 50 deaths each year together with a drop of about 500 to 600 in the number of persons hospitalised. This leads to a conservative estimate of at least $30 million in savings in health costs, property damage and losses to the community. I think it likely that these savings would be more in the range of $50 million each year if productivity losses and other costs associated with road deaths and serious injuries are included. So not only would families be saved trauma; there would also be a significant economic saving.
Let me stress that the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit will affect local streets only. Main traffic routes will retain their current speed limits. This reflects the Staysafe committee's chief concern with respect to a 60-kilometre-per-hour speed limit: the danger posed to pedestrians, particularly children and the elderly. Children spend far more time than adults do in walking, so their exposure to traffic, particularly in residential streets, is much higher than that of adults. Reducing speed limits in these streets will mean children have a safer environment to walk and play in. Moreover, the local streets where we have our homes will become less a conduit for cars and more a space where people can live without the danger of fast traffic. As I said before, we are trying to give the streets back to the people.
The week before last there was a road safety seminar in Parliament House. There were representatives of every Australian road safety committee in every government. Representatives from New Zealand and the Federal Government also attended. After the two-and-a-half-day seminar the first motion passed stated that every State and New Zealand agreed that a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit should be introduced as soon as possible. It is often said that the solution to the speeding problem is more and better designed driver education and driver training programs so that drivers can better perceive and respond appropriately to the variety of road conditions that occur, yet still drive at the speed they wish rather than in accord with any speed limit set by the roads authority and enforced by police. That argument shows the lack of understanding in the community about the role which excessive speeding plays in serious injuries and deaths on urban roads.
The facts are simple: it is pure physics. If a car travelling at 60 kilometres per hour and a car doing 50 kilometres per hour on the same road have to stop suddenly, the car that was travelling at 60 kilometres per hour will still be travelling at 40 kilometres per hour when the car that was travelling at 50 kilometres per hour has stopped. So there is a far greater chance of preventing accidents and injury to pedestrians with a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. Drivers might know all the things to look out for as road hazards but if they are driving too fast then they are the hazard. In the words of a British road safety advertisement, "If you can't stop in time, you are going too fast, aren't you?"
I know that there will be accusations that this is just another revenue-raising exercise by the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. To demonstrate this point, the Staysafe committee has recommended a major revision of speeding offences and penalties. The primary penalty for minor speeding offences - for example, a driver exceeding the speed limit by no more than 10 kilometres per hour - should be demerit points rather than a heavy monetary fine. Staysafe proposes that the current system of a fine of $109 and loss of one demerit point be changed so that the fine is only $65 and the driver loses two demerit points.
The report was tabled in the Parliament in November last year. It was good to see that the police picked up the idea of doubling the demerit points for speeding offences. The trial over the Easter period achieved outstanding results. Staysafe has recommended that a three-month moratorium be placed on the issuing of fines for minor speeding infringements on roads affected by the new speed limit. Staysafe has stressed the crucial role which local councils will play in the successful implementation of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. In a modern society, where the pace of life is so much faster than it once was, it
will be difficult for some people to understand the necessity of slowing drivers down. But, as the report notes, a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit will add virtually nothing to travel times. Surveys involving 26 million kilometres have been conducted. It has been found that perhaps 17 seconds could be added per journey, which is a minimal increase.
Staysafe recognises that the report into the proposed introduction of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit has, of necessity, touched upon more general issues relating to excessive speeding on all New South Wales roads, including rural highways, freeways and urban traffic routes. There are general issues associated with technologies for detection of excessive speeding, the standard operating procedures for police enforcement in relation to excessive speeding, road design and urban and transport planning, and traffic management strategies for the safe and efficient movement of motor vehicles that merit further and more detailed examination than was possible in this inquiry. It is hoped that Staysafe will continue its review of speeding and road safety in later inquiries.
A significant aspect of the Staysafe committee's operation is the bipartisan manner in which the committee members conduct their inquiries and deliberations. I am grateful for the hard work of my colleagues, be they government members, Opposition members or crossbench members. Collectively, the contributions and scrutiny of members of the Staysafe committee ensure that policies and programs for road trauma reduction remain focused and are developed and delivered efficiently and effectively. As ever, the Staysafe committee has been ably served by its director, Mr Ian Faulks, and the secretariat: Mrs Cheryl Samuels, committee officer; Mr Chris Papadopoulos, research officer; and Mrs Maria Tyrogalas and Ms Susan Want, assistant committee officers. The work of these parliamentary officers has greatly assisted the committee's deliberations. I specifically note the contribution of Mr Chris Papadopoulos. He was employed as a research officer to assist the inquiry under a grant from the Minister for Roads for the conduct of the inquiry and he prepared the initial draft report for the committee. Members of the Staysafe committee thank the Parliamentary Reporting Staff and the Parliamentary Printing Services for their excellent work. There is a simple message in the Staysafe report into a lower urban speed limit - "When you're in town, slow down".
Mr JEFFERY (Oxley) [7.58 p.m.]: Following the speech by the Chairman of Staysafe, Mr Gibson, there is not a lot to add in relation to the report Staysafe 34. As the chairman said, speeding is a major problem ranking with drink-driving as a leading cause of crashes in New South Wales, causing more than a third of fatal crashes. We are talking only about residential areas. Children can dart out onto a roadway. A driver may be inattentive or momentarily distracted by an unexpected manoeuvre by another vehicle. There may be a misconception about the nature of the roadway - curves, crests, signs or signals. Such events occur commonly in driving.
I repeat the advice given by the chairman of the Staysafe committee that a car travelling at 60 kilometres per hour requires about 50 metres to come to a complete halt, a car travelling at 70 kilometres per hour requires almost 60 metres, and a car travelling at 80 kilometres an hour requires almost 75 metres. The effects of speed in terms of injuries and deaths are horrific. I shall comment on one or two aspects not raised by the chairman of the committee, the honourable member for Londonderry. During the Easter holiday break demerit points for speeding offences were doubled, and as a result of that I received a few phone calls from angry constituents who claimed that the Government and politicians - myself included, as my constituents know that I am a member of the Staysafe committee - are merely trying to raise revenue.
Mr Amery: I hope the honourable member defended us admirably.
Mr JEFFERY: It can be difficult to come up with a good answer when one is asked why the police are not concentrating on catching the real crooks rather than picking up people who have a quiet drink before driving home or who drive at a couple of kilometres in excess of the limit. My defence was, of course, that if people do not speed and if they do not drive after drinking, they will have no worries. I was unable to win the argument with my constituents, however. Recommendation 7 of report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee states:
The Traffic Act 1901 and associated statutory rules be amended to provide for the imposition of fines and demerit points based on increments of 10 km/h for speeding offences.
Recommendation 8 reads as follows:
The primary punishment emphasis following a conviction of an offence of exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/h or less placed on demerit points rather than on a monetary fine.
In my opinion those are key recommendations. One of the local councils in my electorate, the Kempsey Shire Council, was not in favour of a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit. Apparently the main reason for the council's opposition was its perception that it would incur costs for the erection of signs, et cetera.
Those concerns should be laid to rest by recommendation 15, which states:
(i) ensure that adequate funding is made available to local councils for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit; and
(ii) provide a public assurance to local councils that such funding will be available for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit.
When the recommendations of this report are legislated and fully implemented speed limits in residential areas will be restricted. A limit of 50 kilometres per hour in residential areas has been trialled in some parts of Sydney and has received overwhelming acceptance. The people want this restriction; they know that it will lead to safer conditions for their children, older residents and all road users. The community as a whole will benefit from the recommendations of this report when they are implemented by the Parliament. I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion, rather than reiterate points made by the honourable member for Londonderry. I realise that other members of the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety will wish to make contributions.
I support the remarks made by the chairman of the committee that the committee works with a wonderful bipartisan spirit. The committee gets results without having to go back to the party structure and it makes decisions for the right reasons. It is my belief that the recommendations contained in report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee will be accepted by all. I extend the committee's thanks to its director, Ian Faulks, and its staff. The committee generates a great deal of work and produces many reports. Its work is of great benefit to the community and improves all aspects of road safety. I know that all members of the Staysafe committee gain great satisfaction from their work on the committee.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [8.03 p.m.]: History will judge report No. 34 of the Staysafe committee, recommending a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit for New South Wales, as the second-most significant of all Staysafe committee reports. Of course, it will always be hard to beat the achievements of report No. 1 of 1982, entitled "Alcohol, drugs and road safety", which represented the first serious bipartisan political attempt to tackle the horrendous problem of alcohol-related crashes which so dominated death and injury on our roads. That initiative eventually gained widespread community support. Resulting from report No. 1 of the Staysafe committee and the success of random breath-testing in reducing alcohol-related crashes, today there are some 8,000 or 9,000 people alive who otherwise would not be, some 20,000 people who are alive and healthy rather than being disabled following accidents, and fewer of our public hospital beds occupied by those with serious injuries occasioned by road accidents.
Report No. 34 presents the Staysafe committee recommendations for change in the culture of speeding. Just as, many years ago, we needed to change the booze culture, the drink-driving culture, members of the Staysafe committee have recognised the need to change the culture of speeding. The honourable member for Oxley referred to arguments he had with some of his constituents. I am in the same boat. Many constituents ring me, angry at being fined. They say that they can drive safely at high speeds and should be able to drive at whatever speed they choose. I would say I have lost one or two votes because I put forward the arguments for public safety and community interest in the recommendations of the Staysafe committee.
In an attempt to change the culture of speeding the committee has made recommendations aimed at changing driver behaviour, to reject excessive and inappropriate speed. I certainly hope that in 10 years time we can look back and again count the road safety success in terms of lives saved and injuries and pain forgone. I thank the former Minister for Roads, the Minister for the Olympics, for giving the Staysafe committee the reference to carry out this inquiry. I request that his successor, the present Minister for Roads, make a decision soon to implement the changes recommended by the Staysafe committee so that a start can be made on the necessary community consultation before the reduced general urban speed limit would commence.
Along with other members of the committee, I thank the staff, and particularly the director, Ian Faulks, for their work. I also thank my fellow members on the committee, each and every one of them. Without the spirit of bipartisanship and the dedication of the staff - Ian, Cheryl, Chris, Maria and Susan - we would not have made as much progress. I also thank those who made submissions to the inquiry. In all, 201 submissions were received, almost unanimously in favour of a reduced speed limit for local streets in built-up areas, from 60 to 50 kilometres per hour.
The Staysafe committee seeks cooperation between the Roads and Traffic Authority and local government to establish a specific hierarchy of local streets, collector roads and sub-arterial and arterial traffic routes within suburbs and towns. Until that is right, the final implementation of the scheme will not be able to be introduced. I know from my own
experience on the traffic committees in both Lake Macquarie city and Newcastle city that traffic committees are looking forward to the introduction of a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit. It is my opinion that there will be widespread community acceptance of this recommendation, provided consultation is followed right through.
