Thursday, 16 October 1997
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Precedence of Business
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the routine for general business to have precedence of the Address-in-Reply debate at this session.
COAL AND OIL SHALE MINE WORKERS (SUPERANNUATION) AMENDMENT (AGE DISCRIMINATION) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [10.04 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill is to remove compulsory retirement ages applicable to mineworkers under the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers (Superannuation) Act 1941, to remove age limits on the employment of mineworkers, and to make consequential amendments to that Act relating to superannuation benefits and other matters. The bill is simple. It will remove compulsory retirement provisions and age limits on retirement and employment currently applicable to mineworkers under the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers Superannuation Act 1941. The amendments will remove the requirements under the Act that mineworkers must retire at 60 years of age or at other ages, up to the age of 65, specified under the Act or determined by the Corporate Trustee under the Act. This will enable a mineworker to retire at any time after reaching the age of 60 years.
The amendments also make it clear that mineworkers will still be able to retire voluntarily at the age of 60 and that the removal of compulsory retirement will not affect the entitlement of a mineworker to superannuation benefits under the coal superannuation rules. That mineworkers are the only workers in this State still subject to compulsory age retirement provisions amounts to nothing less than blatant age discrimination. The time has come for those provisions to be abolished, and that is exactly what this bill seeks to do. There may once have been justification for the rule, just as there may have been justification for the old coalmining rule that excluded women, but those days are long gone, and compulsory retirement at 60 should go with them. The rule against women was scrapped in 1988, yet workers in the mining industry continue to suffer age discrimination under a long outdated system. This bill is not only about rules and regulations; it is about people - people with families who deserve to be given every opportunity to enjoy the same rights that every other member of the community enjoys.
The bill has received wide support from sections of the coalmining community. I acknowledge the support of Don Wolfenden and Geoff Kelly, two splendid people from Lithgow whom it has been my pleasure to meet. It has been an honour to discuss the matter with them. I hope they are pleased that the Liberal Party is bringing this legislation before the Parliament on their behalf. The bill has also received the support of many other people in the Lithgow area and of coalminers in northern areas of the State. I mention expressly Mr Colin Wells, who is employed with Liddell coal. He, together with other mineworkers in the Lithgow area, has raised his concerns with me. Even the Attorney General in another place has conceded that it is difficult to justify the compulsory age-based retirement provisions in the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers (Superannuation) Act. The Commissioner of the Public Employment Office in a letter written in relation to the matter said:
The Attorney is of the view that the continuation of compulsory age-based retirement provisions in the Coal Super Act is difficult to justify. These provisions are clearly in conflict with the spirit and intent of the State’s anti-discrimination and are only saved by legislative anomaly. The Attorney also considers it anomalous that different provisions should, in effect, apply to public sector coal mine workers, as opposed to private sector coal mine workers, purely on the basis of an exemption under the A-D Act for statute-based provisions which does not apply to the public sector.
The Attorney supports, in principle, the removal of the compulsory age-based provisions in the Coal Super Act.
This bill has the support of everyone in the community who believes that the days of age-based retirement are over. It certainly has the support in principle, as I have just said, of the Attorney General; it has the support of the Opposition parties; and it would have the support of the whole community. Only one organisation is resisting the change - the mining section of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. The Australian Labor Party Government is not prepared to introduce change because of the opposition of that classic, left-wing dominated union. It is the social, political and industrial dinosaur of the late twentieth century. It has opposed the abolition of compulsory age-based retirement for as long as it has resisted the right of women to work in coalmines, and it is the obstacle to sweeping away this discrimination.
There is no age-based retirement in other industries covered by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union such as the construction industry; neither is there age-based retirement in private sector coalmines, in Queensland coalmines or for union officials. But the union, aided and abetted by the spineless Carr Government, insists on maintaining a requirement that public sector coalminers retire at 60 years of age. In the late twentieth century that is a disgrace. It is not just a legislative anomaly but a legislative blot on good government in this State; it is discriminatory and it must go. I speak on behalf of the coalition and I am not necessarily enunciating the view of coalminers. Coalminers want the same rights as everybody else. They are not interested in using the issue for political purposes; they want justice, equity and a fair go. It is extremely important when this legislation is debated that members representing coalmining seats support the rights of coalminers.