A number of arguments can be made, but if there is one selling point in the report worth mentioning in favour of the Government adopting these recommendations it is that a 50-kilometre-per-hour general urban speed limit would add virtually nothing to travel times while it would help to save lives, reduce the severity of injuries in road crashes and reduce the cost of property damage. The report contains figures to demonstrate that virtually nothing would be added to travel times. That is an important consideration to take into account. I am sure that New South Wales motorists can be persuaded to accept reduced urban speeds. There is popular support for the proposals. A survey by the National Roads and Motorists Association indicates 74 per cent agreement amongst respondents to a proposal for a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in local streets. The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria has undertaken similar surveys. An RTA survey shows that 54 per cent of respondents were in favour of such a proposal. I commend the recommendations to the Minister.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [8.08 p.m.]: I am honoured to be a member of the Staysafe committee. This bipartisan parliamentary committee may not be appreciated by everyone because it is perceived to be recommending the making of laws, albeit to save lives, and therefore cannot please everyone. The committee was set up to investigate and make recommendations to the Parliament on aspects of road safety, with the aim of reducing the number of road deaths in this State to the lowest possible level. The aim of governments and parliamentary committees such as Staysafe must always be for there to be no deaths on the roads.
When the recommendation for a 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in urban residential streets was first mentioned by the Staysafe committee in Staysafe 34, queries were raised as to why motorists should be restricted to driving at speeds under 60 kilometres per hour when most accidents occur on the major highways. In fact, the statistics of the number of road deaths that occur in urban residential streets are alarming. The road fatalities in residential areas mainly involve the elderly, who often have poor hearing and eyesight, and very young children who play and ride their bicycles on the streets.
The fixing of a maximum speed of 50 kilometres per hour in urban streets will not be a handicap. As most residential areas have intersections at each block, it is difficult to drive above a speed of 50 kilometres per hour. Motorists travelling above that speed would be driving dangerously, unless they were on a main thoroughfare. In these circumstances the Staysafe committee has had discussions with people throughout the country and metropolitan communities of New South Wales. The committee has also heard evidence from representatives from schools, motoring organisations, the NRMA, the Roads and Traffic Authority, the police and other parties the committee considered had an interest in these issues.
I compliment Mr Ian Faulks, Director of the Staysafe committee, and the committee members under the chairmanship of the honourable member for Londonderry. All committee members worked in harmony to achieve the results that are contained in the report. The evidence the committee received was not always favourable to every organisation and from every point of view. Everyone agrees and acknowledges that wherever it is possible to save lives, we have a responsibility to do so, even if the measures to be implemented to achieve that end are unpopular. Another matter of importance, particularly for country New South Wales, mentioned in this take-note debate is that councils were concerned that if they did not secure funding to erect and change signage, including painting speed limit signs on the road surfaces, they would not be able to undertake this work.
The Staysafe committee has recommended that the Government provide funds to enable the RTA to undertake this work with the assistance of local councils. The necessary changes may be costly but local government cannot be expected to pay for them. The way to go was to have the RTA provide assistance to local councils. If the Minister for Roads can persuade Cabinet to accept the recommendation to introduce a limit of 50 kilometres per hour in urban residential streets, one would not expect the necessary legislation to be implemented within six months. Implementation may take 18 months or two years because of the cost factor. [Time expired.]
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [8.13 p.m.]: I support the recommendations contained in Staysafe 34. I extend my appreciation to the committee staff and to committee members for their bipartisan approach. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the dedication of the chairman of the committee, the honourable member for Londonderry, who has made the reduction of the speed limit in residential streets a personal crusade. I place on record my appreciation for the hospitality that was
given to committee members when they recently toured the Murray area. I acknowledge the assistance and local knowledge of the honourable member for Murray who was able to bring many representatives of local government in the region to talk about the issue with the committee.
It is a tribute to the Staysafe committee and its chairman that the committee did not attempt to make a decision from on high but discussed the issue with the people in southern New South Wales who perhaps do not have the opportunity to talk to so many members of Parliament at the one time on the matter of public safety. I hope that attitude of the Staysafe committee prevails and that committee members are always ready to listen to all points of view, as we did when we toured the Murray area. The recommendations contained in this report for reducing the speed limit to 50 kilometres per hour in residential streets excludes main roads and collector roads where the speed limit will be determined by local traffic committees in consultation with local councils and the community and will be indicated by signage.
It is an unfortunate fact of life, as previous speakers have pointed out, that an unusually high number of people are killed in residential areas. Most of the fatalities involve people of senior years, whose reflexes, hearing and ability to move quickly are not what they used to be, and children who, regardless of parental supervision, will play and ride their bicycles on the road. We have a clear obligation to society to ensure that people of senior and junior years are protected from speeding motor vehicles. When the committee toured southern rural New South Wales, there was support, not wildly enthusiastic, for the reduction of the limit to 50 kilometres per hour after the advantages were pointed out. But a particular concern was the cost of implementing the necessary signage and the physical restrictions that would be necessary on occasion to ensure that the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit was complied with. Recommendation 15, which I pursued very strongly on behalf of local government, is that the Minister for Roads:
(i) ensure that adequate funding is made available to local councils for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit; and
(ii) provide a public assurance to local councils that such funding will be available for road markings, signage and associated works to support the implementation of a 50 km/h general urban speed limit.
I refer honourable members to page 121 of the report and to my questions of Mr Ford from the Roads and Traffic Authority about this aspect. On behalf of councils in this State, it is reasonable to expect that funds for this purpose are not taken from some other area; rather, that they are over and above those already received. [Time expired.]
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I understand the honourable member for Bega wishes to speak to this report and I am happy for him to do so. However, I remind committee chairmen that time for debate is limited to 30 minutes for each report. That time limit has already been exceeded so far as the report under discussion is concerned. I merely bring this to the attention of committee chairmen, as 10 reports are listed for discussion, and ask them to observe the 30-minute limit.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [8.18 p.m.]: I shall comment briefly on Staysafe 34 and its recommendation of a general speed limit of 50 kilometre per hour in urban areas. The bipartisan nature of this joint standing committee has resulted in various pieces of legislation dealing with road safety passing through this House. Many lives have been saved because of the work of this committee. It is a committee that is highly respected by overseas jurisdictions. My initial impression was that this report would be received rather badly in country areas. I believed that country people would see themselves in a different category from city drivers, without the volume of traffic or the clutter, hustle and bustle of the city. After generations of people being restricted to 60 kilometres per hour in built-up areas, I was not convinced this proposal would work in the country.
I was shocked that the recommendation was accepted across the board not only by those within country areas, but also by experts who gave evidence to the committee. The decision to adopt this proposal was almost unanimous. The committee learned from other jurisdictions that New South Wales is probably one of the few jurisdictions that has not already implemented the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit in residential areas. In this instance New South Wales is not taking the usual lead, but it will certainly catch up. One member of the committee, John Tingle, was concerned whether people would comply with the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit because they did not comply with the present speed restrictions. That may be so, but if people drove at 70-kilometres-per-hour in a 60 kilometre zone, perhaps they will maintain that 10 kilometres per hour difference. In that event, though they may not obey the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit, their speed would be reduced to 55 kilometres per hour or the present 60 kilometres per hour.
Statistics provided in the report reveal that such a reduction in speed has an impact on the stopping time and would reduce trauma, death and
much heartache for families. Another relevant point to be stressed at every turn is that this speed limit does not relate to connector roads or those major routes people use to travel to and from work. The speed limit will apply only to residential areas and to that extent it will provide a dual purpose. Not only will it make residential streets safer, but the secondary benefit is that it will provide a better environment for those people to live in without objectionable major structures and other things outside their homes.
The report contains a number of recommendations and I reiterate most of the comments of other honourable members. However, particular attention should be drawn to the responsibility of paying for the associated costs of introducing this speed limit change. Everyone knows the State Government is hard done by because the Federal Government knocks off funding to the States. The State Government always tries to recoup a little of its costs from local councils. Most roads referred to in this report will be local roads falling under the responsibility of local councils to provide funds for the structural change, which involves signage. Staysafe believes the State Government should provide the funding as it is implementing the change. Councils do not have such vast amounts of funds to change significant quantities of road signage. I thank you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak to this report. [Time expired.]
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Report: First Report on Development and Approval Processes for NSW Capital Works
Mr CRITTENDEN (Wyong) [8.23 p.m.]: It gives me pleasure to present this report to the House as it represents the first stage of an ongoing review of the methods by which individual public works projects and capital works programs are developed and assessed in New South Wales. It is based on the findings of a briefing series involving senior officers of major government agencies, such as the Department of School Education, the Department of Health, the Roads and Traffic Authority and Treasury.
In addition, Mr Gary Sturgess, former Director-General of the Cabinet Office, briefed the committee on practices in previous governments and presented ideas about improving capital works accountability processes. It should be noted that the monitoring system for public works proposals has progressed considerably over the past few years. Today government agencies act within more clearly defined and closely monitored parameters than previously existed in New South Wales. The current New South Wales Government has also recognised the need for a holistic approach to respond to urban planning and environmental pressures. The establishment of the Ministry of Urban Infrastructure Management - under the control of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning - to develop an urban infrastructure management plan will address many of these pressures.
I am pleased to report to the House that the chief executive officer of this new ministry, Ms Maria Zannatides, has already requested and received copies of this report for her staff. It will offer them valuable insights into the capital works planning process. In particular, the committee has identified two areas where progress must be made by all government agencies. These are, first, the level of coordination between agencies and with the Commonwealth and, second, the amount of scrutiny imposed on projects prior to their reaching Cabinet as firm proposals.
The evidence of the first stage of the briefing series has been sufficient for the committee to reach important conclusions about the need to improve oversight of public works projects. Prior to 1995 the capital works unit of the Premier's Department was the main review mechanism for capital works programs of individual government agencies. It was transferred to Treasury in May 1995 and its functions absorbed into individual sections of Treasury. Treasury has continued to perform the unit's role of reviewing capital works programs, but only in a de facto manner.
As part of the budget allocation process, Treasury defers certain items in individual capital works programs of government agencies because of funding constraints. This process means that scrutiny only comes at a late stage and priorities are set by limits on funding. In short, analysis comes at the wrong end of the process and for the wrong reasons. The committee believes that a reconstituted and upgraded capital projects review unit located in Treasury would provide an effective solution to the need for a comprehensive review of capital works programs of all government agencies at the conceptual stage. The committee selected Treasury as the best place for this unit because Treasury is the body which imposes fiscal discipline on big-spending agencies.
The capital projects review unit should renew its role of testing economic appraisals for major individual projects over $5 million. It should also review proposed capital works programs. If this system of scrutiny were reinstated within Treasury, it would create an entry point for the committee into
the public works planning process. Currently the committee has the power to initiate its own inquiries, but lacks sufficient warning about proposals. In other States of Australia and the Commonwealth, public works committees have a compulsory review mechanism once a project passes a certain dollar value. This trigger is not feasible in New South Wales because of the sheer number of large-scale infrastructure projects. What is needed instead is monitoring by fiscal experts plus the threat of scrutiny by the parliamentary watchdog. An interactive system with Treasury would enable the committee to gain early access to capital works projects under consideration by the capital projects review unit. The committee could receive expert advice from this independent source in Treasury and select those capital works projects for investigation which required parliamentary scrutiny and further community consultation.
This level of close scrutiny will yield significant benefits for the State in the form of cost savings. The prospect of expert assessment by Treasury and possible public scrutiny by the Standing Committee on Public Works will act as an important incentive to government agencies to produce thoughtful and comprehensive documentation to justify both individual public works proposals and entire capital works programs of those respective agencies. Already the committee has reviewed positive feedback from members and senior government officers who appreciate this window into how major construction agencies develop their capital works programs. In the near future the committee will begin looking at the capital works programs of other government agencies. The clear message of the review so far is that a profound shift in thinking and resources must still take place if capital works programs in New South Wales are to provide good value for the taxpayers' dollar. This report represents the first outcome of that comprehensive review process.
Mr RIXON (Lismore) [8.31 p.m.]: The tabling of the first report on development and approval processes for New South Wales capital works is an important step in improving parliamentary scrutiny of individual public works projects and capital works programs. This area of government has operated without sufficient accountability in the past, which may have cost the State many millions of dollars in misplaced, mistimed or overpriced projects. Reactivation of the Standing Committee on Public Works in 1995 reinstated the role of a parliamentary watchdog in this process. In the past two years the committee has worked in two ways to establish its corporate profile. On the one hand it has conducted detailed inquiries into individual projects, such as the proposed Sydney west airport, the Lake Illawarra authority and the Wyong station interchange. It is currently examining New South Wales school facilities.
Each of these inquiries has provided the committee with information about aspects of public works development processes in New South Wales. Already the committee is comparing the ways in which different government agencies operate. This information bank will enable the committee to make recommendations about how to improve the entire capital works planning process. These inquiries have also enabled the committee to concentrate on issues that have significance for regional New South Wales. The committee has conducted site inspections in the Illawarra and on the far north coast. This wide focus helps to remind people in regional New South Wales that the Parliament is working for them and taking an interest in issues close to their homes, not just dealing with the needs of metropolitan areas.
The second strand of the operations of the committee involved looking at the overall picture, especially the methodology for developing and processing capital works programs through the budgetary cycle. The first report on development and approval processes for New South Wales capital works is in the initial stage of an ongoing review. This report offers constructive recommendations for improving the capital works planning system. Its centrepiece is the proposal for a capital projects review unit based in Treasury, which will work with the committee to impose new levels of scrutiny on both individual public works projects and capital works programs. The committee recommended Treasury as the best location for this unit because its primary responsibility is to ensure the judicious use of taxpayers' dollars. Indeed, Treasury is already performing the role of prioritising capital works programs to meet budgetary restrictions.
Perhaps this role should be formalised. The committee believes that it could work constructively with such a unit in Treasury because both parties are moving in the same direction. After all, the committee's terms of reference require it to seek savings in the public sector by exposing public works proposals to least cost planning approaches. I welcome this report and I pay tribute to the chairman for establishing a sound platform for the future course of the committee. The information gained during this ongoing review will provide a constructive basis for the future operation of the Standing Committee on Public Works. I commend the report.
Mr STEWART (Lakemba) [8.36 p.m.]: Tonight I report on the development and approval processes for New South Wales capital works. I
should like to point out to the House that this report represents the first fruits of the committee's ongoing review of individual public works projects and capital works programs. By instituting this review the committee has focused on building its information base, establishing a corporate profile and forming constructive working relationships with key government agencies. This is not a job that can be completed overnight. It involves creating a framework for the committee to operate over the long term. The centrepiece of the first report is the recommendation for a capital projects review unit of Treasury to operate in tandem with the committee. This new mechanism would ensure proper scrutiny of individual public works projects and capital works programs at the conceptual stage, which is very important.
The benefits of such a system are obvious. Treasury will subject all proposals to expert fiscal analysis. The committee will act as the parliamentary watchdog and mechanism for public consultation. This new system will act as an incentive to government agencies to produce better value management studies and cost-benefit analyses for their public works projects. This is the key to pinpointing unnecessary projects and finding savings in those projects which are approved. The committee formulated this recommendation after a close examination of the strengths and flaws in the terms of reference of similarly constituted public works committees around Australia. The terms of reference of most public works committees around Australia include a compulsory reference mechanism once a project exceeds a designated value.
For example, the Commonwealth Public Works Committee reports on all public works proposals that exceed $6 million. Such a system is not practical in a State the size of New South Wales. The 1996-97 New South Wales capital works program had more than 50 projects over $6 million. Clearly, any committee attempting to handle such a workload would quickly be reduced to a rubber stamp. That is why the committee has recommended an interactive system in which the committee and Treasury work together. The expertise of a capital projects review unit of Treasury, combined with the clout of a parliamentary committee, represents a formidable barrier to underdeveloped infrastructure proposals, which is a very important aspect of this whole process.
The committee is now planning further stages in this ongoing review. I look forward to comparing the way in which different government agencies prepare their capital works programs. Already the committee's inquiries are yielding valuable information on the various strengths and weaknesses of these programs. The committee's ultimate goal is to take the best features of each system and to work to improve the capital works methodology of all government agencies. This is the best way of achieving maximum benefit from valuable taxpayers' dollars. I commend the chairman of the committee, who has been very active in leading the committee towards this goal, for making sure that the deliberations of the committee were successful in this pursuit.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Report: The Lake Illawarra Authority
Mr CRITTENDEN (Wyong) [8.41 p.m.]: It gives me pleasure to present to the House the report by the committee on the Lake Illawarra Authority. This inquiry dealt with a complex and emotive issue in the Illawarra region. Lake Illawarra is a spectacular natural resource, but, unfortunately, it has been seriously degraded by unregulated development in the catchment for almost 100 years. The Lake Illawarra Authority - LIA - was an initiative of the Unsworth Government in 1987 to stop the infighting which had stalled lake remediation efforts in the past. The LIA has been successful in restoring the pride of local people in the lake, attracting them back to its foreshores. It has also revived tourism. The committee congratulates the authority on this work. However, times change and new objectives emerge.
The authority, as constituted, cannot deliver the catchment-wide focus which is required to permanently improve water quality in Lake Illawarra, especially with further large-scale urban development being planned at West Dapto. Therefore, the committee developed an administrative system which will retain the expertise of the authority while ensuring that total catchment management is implemented in the Illawarra region for the first time. This is the only responsible course of action. The committee believes that the establishment of the Illawarra Catchment Management Trust will produce long-term improvements to Lake Illawarra if given time, support, resources and powers to make a difference.
The committee has developed a structure for catchment management which will considerably improve public and key stakeholder involvement. It is time to broaden the authority's membership and place it in a catchment-wide management system. The narrowness of the authority's membership in the past has not given relevant government authorities and stakeholders sufficient opportunity to be
involved in planning issues. Its membership should be revised to ensure a well-balanced planning process in which consensus decisions are reached.
The membership of the Lake Illawarra Authority should be revised and expanded to 11 members, including relevant government agencies, local councils, tourist and fishing industry representatives, representatives of local sailing clubs, environment groups and residents. An independent chairperson should be nominated by the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. As a general rule, the Minister for Land and Water Conservation should ensure that at least half the members of the new authority represent lake users. The committee also believes that the adoption of a new administrative system, based on total catchment management, is crucial for delivering sustainable benefits to Lake Illawarra. The Illawarra Catchment Management Trust - ICMT - will provide representation for all stakeholders within the catchment and coordinate land and water management.
The ICMT should have 14 members drawn from government bodies, the Lake Illawarra Authority, existing catchment management committees and councils, as well as an independent chairperson nominated by the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. The ICMT will provide roughly equal representation for State government agencies, local government and the community. The committee also made important recommendations about capital works proposed by the Lake Illawarra Authority. The authority's current works program includes projects which are among the most expensive and potentially beneficial proposed by the LIA. However, there is uncertainty about their possible impacts. The most important of these works is the proposal to clear a permanent lake entrance, which will increase tidal exchange, thereby improving water quality.
The high level of human intervention means that Lake Illawarra is not in pristine condition. The existing seawall is on the verge of collapse: remedial action is essential. The majority of the committee supported the lake entrance works as a probable solution to the problems of Lake Illawarra. However, the committee believed that these works should be carried out under the supervision of a hydrologist to ensure an ecologically sustainable outcome. The committee also considered the proposal to commercially mine sand from the floor of Griffins Bay. This would provide the authority with funds as well as a site for disposal of dredging spoil. Both Department of Urban Affairs and Planning and New South Wales Fisheries expressed serious reservations about the proposal because of its potential environmental repercussions.
Sandmining would destroy healthy seagrass colonies in the proposed extraction area. This would affect aquatic flora and fauna which rely on seagrasses as a food source or habitat. Therefore, it would affect the viability of commercial fishing in Lake Illawarra. There is also considerable uncertainty over the impact of acid soils on marine ecology. A review by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning provided compelling evidence of flaws in the environmental impact statement assessment process concerning the risk of sulphuric acid polluting Lake Illawarra. While acknowledging the need to generate funds and new disposal sites, the committee believed that such a high-risk approach to the management of a sensitive and valuable water resource like Lake Illawarra was inappropriate.
A number of people should be thanked for expediting the work of the committee during this inquiry. The members of the committee greatly profited from the site inspection of Lake Illawarra, which gave them the opportunity to examine the major works undertaken by the authority and consider current proposals. I thank Mr Brian Dooley and Mr Mark Porter of the Department of Land and Water Conservation for organising the site inspection. The public hearings at Wollongong City Council chambers enabled the committee to hear evidence from 13 witnesses. Lord Mayor, David Campbell, and his staff are thanked for providing facilities and assistance to the committee.
I thank the committee's staff for their contribution, particularly our research officer for this inquiry, Christopher Denney. I also thank Natasha O'Connor, who organised the site inspection and undertook sound recording duties at the public hearing. I urge all parties involved in the management of Lake Illawarra to use this report as the platform for developing a new spirit of cooperation. The committee has based its recommendations for the improved management of Lake Illawarra on the principles of ecological sustainability, integrated planning and genuine community participation. This report will set the Illawarra region on a course towards total catchment management for the first time. The committee believes that all stakeholders will see the long-term value of this approach. A consensus approach is the only way of judiciously serving the interests of the community and Lake Illawarra. Rather than an end to the work of the authority, the committee sees this report as offering a fresh start for Lake Illawarra.