Clause 1 of the bill sets out the name, or short title, of the Act. Clause 2 states that the bill shall commence on the date that it receives assent. Clause 3 is the formal provision giving effect to the amendments set out in schedule 1, which will remove the requirement under the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers (Superannuation) Act 1941 that mineworkers retire at age 60 or at other ages up to 65 specified under the Act or as determined by the Corporate Trustee under the Act. The amendments also make it clear that mineworkers will still be able to retire voluntarily at age 60 and that the removal of compulsory retirement will not affect superannuation benefits. Schedule 1 also makes other consequential amendments. It is important to emphasise that this amending bill will not remove any rights; it will simply remove an age-based discrimination. I should like now to read part of a letter written by a coalminer. It states:
I am writing to you regarding compulsory retirement in the coalmining industry at age 60.
The letter goes on to say that the Federal Parliament has changed the goalposts by legislating against compulsory age-based retirement and the denial of workers’ rights to work past age 60. This particular correspondent now seeks the same rights. I have received many letters from coalminers asking for the same rights as everyone else in New South Wales. One comment was:
To my knowledge this is the only industry in New South Wales and maybe in Australia that forces its employees to retire at age 60.
These people are being compelled to use up what limited means they have from age 60 to 65 because they cannot receive the age pension until they reach the age of 65. It is time that they were removed from the limbo land in which they have been placed and given the same rights as every other worker in New South Wales. I acknowledge the support they have given me in drafting this legislation. I acknowledge also the courtesy and assistance of the Parliamentary Counsel. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr E. T. Page.
MANLY COVE DEVELOPMENT CONTROL BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [10.15 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill requires consent authorities to consider Manly Council’s development control policy when assessing development applications for buildings below the high water mark in Manly Cove. It also places the whole bay area of Manly Cove within Manly Council’s local government area. It aims to clarify planning controls in Manly Cove and gives Manly Council and the community a firm hand on the reins of development in the area. The problem is that the area below the high water mark in Manly Cove is not within the council’s jurisdiction and lacks effective planning controls. Indeed, it is
unprotected from overdevelopment. This particularly includes the wharf and the Oceanworld precinct in the west part of the cove.
The council’s development control policy was adopted on 2 September 1996. It aims to preserve the amenity of the cove, maintain the scenic and heritage qualities, retain public access and enhance efficient transport facilities. No additional buildings are contemplated and any redevelopment must be limited to 10.5 metres in height and on a low scale. The council unanimously adopted this policy, but it is not binding, and that goes to the heart of the bill. The council applied for this policy to have the status of a plan thus making it more enforceable, but the Minister refused. The policy, which has been prepared and adopted by the council, is clearly consistent with the Premier’s recently announced vision for Sydney Harbour foreshores. As honourable members know, that vision, which signals the drafting of a development control plan for the whole of Sydney Harbour, will be underpinned by three key points: it will maximise public access and use, maintain open space and heritage, and retain maritime activities. The Premier’s vision could well have been written for Manly Cove. I shall refer to that in detail at a later stage.
I will refer briefly to the special nature of Manly Cove and its history. Many people will recall their first memory of Manly as the first glimpse of arriving at the wharf in the centre of the cove. It is a unique and very much public place. On one side Manly has the cove within the world’s most beautiful harbour and on the other side it has the golden beaches of the south Pacific. That famous slogan "Seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care" is synonymous with Manly’s rare natural beauty and delightful village atmosphere. Is it any wonder that the community I represent wishes to preserve, protect and conserve it? We do not want brash exploitation and commercialism. It was at Manly and not at Sydney Cove in January 1788 that the first white man stepped ashore in Sydney Harbour. Governor Phillip in a dispatch to Lord Sydney dated 15 May 1788 penned the following:
The boats in passing near a point of land in the harbour were seen by a number of men and 20 of them waded into the water unarmed, received what was offered to them and examined the boats with a curiosity that gave me a much higher opinion of them . . . and their confidence and manly bearing made me give the name Manly Cove to this place.