Mrs BEAMER (Badgerys Creek) [8.48 p.m.]: I welcome the committee's report on the Lake Illawarra Authority and congratulate the committee on working in a harmonious fashion to produce
responsible recommendations which will ensure sustainable improvement to the lake's water quality. The current differences between the groups who are working for the lake's preservation are largely a product of history and changing notions of how to protect natural resources. This report represented a delicate balancing act between acknowledging past achievements and pointing the way forward. The committee has updated the water management system for the entire Illawarra catchment while maintaining the expertise built up by the authority over the last decade.
The Lake Illawarra Authority was established by an Act of Parliament in 1988 in response to community pressure to improve foreshore amenities and to stop the unsightly and malodorous algal blooms, which were the most obvious examples of severe environmental degradation. The authority initially gave priority to dredging and foreshore works which would have an immediate impact on the appearance of Lake Illawarra. That was acceptable, given the parlous state of Lake Illawarra in 1988. In the short term, dredging has proven successful in improving the appearance of the lake. However, dredging alone will not produce sustainable improvements in Lake Illawarra. Dredging can provide only temporary relief unless it is accompanied by whole-of-catchment strategies to reduce sediment production and to stop sediment influx into the lake. In addition, dredging affects the seagrass colonies which support Lake Illawarra's crucial commercial and recreational fishing industries.
Despite the authority's work, Lake Illawarra is still showing symptoms of advanced environmental stress, including regular outbreaks of algal blooms. As urban development in the Illawarra catchment spreads, pressures on the lake's ecology will continue to increase. The committee believes that the focus should shift from end-of-pipe public works solutions to developing strategies which will prevent pollutants entering Lake Illawarra in the first place. Wetland filters, gross pollutant traps, sediment traps and mini-stormwater wetlands will reduce the inflow of sediments into the lake from surrounding suburbs. Lower nutrient inputs should, in turn, lead to a lowering in the number of algal blooms which plague the lake's surface.
The authority has recognised the importance of drainage control in recent years and funding levels have increased. Two major artificial wetlands have been constructed at a cost of almost $1 million. In 1994 a stormwater drainage control study identified 13 sites where measures could be implemented. The first four sites are now being completed at a cost of $170,000. It is imperative that works of this kind are expedited. Data submitted to the committee by the authority indicated that, since 1988, 63 per cent of funds have been spent on recreational facilities and landscaping works. By comparison, only 8 per cent has been allocated to drainage control measures. That funding disparity must be redressed. End-of-pipe approaches which try to conceal the impact of human activity have been superseded in recent years by the pursuit of permanent solutions to the land management causes of degraded waterways.
The committee believes that the increased powers of a catchment management trust will enable the work of the Lake Illawarra Authority to be supplemented by a catchment-wide focus. The issues raised in the report on the Lake Illawarra Authority are pertinent to waterway management throughout New South Wales. The committee looks forward to further involvement in this crucial area of interplay between public works and the environment. The type of sustainable development recommended by the committee must be the cornerstone of future infrastructure provision throughout New South Wales. I commend the report to the House and thank the chairman of the committee and others involved for their excellent work in producing this report.
Mr SULLIVAN (Wollongong) [8.53 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to welcome the report on the Lake Illawarra Authority. As a local member with an electorate office in Warrawong just north of Lake Illawarra, I know the lake's history well and the problems which confront it today. This committee's inquiry was initiated in response to continuing community concerns about the natural resource management philosophy of the Lake Illawarra Authority and what it meant for the lake's future. The Standing Committee on Public Works determined that comprehensive community consultation would be the foundation of its inquiry. The committee adopted procedures which ensured that its inquiry was widely publicised and that all institutions, groups and individuals with an interest in the management of Lake Illawarra were given an opportunity to contribute their ideas and opinions.
The committee placed advertisements in major Illawarra and Sydney newspapers calling for submissions and received numerous responses from the public as well as from key stakeholders such as local fishermen, local councils and relevant government agencies. The committee conducted a half-day site inspection of Lake Illawarra in July 1996 with officers of the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The next day the committee held a public hearing at Wollongong council chambers at which 13 witnesses gave evidence. The resulting report reflects the needs of Lake Illawarra
and the wishes of the community around the lake. The committee has produced an effective system of catchment management which involves all major stakeholders and empowers the public in continued decision making. This new system should produce better catchment management practices and more sensitive development proposals.
One of the public works advocated by the authority which concerned me was the proposal for a major commercial development along the King Street foreshore at Griffins Bay, Warrawong. I attended a number of public meetings which were organised in Warrawong. The first meeting was attended by more than 200 people and the second by about 150. Concern was expressed about the development proposals for the eastern end of Griffins Bay which included a motel complex on about three to four hectares and three commercial buildings, each up to 12 metres high and each occupying one hectare of land. When the committee visited this site it saw the attractive view across the lake from the King Street foreshore and the large-scale commercial development on the eastern side of King Street.
The King Street foreshore is the first view of Lake Illawarra for drivers travelling south along the main Wollongong-Shellharbour road and is one of only three points that have a panoramic view of the lake. The Lake Illawarra Authority has an opportunity to create an attractive break from the Port Kembla industrial complex and the Warrawong commercial development. The committee believes that the option preferred by the Lake Illawarra Authority in the 1991 Griffins Bay development options study requires some modification to achieve this outcome. The number of commercial buildings should be reduced from four to two and the height of both buildings should be limited to seven metres. That will provide more open space, preserve the aesthetic value of the view and enable an acceptable level of commercial development along the lake foreshore. That major evaluation, which has set ground-breaking rules for coastal development, addresses one of the major problems of lake and water areas. The committee's report has achieved a significant gain for this State. [Time expired.]
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [8.58 p.m.]: Lake Illawarra has been studied to death. From 1971 to 1991 I was a member of Shellharbour council and I held the position of mayor for 15 years. During that time council received no assistance to improve Lake Illawarra. If it had not been for Wollongong and Shellharbour councils, Lake Illawarra would still be the stagnant mess it was in 1971. Large housing and public housing developments paid no heed to the disposal of waste water and sullage. At one time Lake Illawarra was reduced to nothing more than a polishing pond for the run-off from residential subdivisions. However, in 1971 my good friend and former local government colleague, Councillor Cec Glenholmes, who is now the Mayor of Shellharbour City Council, had had a gutful and got on a bulldozer and opened the lake himself, having received no financial assistance from anyone.
Lake Illawarra is a sensitive water catchment area. The most sensitive part is the entrance to the lake, which from time to time shoals up. In past years the entrance has been despoiled by the actions of sandminers who have mined off the sandhills that provided a buffer with the Pacific Ocean. As a result the residue of those sandhills washed into the entrance of Lake Illawarra, leading to the absolute destruction of Warilla Beach. Successive studies have been done - as I have said, the lake has been studied to death - and the conclusion from all of those studies is that a permanent entrance to Lake Illawarra is needed to eliminate the flooding that will certainly occur as more residential development takes place in West Dapto and South Albion Park, and in the suburbs of Lake Illawarra South, Windang, Oak Flats and Albion Park Rail.
I have raised this matter in private members' statements in this House on a number of occasions. Wollongong and Shellharbour councils have come to the party and, acting on recommendations, have put aside money over a period of years. They will contribute a 50:50 share of the cost of a permanent entrance to the lake, and it is a matter of concern to me that at this point of time not one cent has been allocated by either the Department of Public Works and Services or the Department of Land and Water Conservation.
Although it is great to have another study from another overriding authority that duplicates the work of the authorities that already exist, it is another thing to remit cash. That is what the people and the Wollongong and Shellharbour councils want. I commend the chairman for his insistence that the recommendation for the creation of a permanent entrance remain in this report. I condemn the honourable member for Davidson who, in a minority report, opposed the creation of any permanent entrance. With due respect to the honourable member for Davidson, he could not find Lake Illawarra without someone putting him in a car and driving him to the site. I could write what he knows about Lake Illawarra on a threepenny bit and sign my name and address after it. As honourable members know, my advice to him is to butt out of Lake Illawarra.
The entrance to Lake Macquarie is totally contained within the electorate of Kiama. My
ambition is to have the Government acknowledge the need for this permanent entrance to the lake and to put up the money for its creation. While more and more residential subdivisions are allowed to take place in West Dapto and South Albion Park, a problem that has existed for years will be exacerbated. The Total Catchment Management Committee does not have much credibility after allowing the dumping of two million tonnes of coal wash on the edge of the lake. I spoke to both the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Planning in the previous coalition Government about that and was fobbed off. That company involved in that dumping has gone into liquidation and the area is waiting for an environmental study - [Time expired.]
STANDING ETHICS COMMITTEE
Final Draft Code of Conduct for Members of the Legislative Assembly
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [9.03 p.m.]: I commend the committee for its long and arduous work and for deciding that the draft code of conduct should be tabled. Taking evidence from the public involved a great deal of effort and there were then hours of discussion. It is significant that the committee has three community members: Mr Kim Wilson, a former Supreme Court Justice of the High Court and National Court of Papua New Guinea; Mrs Leonie Tye, who represented a regional area; and Mr Stan Hedges, a businessman and former mayor of a local government municipality. Without going into detail those three people were adequately suited to this enormous task. I also thank the committee clerk, Ronda Miller, for the good work she has done and Louise Pallier and David Emery from the committee for the work they have put into this draft. The preamble to the code of conduct reads:
The members of the Legislative Assembly, as elected representatives, acknowledge their responsibility:
•to maintain the public trust placed in them
•to work diligently and with integrity
•to use the influence gained as elected office-holders to advance the common good of the people of New South Wales
•to respect the law and the institution of Parliament, and
•to foster an understanding of parliamentary decision making which involves balancing the interests of constituents, the electorate and the State of New South Wales.
The preamble is an introductory statement which places the code in context. It contains the most aspiratory standards and serves as a model of best practice for elected representatives. It is hoped that these aspiratory aims will inspire members to acknowledge their position within our system of government. The fundamental code starts at clause 1, which states:
1. Members must always act honestly, strive to maintain the public trust placed in them, and exercise the influence gained from their public office to advance the public interest.
That clause acknowledges that there has been a level of disquiet in the community about certain activities of elected representatives which has occurred in a climate of increased recognition of ethical standards and the introduction of codes in the professions and broader public sector. The general aspiratory code deals with the words "act honestly", which involve a fundamental moral obligation and are a common element in both professional codes and in elected representatives' codes in other jurisdictions. Clause 1 also acknowledges that the special position of elected representatives in public office warrants higher standards. Clause 2 of the code reads:
2. Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the provisions and spirit of the code of conduct and ensure that their conduct does not bring the integrity of their office or the Parliament into serious disrepute.
The emphasis on the "spirit of the code" reflects its aspiratory purpose. The code also provides that the Legislative Assembly can deal with those who breach it. It is not intended to be another black-letter law to be legally interpreted or open to loopholes. The code aims to achieve aspiratory benefits of which the honourable member for Wakehurst should take note. The code covers standards that may change and evolve over the years. The code is not meant to supplant existing laws. Clause 3 reads:
3. Members are individually responsible for preventing conflicts of interest and must endeavour to arrange their private financial affairs to prevent such conflicts of interest arising.
Clauses 3 and 4 are the heart of the code and stipulate that members must not hold personal financial interests in conflict with the public interest. The committee debated at length the time frame regarding holding an interest and declaring that interest. One member of the committee wanted the period to be six months but the committee has decided to use the words "reasonable time", which are the essence of the moment. A member may be in conflict at the moment the debate is taking place. However, if the member has six months to rectify the problem he or she could compound the wrong. One member of the committee was desirous of allowing six months to rectify the problem, but the use of the words "reasonable time" takes that matter into account. Clause 4 reads:
4. Members whose private financial interests give rise to a conflict with the public interest must take all reasonable steps to resolve that conflict.
It is imperative that members resolve conflicts between their private interests and the public good. Clause 5 reads:
5. (i) A conflict of interest exists where a Member participates in or makes a decision in the execution of his or her office knowing that it will improperly and dishonestly further his or her private financial interest or another person's private financial interest directly or indirectly.
(ii) A conflict of interest does not exist where the Member or other person benefits only as a member of the general public, or a broad class of persons.
That last portion was included in the code to cover any situation involving members of the medical, legal, accounting or other professions. Laws that govern such matters would not preclude honourable members from participating in such debate, based on the right of freedom of speech in laws that emanated in the 1600s. The code provides for members to deal with issues as they come before them; it does not deal with direct interests. A member must declare any direct interest that he or she has. It is significant that the code contains such a provision. Clause 6(i) provides:
If Members directly or indirectly hold an interest which conflicts with their public duty, or which could improperly influence their conduct when discharging their responsibilities, they shall disclose that interest before speaking in a debate or voting on the matter in Parliament or in a Parliamentary Committee.
Clause 6(ii) provides:
A Member is not prevented from speaking in a debate or voting on a motion when they personally are the subject of the debate or motion.
The committee had before it details of matters involving members of this House and the activities in which they were engaged before they became members. Honourable members should not be barred from speaking in their own defence, unless they have a direct interest in any conflict of interest matter before the Parliament. That has been made clear by the whole committee, except one member, and the community members. Clause 7 provides:
Members may not solicit, accept or receive any remuneration, benefit or profit in exchange for promoting or voting on a bill, a resolution or any question put to Parliament or Parliamentary Committee.
That provision emanates directly from what happened in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. Clause 8 provides:
(i) Members must not accept a gift that may pose a conflict of interest or which might interfere with the honest and impartial exercise of their official duties.
(ii) Members must declare all gifts and benefits arising from or in connection with their official duties in accordance with the requirements of the pecuniary interests register.
(iii) Members may accept incidental gifts and customary hospitality.
Two other clauses deal with keeping confidential information that is given to a member in his capacity as a member of Parliament either by a constituent or by other source. A breach of that confidentiality may constitute a substantial breach of the code of conduct. Members shall use their entitlements, office equipment and other items provided by the Parliament economically in their electorate or parliamentary duties. That is a quick analysis of the code. A fuller and more detailed analysis of the code will be presented, by way of a report of the committee, within the next few weeks.
I assure the House that two things occurred in the determination of the code. Only two votes were ever taken: one related to a procedural matter and the other to the exchange of seats. The overwhelming majority of members of the committee decided that it would be unfair to members of Parliament to fetter any rights they may have at the end of their parliamentary careers to obtain another career which may be seen as a conflict of interest. It was too great a burden to place on members of Parliament. It is significant to note that in regard to community members, except for Mr Wilson who voted against the resolution not to include that clause, a majority vote was not taken on any aspect of the report. The three community members who were appointed by the committee and have actively participated in hundreds of hours of discussions see the code of conduct as the beginning of a living document that should form the basis of the beginning of a code of conduct for members of Parliament into the future. Most members of the committee, and the three community members, are happy that the code forms a foundation to build upon in the future. The one exception was the clause that Mr Wilson opposed. I commend the report to the House.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry): I welcome to the gallery the guests of the honourable member for Ermington from the Parramatta branch of the Liberal Party.
Mr O'FARRELL (Northcott) [9.13 p.m.]: I too welcome members of the Parramatta branch of the Liberal Party - fresh from their victory 12 months ago when Ross Cameron was elected. I must say that when they look around the Chamber they will not see the State member for Parramatta, the Minister for Sport and Recreation - nor will they see her after the next election. I commence my contribution to the debate on the code of conduct by
saying it is an issue of disappointment for me. I do not mean that to be a reflection on the committee chairman, his staff, or the clerk at the table, who have undergone change and worked very hard on this issue. My one disappointment about the code of conduct is the time it has taken for it to be implemented. I, for one, would have preferred this matter to be resolved by the end of last year, so that as we entered what is essentially our halfway mark in this Parliament we actually had a code to present to the people of New South Wales.
It is also of concern to me that at this point the issue as to whether there will be one code for this Parliament or two codes is still unresolved. I do not believe that the reputations of politicians - whether they be State, Federal or local - are high enough in the community for the Parliament to have what is essentially a double standard, in the provision of one code of conduct for the upper House and one for the lower House. Clearly, that is a nonsense. There ought to be a single code. I share the view expressed by the honourable member for Auburn and most members of the committee that our aspiratory code goes much further and will prove to be far more effective than the code that the Legislative Council has so far put together.
It is a sad fact that in the wider community politicians generally are not regarded very highly. When you see some of those opposite, you can understand why. It is also a well-known fact that many members of this Parliament fear a code of conduct. I think those people fear it wrongly. This code of conduct contains measures that we have to get over, but I think it also provides protection. With this code we can perhaps begin the crawl up the ladder to try to ensure that our profession increases in stature and does not continue as it has for the last few years. As I said before, I strongly support our aspiratory code. I think this is an evolutionary process that is our draft code. As the expanded code which is now before the House demonstrates, we should start off slowly and we should adapt the code and amend it as required. That is the way the legislation and the regulations allow that to occur. I repeat: I make no reflection on the staff or the work of the committee, but my one disappointment is that we did not enter 1997 with the honourable member for Auburn presenting to this place a finalised code that covers both Houses.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [9.18 p.m.]: I would not be as nervous as the honourable member for Northcott in the sense of believing that this is only the beginning. I believe that the code that is before the House is the absolute minimum. As I have already indicated, the code needs to be significantly strengthened. At the outset I acknowledge the hard work of the committee, its chairman and its staff, and also the community members. I have already submitted a notice of motion to this House in relation to a number of areas in which I would like to see the code strengthened. As I understand it, the purpose of a code of conduct is essentially threefold. Firstly, the code acts as an aspiratory and educative document for members of Parliament. Secondly, under section 9 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, the code of conduct is a document against which members of Parliament will be measured. If there were serious breach of the code of conduct it would potentially trigger a finding of corrupt conduct.
Thirdly, it should inspire public confidence. That is where I believe the code falls down. It is not a matter of what the code includes, but what it omits. Let me highlight just a few examples of ways in which the code could be improved. The code omits the so-called Metherell clause and I think that is a great shame. The Metherell affair was the very issue that triggered the December 1994 amendment to the Act. The Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended that the code should include a clause to the effect that members shall not vacate their seats in the Legislative Assembly as a consequence in whole or in part of the receipt or promise of money, or appointment to a position in any government department, agency or corporation.
Despite the commissioner having made the recommendation it was rejected by the committee. I find that impossible to understand; I can see absolutely no reason why one would not include that particular clause in the code. The Metherell case was a shabby affair and, as a result, two senior members of the Government - Mr Greiner and Mr Moore - resigned from the Legislative Assembly. The Supreme Court overturned Temby's findings but the facts are unchanged. It was a prime example of the democratic process being tampered with. Basically, a member sold his seat in exchange for a job. The commissioner's recommendation should have been included in the code of conduct and I will be seeking to have it included.
There is also need to expand the boundaries of the preamble. My first suggestion is that there should be an emphasis on the transparency of decision making, which of course is not a tradition of the prevailing political duopoly. Secrecy suits the political parties just fine. There is, of course, a public perception that decisions are made on the basis of short-term political expediency and we need to lift the veil of secrecy that exists. There are certainly conflicting pressures on politicians, from
constituents and from the electorate and, in the case of party politicians, from the political party. How are they to be reconciled? This issue needs to be addressed in the code, but the code is silent. The code should also spell out the requirement for members of Parliament to represent the views of their constituents and to facilitate those views in the democratic process.
Participatory democracy is not revolutionary. The three pillars of democracy should be reflected in the preamble to the code. Those pillars are openness, accountability and the decentralisation of power. Other things have been omitted but I do not have time to refer to them tonight. What about truth in campaigning? What about the lies that are told in politics? What about the dirty campaign tricks, the broken promises and the pork-barrelling? None of that is mentioned in the code. Why has it not been addressed? Why is the code silent on those issues? That is what contributes to the lack of respect for and lack of confidence in politicians. The abuse of parliamentary privilege is not mentioned in the code but I have suggested that it should be included. A specific amendment to address that issue is required. In my view most people believe that parliamentary privilege is used as part of coward's castle. [Time expired.]
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [9.23 p.m.]: The draft code is the result of an extraordinarily lengthy process that has involved a considerable number of meetings and a lot of work. I note that the honourable member for Northcott expressed his concern that the matter had not come before this House more speedily than it has. It is a pity that he did not put that view to the committee at some stage. His complaints at this late stage might have a little more substance if he had bothered to have the courage to put his views to the committee at one of its meetings. The genesis of the code comes from the Metherell case and the Greiner case, and a decision of the Court of Appeal. The real significance of the code, of course, is that if there is a breach, there can now be founded, upon that serious misconduct, an act of corruption under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act.