Those remarks refer to the very beginning of settlement in Sydney. The shores of Manly form a part of the territory of the coastal Aboriginal tribe known as the Gurringai. When occupying the rock shelters around the Manly foreshores, the Aborigines left clues to their healthy lifestyle in the form of shell middens, axe-grinding grooves and rock engravings. Such is the early history of this place, the cradle of white civilisation and habitation in Sydney Harbour. Since the middle of the last century Manly wharf, the gateway to Manly, has become a mecca for residents and visitors alike, particularly for those undertaking recreational activities such as sailing and swimming.
Henry Gilbert Smith, who is known as the father of Manly, started a ferry service there in 1854. A year later the service, which called at Woolloomooloo, ran twice a week. The trip cost 1s 6d for a single journey and took 32 minutes. It is interesting that today the trip takes about 25 minutes, only seven minutes less. In the 1880s the Port Jackson Steamship Company took over the ferries and by 1888 the ferries were carrying a total of 580,000 passengers a year. The company built a long pier and change rooms. The change rooms were needed because people brought or hired woollen swimming costumes and needed a place to change. The current wharf was built in 1945 and is an excellent example of mid-40s stylisation and its preoccupation with geometric forms. It has a curved entrance that reflects the arc of the beach and its shape has ship-like connotations. The wharf is listed with the National Trust as a heritage item.
The eastern part of the cove has other fascinating and precious buildings. The Manly Rowing and Sailing Club, which I understand is the oldest rowing club in Sydney, was founded in 1880. It was established next to the Manly baths, which later became known as the Manly Sailing Club. Manly Council has sought to preserve the historic significance of the cove. Unfortunately in 1974 huge storms wreaked havoc in Manly and destroyed the boardwalk, the pool and the baths. As a result of the damage the council looked closely at the cove in an attempt to rationalise and reduce the number of buildings. Consequently, the occupancy of the yacht club, the skiff club and the baths was rearranged, the yacht club was demolished and the area was returned to its natural state. This rationalisation brought significant improvement, at the same time protecting buildings of the most historic significance.
I paint this background picture so that honourable members can appreciate the importance of the bill in the context of current challenges to Manly Cove. The planning vacuum below the high water mark is covered by the very weak State environmental planning policy 23. Uncaring government agencies give no assistance to Manly’s vision to protect the area. Frankly, Rafferty’s rules
operate below the high water mark. I put it to the House that the rot started with the wharf redevelopment by Merlin in 1988 when I was a councillor on Manly Council. I had grave misgivings about the redevelopment, which was a Brereton decision in the latter years of the former Labor Government, late 1987 to early 1988. It was, however, continued by the Greiner Government. A figure of $60 million has been put on the cost of what was effectively privatisation of Manly wharf. The attempt to build a shopping centre on a busy transport wharf was a commercial failure. Unfortunately, at that time the cargo wharf, which dated back to the last century, was demolished and replaced by a most uninspiring shopping complex.
Following the demise of Merlin the lease was onsold to Robert Magid, who is arguing for increased development to make his investment pay. There is little sympathy in the community to bail out the new lessee, who has bought a lemon. Mr Magid’s application seeks to construct on the site a 200-room, six-storey, high-rise hotel, which will alienate public space and public access and be only for the rich. The council in its wisdom, and to its great credit, refused the development application, although some of the conservatives on the council equivocated. Robert Magid’s application to have the matter heard in the Land and Environment Court has been withdrawn.
Further negotiations are proceeding for a smaller hotel. I am not privy to those discussions. Any large commercial construction on that sensitive site in the centre of that beautiful cove is most unwelcome. I am extremely disappointed and critical of the responses of the State Government and Ministers to this development, which have been nothing short of pathetic. However, I see some glimmer of hope, as I said earlier, in the Premier’s vision for Sydney Harbour. I have received correspondence from the Minister for Ports, who is the effective owner of Manly Wharf. The wharf is leased to the private lessee for in excess of 90 years. In the Minister’s letter to me he wrote:
I particularly note your concerns about the permissibility of a hotel under the current lease.