In that context it is interesting that we have chosen to have an aspiratory code because what could potentially happen is that the ICAC could take the code, interpret it as black-letter law and decide that someone has committed a breach of the code, which therefore founds a finding against them under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act. That means that some people may be caught out doing things they thought were appropriate but which turn out to be a breach of the code. The significance of that really is that this must be a preliminary code. I heard what the honourable member for Manly said about it being a bare minimum code and, as someone who on the odd occasion voted with him in the committee and had some sympathy for his point of view, I understand what he was saying. Rather than getting the code that the honourable member for Manly regards as ideal, it would be far better to have a code to start with, which is what we have.
As I understand it we have the first code of any Parliament in Australia. It is, as the chairman of the committee said, a matter we are going to have to keep under review. It will be an evolutionary process. It may well be that some of the positions taken by the honourable member for Manly will be adopted, but to demand that they be introduced now in the face of, in some cases, substantial arguments, seems to fly in the face of logic. There are a number of specific issues that I should mention. One of the criticisms the committee received from the public in relation to the first draft was that the first code defined pecuniary interest far too narrowly. On one reading of the draft code, that is an arguable case. The argument that runs contrary to that is that there is provision in the code that requires parliamentarians not to bring the Parliament into serious disrepute. It may well be that most of the categories that submissions complained about would be caught by that provision. Once again, it is something that perhaps over a period of time needs to be reviewed.
The right of reply is another issue about which a comparatively large volume of submissions was received and which managed to excite considerably the interest of the honourable member for Manly. Perhaps the honourable member for Manly ought pay attention to what happened in this place and to the citizen's right of reply that has been adopted, quite properly and quite correctly, by this Assembly. It is difficult to envisage any legitimate complaint about a citizen's right of reply or any legitimate argument that what we have done substantially omits the complaints that people make about this House being a coward's castle. The comments by the honourable member for Manly about transparency are also interesting. They are, as often is the case with his comments, dressed up in what appears to be a very credible and believable way, but they are, in fact, part of his pursuit of a political campaign upon the major political parties.
Perhaps a little bit of transparency in some of his arguments might be of great benefit to us all. If in fact he was simply arguing out the case, I would not have quite so many difficulties, but it seems to me he is running his own political agenda and doing one of those things he condemns people like me for
doing. The Metherell clause that the honourable member spoke about is in a slightly different category. I was one of the people who voted with the honourable member for Manly in the committee, although he has not been keen to tell people that anyone voted for that clause in the committee other than him. The honourable member for Gladesville, Kim Wilson - one of the community members - and I voted with the honourable member for Manly.
As I say, it is a pity that he does not concede that in some of his public utterances. It seems to me that that can now be put into the same category as many of the other provisions, something that needs to be kept under review. If in fact what we have is not satisfactory, it can be changed. Anyone who considers that this code is written in stone does not understand the mechanism and does not understand the realities of it. The other issue is the implementation of the code and how it will be administered. That is to be the subject of a full report from the committee and something about which there will be considerable discussion. [Time expired.]
REGULATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
Report: Regulations Under the Firearms Act 1989
Mr SHEDDEN (Bankstown) [9.28 p.m.]: One of the principal terms of reference of the Regulation Review Committee was to determine whether a regulation is within the general objects of the legislation under which it was made. This issue arose in the committee's consideration of the Firearms Amendment (Prohibition of Sales) Regulation 1996.
The committee found that the regulation was made to introduce a new condition into shooters' licences, class one and two, and firearms dealers' licences to prohibit licence holders from selling or giving possession of certain self-loading and pump action guns unless the firearm was being surrendered to the police. The committee was concerned that section 7(2) of the Firearms Act already regulated the right of firearm dealers and licence holders to dispose of firearms. As such, the committee believed that the regulation was arguably in conflict with section 7 of the Act. A further concern was that section 21, under which the regulation was made, provided in subsection (2) for the giving and recovery of possession of firearms for their repair.
In his response the Minister said that section 7(2) placed restrictions on the sale of firearms to persons who are licensed to possess or have permits to possess firearms and that the regulation merely placed further restrictions on the sale of firearms. He was therefore of the view that there was no conflict. In respect of section 21 he believed that the regulation was intended to restrict sales and gifts of the firearms listed and not intended to prevent the repair or maintenance of the firearms by dealers and their subsequent recovery by owners.
The committee requested details of the assessment of the regulation carried out under section 4 and schedule 1 of the Subordinate Legislation Act. The Minister advised that it was not reasonably practicable in the present case to carry out that assessment as the regulation was required to be made urgently to prevent panic-buying and stockpiling of the firearms which were to be banned under the resolutions of the Australian Police Ministers Council made at a special meeting on gun control held on 10 May 1996.
The committee considered the Minister's response and believed that further action was necessary. It wrote again to the Minister on 4 June 1996 stating that in view of the long lead time before the introduction of uniform legislation among Australian States, it considered that confirmatory advice should be obtained from the Crown Solicitor as to the validity of the regulation so as to ensure that the significant social objects of the regulation could be implemented free from legal doubt. The acting Minister advised on 23 July 1996 that he was not willing to seek the Crown Solicitor's advice on the validity of the regulation and did not intend to challenge the Parliamentary Counsel's opinion.
The Parliamentary Counsel has been placed in a difficult position in this case because, having given his initial certificate on the legality of the regulation, he has now been asked to review that decision and possibly to set it aside. The committee believes the better course would have been to seek independent advice on the validity of the regulation. This was the position formerly when the roles of the Crown Solicitor and the Parliamentary Counsel were clearly delineated with respect to legislation.
The committee is concerned that there is a grey area in respect of advice on the interpretation of legislation which may involve issues of validity and it has resolved to report to Parliament subsequently on this issue. The second regulation dealt with in this report is the firearms regulation which exempts Tasmanian shooters from the requirement to hold certain licences. The regulation exempts a resident of Tasmania from the requirement to hold a shooter's licence, class one or two, if the person holds a current equivalent Tasmanian licence.
The committee was concerned that there was no direct equivalent between the New South Wales
and Tasmanian licences. The Tasmanian definition of gun, for one thing, did not equate to the definition of firearm in New South Wales. The committee also found that there was a lack of correspondence between the conditions for the respective licences. The committee noted that other States had already been exempted from the requirement to hold licences by similar regulations. The reason Tasmania had not been included in the original regulation was that it did not have any gun licence as such at that date.
The committee subsequently held discussions with an adviser to the Minister. It was foreshadowed in these discussions that the issue would be resolved in the Firearms Bill and provision was subsequently made in the Firearms Act 1996. Parts 2 to 5 of that Act deal with the substantive matters of licences and permits, including the temporary recognition of interstate licences for shooting competition purposes and interstate residents moving into this State. One matter that emerged in discussions on this regulation with the Minister's adviser was the need for guidelines explaining the equivalent rights available for exercise in New South Wales by holders of the various licences in other States and Territories.
The committee said that these should include identification of the equivalent rights applicable to the different types of firearms. In his response of 23 May 1996 the Minister said that he had instructed the Police Service to compile the suggested guidelines and that he would send a copy when it is complete. The committee recognises that both regulations are due for repeal. It nevertheless believes that the issues they raise must be reported as they concern the enforceability and validity of the respective regulations. The committee has an obligation under the Regulation Review Act to ensure that regulations are made in accordance with the principal Act, notwithstanding that they may be of an interim nature and that they are properly assessed under the Subordinate Legislation Act.
Last week I was informed by the Minister's office that these regulations have not yet been repealed because more than 500 public submissions on the new draft regulations have been received and have had to be assessed. The intended date for their repeal and for the commencement of the new regulations and the relevant parts of the Act is 1 July 1997. I believe that this report demonstrates that the committee has been doing its job to report departures from the principal Act under which regulations are made as well as departures in the assessment requirements under the Subordinate Legislation Act.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Clough): On behalf of the honourable member for Northcott, I draw the attention of members to the presence in the gallery of the Beecroft branch of the Liberal Party.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the interruption of the consideration of the orders of the day (committee reports) for the resumption of the adjourned second reading debate on the Conveyancing Amendment Bill forthwith.
CONVEYANCING AMENDMENT BILL
Suspension of sessional orders, by leave, agreed to.
Debate resumed from 9 April.
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [9.38 p.m.]: This legislation deals with three separate amendments to the Conveyancing Act. The first amendment abolishes the rule in Bain v Fothergill, which in some circumstances limits the amount of damages that might be awarded to a purchaser of land for a breach of contract resulting in a defect in the title of the vendor. As a result of this amendment purchasers will be brought into line with others who suffer breach of contract and want to obtain damages.
The Opposition has no problem with this amendment because in its view the rule currently provides unjustifiable protection to a vendor who does not provide good title. It may have been appropriate in 1874, when vendors may have had genuine difficulty in guaranteeing sound title, to have the Bain v Fothergill defence but today this is no longer appropriate. Since the introduction of the Torrens land title system in New South Wales, vendors are extremely unlikely to be unsure about whether or not they have proper title.
The opportunity for applying for the protection that the Bain v Fothergill rule gives is much reduced under the Torrens title system. The rule, therefore, is an historical anachronism which imposes a different measure on the recovery of damages for contractual breach on the sale and purchase of land to the general principles relating to the general law of contract. The Opposition notes that the New South Wales Law Reform Commission proposed the abolition of the rule in its recent report entitled "Damages for Vendors Inability to Convey Good
Title: The Rule in Bain v Fothergill". The second amendment relates to the law for options for the sale of residential property.
The Conveyancing Act 1919 requires that an option for the sale of residential property be signed in duplicate by both parties. This requirement has been criticised for causing unnecessary inconvenience and uncertainty. This amendment will, therefore, mean that the situation that currently applies to the contract for the sale of land - that is, one contract is signed by the purchaser, one by the vendor and the two documents are exchanged - will in future also apply to options. At least two cases have been heard in the Supreme Court in which the judgment has recommended these changes to increase certainty in the process. In any event, if the system for exchange of contract works so well, as it obviously does, there is no good reason why this will not work for options on a contract.
The only area of real concern is the third amendment proposed to the legislation. It extends the existing power to create easements in gross in favour of the Crown or a public or local authority to other corporations prescribed by the regulations, specifically private corporations providing public utility services. Whilst recognising that increasingly in future private and State-owned corporations will provide public utility services currently provided by the Crown and that this type of legislation no doubt is necessary in a practical sense, I have raised a number of questions with officers of the Land Titles Office which I must refer to in this debate.
First, I have been assured that corporations will only be prescribed under the legislation if they have a genuine need for the easement. Unfortunately, the definition or guidelines for determining genuine need are still being worked out. I would be much happier if these guidelines, once completed, formed part of this legislation by way of regulation. In other words, the Parliament would still have a role to play, even if only a veto role, in whether a private corporation should enjoy the benefits in relation to gross easements which currently flow to the Crown. Administrative guidelines that are worked out in some departmental office and are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny and could be amended outside the parliamentary process to suit a particular private corporation's needs or, indeed, the perceived needs of Executive Government, could be a dangerous path to tread, especially with the current propensity for more public services to be privatised.
The second concern involves the general area of appeal rights and any compensation which may be payable as a result of the establishment of a gross easement on privately owned land. I have been assured by the Land Titles Office that this legislation does not change the law in any way regarding a private landowner's access to appeal to the courts or to pursue a case for compensation through the courts, which is available under other sections of the Conveyancing Act. I would appreciate it if the Minister in reply could confirm that compensation which is currently available under the Conveyancing Act would still be available with the proposed amendments, and that no right of appeal has been lost in the process.
In other words, if AGL, which I understand will be a prescribed corporation once this bill becomes law, needs an easement in a location which grossly disadvantaged a property owner, and a negotiated settlement was unattainable, would the landowner still have access to remedy by way of compensation through the court system? This is a significant issue for landowners and I would appreciate clarification on this point. The final matter concerns a situation in which a local council owns land on which a gross easement either exists or will exist in future. I understand some councils receive money from the provision of public services being made by way of private corporations. If a council owns a footpath it can charge a private utility service provider for the use of an easement over the land. I would like an assurance that the revenue collected by the council will not be affected by this legislation.
It has been put to me - and I cannot verify this - that councils in Sydney earn up to $6 million from these easements. I would like the Minister to comment on whether local government will be affected by this legislation. I am sure local councils would be concerned if their capacity to access revenue from this source is eliminated as will occur through this legislation. To summarise, in the coalition's response to this legislation it sought the comments of the Law Society of New South Wales, the Property Council of New South Wales, the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales and New South Wales Farmers. It is fair to say that none of those groups had particular problems with the legislation, with the exception of the issues I have raised.
New South Wales Farmers was concerned about the easement issues, and in particular the right of appeal, the question of compensation and the need for guidelines on which private corporations should be prescribed to be subject to public scrutiny. I take this opportunity to thank the officers of the Land Titles Office who gave me a sound briefing on the legislation. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation. It does, however, seek clarification on those few issues.
Mr ANDERSON (St Marys) [9.48 p.m.]: I would like to deal with two of the three main objectives of this bill. The first objective I will address is the abolition of the common law rule relating to conveyancing. The other objective to which I will refer is the required options for the purchase of residential property to be entered into by exchange of contracts. One main purpose of the bill has been referred to by my colleague the honourable member for Ballina and by the Minister in his second reading speech: the abolition of the common law rule found in the case of Bain v Fothergill. In general terms this rule limits the amount of damages a purchaser may recover for the vendor's breach of a contract for sale of an interest in land where the breach of the contract is occasioned by the vendor's inability, through no fault of his or her own, to show a good title.
The rule has been criticised many times because it is no longer appropriate for modern conveyancing conditions. When the courts formulated the rule last century the title to a vendor's land was often uncertain under the old system of conveyancing because the title depended on the efficacy of each conveyance or other deed in the chain of title dating back at least 30 years. In these circumstances it is easier to see a justification for protecting the vendor from liability for failure to make out good title. There is no need for such protection under modern conveyancing conditions when more than 99 per cent of the dealings in land lodged at the Land Titles Office are dealings having effect under the Torrens title system. The title is guaranteed by this State pursuant to the Real Property Act 1900. Therefore, historical justification for the rule has disappeared due to advances in the law and conveyancing practice.
At the time the rule was formulated land was not regarded by the courts as a commodity which was subject to regular dealings and the purchase of an interest in land was not thought to be made with a view to resale for profit. As these views are now outmoded there is no reason that contracts for the sale of interests in land should not be treated in the same manner as all other contracts so far as the assessment of damages is concerned. The operation of the rule is unfair because it may unjustifiably deprive a purchaser of compensation which is properly awarded for breaches of all other types of contracts. Therefore, it is appropriate for the rule in Bain v Fothergill to be abolished. Another main aim of the bill is to provide that contracts for an option to purchase residential land must be entered into by way of exchange of contracts. This will mean that an option contract will be made in the same manner as solicitors and conveyancers traditionally enter into a contract for the sale of land on behalf of their clients.
The exchange of contracts provides a convenient and certain method of entering into a contract which is well understood by lawyers and many others who have been involved in conveyancing transactions. The case law on exchange of contracts adequately describes what is required for a valid contract to be created. In general terms the process of exchange involves the vendor signing the original contract and the purchaser signing the identical duplicate of the contract before they are physically compared and exchanged, so that each party receives an identical copy of the contract signed by the other party. On exchange the original and the duplicate are dated, and the moment of exchange is the moment the contract is created. As the Minister noted in his second reading speech, the existing requirement for both parties to sign both duplicates of an option contract causes unnecessary inconvenience to the parties. This requirement does not necessarily provide the same level of certainty regarding both the terms of the contract and the time of contracting which is provided by the mechanism of exchange of contracts.
For example, once a contract is exchanged in the traditional manner there is no doubt that the contract has been made because each party will have a copy of the contract signed by the other party only after exchange. On the other hand, when both copies of a contract are signed by both parties it may not be possible to tell, simply by looking at the documents, whether a contract exists or whether the parties intend that some other formality should take place before the contract is made. The proposed amendment will ensure that both parties to an option contract obtain a copy of the document, and that each party is required to sign a copy of the option contract. In order to achieve this result it is not necessary to burden relevant parties with a requirement for both parties to sign both copies of the option. The bill is an important measure which I commend to the House.
Mr YEADON (Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [9.53 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Ballina and the honourable member for St Marys for their contributions to the debate. As I indicated in my second reading speech, and as has been made clear in this debate, this bill contains three main amendments to the Conveyancing Act. Abolition of the common law rule in Bain v Fothergill will remove an anomaly from the law of damages for breach of contract. Abolition of the rule will allow a purchaser under a contract of sale of an interest in
land to claim damages for loss of bargain according to usual contractual principles. As the honourable member for Ballina said, there will no longer be an outmoded and anomalous special rule for the assessment of damages in circumstances when a vendor cannot show good title to an interest in land contracted to be sold. This bill amends the provisions relating to options to purchase residential property. It will require options for the purchase of residential property to be entered into by exchange of counterparts, each of which has been signed by one of the parties.
Creation of option contracts in this way will provide the following benefits: exchange will help to ensure that both parties receive a copy of the contract, both parties will be required to sign a copy of the contract before becoming bound, and there will be greater certainty regarding the terms of the contract and the time of the contracting. These amendments enhance the consumer protection provisions of the Conveyancing Act that relate to option contracts. This amending bill repeals the existing requirement for both parties to sign an option contract in duplicate. That requirement caused unnecessary inconvenience and uncertainty. An amendment is made to the granting of easements without a dominant tenement in favour of prescribed corporations. The honourable member for Ballina expressed concern about this amendment. This measure represents an extension - and I emphasise that it is an extension - of the present statutory exception to the common law rule that an easement must have a dominant tenement.
For the first time it will be possible for a corporation, in contrast to a government utility, prescribed by regulation for the purpose, to accept an easement without a dominant tenement. This will allow private corporations to accept such easements to aid them in the delivery of a service to the public. The honourable member for Ballina said that corporations will be prescribed only if a need exists. That is correct, and guidelines to that effect are being determined. The honourable member expressed concern that the guidelines had not yet been finalised and that that may create a dangerous situation. I do not share his concerns. As I said, the present statutory exception for government utilities has been extended. The amendment is not about providing any more or less but simply providing private corporations with that exception to the common law rule. That simply recognises that an ever increasing number of private corporations are providing a service to the public through various means.
Of course, some corporations have existed for a considerable period - and the gas company AGL springs to mind. The guidelines, which will be fairly straight forward, will simply determine when it is appropriate for such corporations to be prescribed. The honourable member for Ballina raised the issue of existing rights of appeal and compensation in relation to easements in gross. I have been advised that the amendment will not in any way change the right of people to appeal or their right to compensation from the situation that exists at present with the statutory exemption to the common rule.
The honourable member raised the matter of land owned by councils. Through the ownership of land councils generate revenue as a result of the allowing of easements. I have not had discussions with departmental officers on that specific point. However, given that they have indicated that this proposal does not change people's rights, I am comfortable that the amendment simply provides an extension of the existing statutory exemption to the common rule. Therefore, I am very much of the view that a council's rights in regard to generating revenue from the existence of easements in gross will remain. I am comfortable that that is the case. However, I give an undertaking to the honourable member that I will investigate the specifics of the issue first thing tomorrow - it is simply too late in the evening to obtain that information now - and if there are implications along the lines that he has suggested may potentially exist I will hold discussions with him and we will determine what we do from that point on. But I am very comfortable with the advice that I have been provided with, that there will be no change to anybody's rights.
I am very much of the opinion that that will include local government and its present ability to generate revenue from easements. The three amendments to the Conveyancing Act included in this amending bill are rather technical and somewhat less than exciting but they effect reforms which will simplify the conveyancing process. For that reason they are important and worthy of honourable members' support. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
COMMITTEE ON THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN AND THE POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION
Report: Fourth General Meeting with Ombudsman
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [10.02 p.m.]: The Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission recently presented two
reports to Parliament: the report on the committee's fourth general meeting with the Ombudsman held in November 1996 and the report of the committee delegation on its overseas study tour. The fourth general meeting coincided with the release of the Ombudsman's annual report for 1995-96. Consequently, during proceedings the committee, the Ombudsman, the Deputy Ombudsman and the Assistant Ombudsman discussed several issues raised in the annual report.
Under section 31B(1)(c) of the Ombudsman Act 1974 one of the committee's functions is "to examine each annual and other report made by the Ombudsman, and presented to Parliament, under this or any other Act and to report to both Houses of Parliament on any matter appearing in, or arising out of, any such report". Consequently, the committee met shortly after the general meeting to examine the Ombudsman's annual report for 1995-96 and resolved to draw several issues to the attention of Parliament. The committee considered that the selected issues needed highlighting as significant matters to be monitored in accordance with its functions under the Act.
Where possible, the issues have been highlighted in relevant sections of the fourth general meeting report. However, a number of issues do not relate to specific questions on notice or discussions and these have been included in a separate section in the annual report. I draw the attention of the House particularly to page 39 of the general meeting report and the specific issues that have been drawn to the attention of the House. One concerns conciliation of police complaints. The Ombudsman, in her annual report, expressed concern at the increase in the failure rate of conciliations - from 12 per cent in 1994-95 to 24 per cent in 1995-96. The committee expressed concern at this trend and resolved to inquire further into the matter after receiving reports from the relevant departments.
The committee also expressed concern in relation to the taking up by various departments of recommendations made by the Ombudsman. The committee has resolved to further investigate that matter. The committee raised concern about the failure of local government to pick up recommendations of the Ombudsman. The committee noted that the Ombudsman may request that the Minister seek to change the legislation to give the Ombudsman the opportunity to order councils to comply with her recommendations. There was also concern about the speed with which complaints were being handled. In the fourth general meeting with the Ombudsman that matter was raised again.
It is the committee's intention to re-examine these issues after a short period of approximately three months with a view to conducting public hearings in 1997 to hear evidence from relevant officials and bodies on their responses to the recommendations outlined in the Ombudsman's report. In this way the committee plans to fully exercise its monitoring and review functions as provided for by the Act. This specific treatment of issues contained in the annual report is the first step in the process by which the committee intends to more fully exercise its monitoring and review functions under section 31(1)(c) in relation to the Ombudsman's annual report. The committee is at present examining several recommendations for an extended inquiry program which have been proposed by the delegation that undertook the overseas study tour.
The delegation made its recommendations to the Parliament on the basis of several meetings with overseas Ombudsmen, parliamentary committees and police oversight agencies and its attendance at the sixth International Ombudsman Conference. The proposed inquiry program draws heavily on the experience and practices of the New South Wales committee's counterpart in England, the House of Commons Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. The delegation's report specifically recommends that the committee expand its inquiry program in relation to both the Ombudsman's annual and special reports to Parliament under section 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974. The delegation proposed that public hearings should be held to review specifically the issues raised in the Ombudsman's annual reports and to take evidence from the Ombudsman and relevant organisations.
The delegation further recommended that the joint committee report on any related matters which it believes warrant drawing to the attention of Parliament and, approximately three months after making its report, take evidence from relevant organisations on the progress they have made towards implementing the Ombudsman's recommendations. The third recommendation was that the joint committee should examine each special report to Parliament by the Ombudsman and consider conducting public hearings involving evidence from the Ombudsman and relevant chief executive officers for this purpose. The delegation further recommended that approximately three months after tabling of the special report the committee should review the progress made towards implementing the Ombudsman's recommendations.
The fourth general meeting also dealt with a wide range of key management, jurisdictional and
procedural issues, including funding and resources, access and awareness programs, special reports to Parliament, and complaint handling. Following on from the committee's discussion with the Ombudsman during the general meeting about the conduct excluded from her jurisdiction under schedule 1 to the Act, the committee has resolved to conduct a review of the schedule. This highlights the importance of the general meeting as a mechanism through which the committee may become aware of issues requiring further examination.
In conclusion, the committee continues to find the general meeting with the Ombudsman and senior staff from the office to be a valuable forum for exercising its monitoring and review functions. Such meetings provide the committee with a means of obtaining comprehensive and timely advice about the work of the Ombudsman and also have a potential role in promoting community awareness and understanding of the functions of the Ombudsman. More importantly, the fourth general meeting has served as a catalyst for closer examination of key issues affecting the Ombudsman's performance of her functions. Combined with the proposals that the committee delegation has put to the committee on its overseas study tour, the fourth general meeting marks a significant development in the inquiry program undertaken by the committee. I express my thanks to members of the committee for their involvement in the ongoing process undertaken by the committee. I also express my thanks to the clerk of the committee, Ronda Miller, and to our two committee workers, Helen Minnican and Natasha O'Connor.
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [10.10 p.m.]: My comments on this report will be brief. I should first note the simple, natural and commonsense approach adopted by both the Ombudsman and the committee to the news media. At the fourth general meeting with the Ombudsman there was originally an agreement for some 20 minutes of television filming of the proceedings. At the expiry of that time the Ombudsman was asked whether she had any objection to the continuing of filming, and she had no objection. The Ombudsman's attitude contrasts with the bizarre experience of another committee which witnessed quite childish, silly and foolish activities by some who objected to the presence of television cameras in the committee room. It is perhaps appropriate in this regard as in others that the example of the Ombudsman be noted.
Pages 13 and 14 of the transcript of the committee meeting of Friday, 8 November 1996 relate to a matter that has recently received some publicity because of the release of a draft proposal from the Attorney General, the matter of whether there be a limitation on the period of time that a person can be held in custody before being charged. This matter was discussed with the Ombudsman at the fourth general meeting. At page 14 of the transcript the Ombudsman states:
As to the time frame, that is something which is very much for Parliament, but quite obviously I would agree that the longer you make it, although that is advantageous for questioning, that probably will end up being the time that that person will be kept and it may indeed increase the injustices that might be perpetrated.
The Ombudsman was expressing concern about a process under which the current common law position would be codified so that a period of, say, four hours be allowed for a person to be detained before being charged. The danger in that regard is that what is prescribed as a maximum limit would become a minimum time. Of course, all of that may well be missing the point. The Ombudsman has made it clear in her comments and in her answers to questions that the real concerns of people who are apprehended or detained by the police relate not so much to the amount of time they spend in custody before being charged but to some of the things that happen to them during that time and the basis upon which a decision is taken to charge them.
The Ombudsman specifically agreed with the proposition that the majority of complaints made are not so much about the length of time of detention but the things that happen while detention is occurring. Those comments are particularly appropriate at this time, given the announcement made by the Attorney General yesterday. It is appropriate to mention the Ombudsman's support for the recommendations of a previous report of this committee on a review of the Protected Disclosures Act. One of the great problems that faces a government of any persuasion is the issue of how to deal with exposures of corrupt or inappropriate conduct, how to deal with whistleblowers. That matter is certainly close to the Ombudsman's heart, and it is my opinion that the Ombudsman does a much better job of dealing with whistleblowers than many other agencies do. It is particularly pleasing to note the Ombudsman's support for the committee's proposal for the establishment of a protected disclosures unit that would, in the light of a previous report, be established as a unit of the Ombudsman's office. It would well behove honourable members to pursue that recommendation and note the Ombudsman's support for it.
Report: Overseas Research Trip October 1996
COMMITTEE ON THE HEALTH CARE COMPLAINTS COMMISSION
Report: Overseas Study Tours 1996
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
Report: Annual Report 1995-96
Mr RUMBLE (Illawarra) [10.15 p.m.]: I am delighted to report that in my second year as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee the committee has equalled or bettered all of its previous records for productivity and effectiveness. It has tabled 11 reports, among which was the committee's 100th report since it was reactivated in 1981. The committee has heard almost 100 witnesses throughout the year and has issued all of its reports on CD-ROM, the first parliamentary committee to do so. Among the committee's significant achievements during the year were reports into the way in which New South Wales agencies managed their overseas activities; into annual reporting in the New South Wales public sector; into the costs and benefits of accrual accounting; and into the operations of the New South Wales Audit Office. These were large, major reports with far-reaching recommendations, and I am delighted that virtually all of the committee's recommendations have been adopted by the Government.
The committee also started its program of reviewing and adding value to the performance audits published by the Auditor-General, with a report on customer service in courts administration. This report reviewed the Auditor-General's performance audit on courts administration, reinforced a number of his recommendations and critically examined the way in which he had carried out the audit. In conformity with the committee's mission to increase awareness of the financial and related operations of government, the committee held a breakfast for members of Parliament aimed at outlining the budget process and the role members play in it.
I am pleased also to have been elected Chairman of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees, ACPAC. During this period the Public Accounts Committee of New South Wales made extensive preparations for the 1997 ACPAC conference. Part of the committee's mission was the holding of seminars and conferences during the year, notably seminars on annual reporting and on asset valuation in accrual accounting. The range of the committee's activities is now sizeable. It covers technical accounting and auditing matters, questions of management by government bodies and educational and public interest subjects. The great strength of the committee has always been its solidly bipartisan approach to its work. This year was no exception. I thank my fellow committee members the honourable member for Fairfield, the honourable member for Albury, the honourable member for Northern Tablelands and the honourable member for Wollongong for their unfailing cooperation and friendly harmony.
During the year the committee lost two of its members but gained two new ones. The honourable member for East Hills and the honourable member for Monaro rose to higher office, the honourable member for East Hills becoming Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and the honourable member for Monaro becoming shadow minister for regional development, shadow minister for ports and shadow assistant minister for State development. In the place of those two members the committee was pleased to welcome the honourable member for Northern Tablelands, who was, of course, familiar to the committee because of his former service on it, and the honourable member for Wollongong. I should like to say a word about the hardworking staff of the committee, Patricia Azarias, Ian Thackeray, Jozef Imrich, Kendy McLean, Caterina Sciara and John Lynas from the Audit Office. The committee appreciates their dedication and team spirit. During the year their efforts were supplemented by Rochelle Bradley of the New South Wales Audit Office and Ross Kendall.
Mr GLACHAN (Albury) [10.18 p.m.]: I am pleased to endorse the remarks made by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee on the committee's annual report. I congratulate the chairman, the honourable member for Illawarra, on his leadership during such a productive period for the committee. I point out to the House that during this period the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee also fulfilled the role of Chairman of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees. In that role he chaired the 1996 mid-term meeting of the council, which, among other things, set the direction for the 1997 conference. That conference was held here in Sydney this year and was a great success. The important relationship between the committee and the Auditor-General continues. The peer review of the Audit Office was completed, while the committee commenced a program of reviewing the Auditor-General's performance audit reports, the first being "Customer Service in Courts Administration: The Missing Dimension".
The Public Accounts Committee also continues to show itself to be innovative in achieving its objectives. The committee's utilisation of seminars
and conferences to canvass issues widely, unearth innovative solutions and spread its message to the public sector is evidence of this. This report details three such events. The release of all the committee's reports on CD-ROM further illustrates this innovation. Some changes in the committee make-up have occurred during this time. While we farewelled the honourable member for East Hills and the honourable member for Monaro, we welcomed the honourable member for Wollongong and the honourable member for Northern Tablelands. The latter member is no stranger to the activities of the committee.
It is important to note that the change in membership has, as always, not affected the spirit of cooperation and teamwork which underpins the operation of the Public Accounts Committee and makes it effective. I congratulate my fellow committee members on their efforts and contributions. I conclude by mentioning the
hardworking and committed staff of the Public Accounts Committee led by its Director, Ms Patricia Azarias, and other staff members, Mr Ian Thackeray, Mr Jozef Imrich, Ms Kendy McLean and Ms Caterina Sciara, and Mr John Lynas from the Audit Office. We appreciate their dedication and good humour. I also acknowledge the assistance provided to the committee by Rochelle Bradley from the Audit Office and Ross Kendall.
Motion, by leave, by Mr Yeadon agreed to:
(1) That this House at its rising on Wednesday, 23 April 1997, do adjourn until Tuesday, 6 May 1997, at 2.15 p.m.
(2) That on Wednesday, 23 April 1997, the sessional order relating to the routine of business for sitting days other than the last sitting day of the week shall apply.
House adjourned at 10.22 p.m.