Whilst you are correct in that the current lease for Manly Wharf does not permit a hotel, this should not be seen as an impediment to the Lessee, Mr Magid submitting a new redevelopment proposal. As you would be aware a lease is simply a management document which defines the obligations of the parties (lessor/lessee) and generally relates to maintenance, rental, insurances and so on. It does not deal with development and planning issues and is usually not finalised until after development approval is granted by a consent authority.
He went on to say:
Accordingly, it is not my role as landowner and lessor to "give permission" -
remember that the Minister owns the wharf -
as you suggest to the hotel. Rather it is the role of Council to grant or deny approval to the hotel proposal under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act . . . If, at the conclusion of the planning process a hotel is given development approval then modifications to the lease can be included to reflect the new use.
What an abrogation of power and dereliction of duty. It creates the most enormous uncertainty. It is akin to a house owner saying to a tenant who asks to make alterations to the house, "I do not care. Do what you want. It does not impact on the lease." Of course it does. The owner of Manly wharf, the Minister for Ports, has absolutely no vision for Manly wharf. He is prepared to let the private lessee do what he wants. He has shifted the responsibility to Manly Council to make a decision - in other words, total planning uncertainty. That is in contrast to the Premier’s vision statement. Quite clearly, it is a cop-out and an abandonment of responsibility by the Minister who is responsible for the asset. Another Minister involved is the Minister for Transport. Remember that Manly wharf is the major public transport interchange in Manly. One would think that the Department of Transport would have a view on its redevelopment but it does not have a view either. The Mayor of Manly wrote to the Minister for Transport to seek his opinion on a massive hotel development on the wharf and its impact on the Government’s vision. The Minister’s reply, inter alia, stated:
Any comments by the Department of Transport in relation to any development application for the wharf would be limited to the impacts on the public transport interchange function.
I understand the Department had submitted formal comments on the initial development application. I have asked the Department to continue to consult with Council in relation to any new or revised development application for the wharf.
That is all he said. He said nothing about this facility being a priority in the Government’s transport vision or a main transport gateway into Manly. The Minister for Transport told the council to do whatever it wants to do with the site. The Minister for Land and Water Conservation was also involved. On 10 September he wrote to the mayor and stated, inter alia:
However, as previously advised, I am anxious that any legitimate development proposal, whether instigated by Mr Magid or another lessee, be assessed on its merits through the planning process provided by the Environmental Planning and
Assessment legislation. On this basis, the general public will also be afforded the opportunity to comment on the proposal.
The relevant Ministers have shown no interest in a vision for this asset or in its management. They have washed their hands of it. The vision of Manly Council for the wharf is the retention of its heritage, the inclusion of shops and restaurants and the improvement of public transport facilities. The vision of the council does not include a hotel. The wharf is the wrong site for a hotel.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It being 10.30 a.m., in accordance with sessional orders, it is now time for the House to proceed to deal with orders of the day for bills. However, with the consent of the House, the member may continue so that this item of business is concluded.
Dr MACDONALD: On 2 September 1996 Manly Council adopted a clear policy of restricting development on the wharf. That policy is at the heart of my bill. It is the only vision, apart from the broader vision of the Premier, that has been adopted for Manly Cove. The bill will give the force of law to the council document, which contains clear objectives that are not consistent with the gross overdevelopment as envisaged by Robert Magid. The objectives are to preserve and enhance the amenity of Manly Cove; to provide for maximum public visual and scenic quality to the harbourfront and to avoid as much as possible private, exclusive use; to provide and enhance efficient transport facilities while recognising that the wharf and its connection to The Corso act as a gateway to Manly; to ensure that all development in Manly Cove is complementary to and does not detract from the shoreline and adjacent reserves in Manly Cove; to retain all existing beach frontage for aquatic and recreational facilities; to retain the existing character of the boat club precinct within the cove; and to conserve and enhance the environmental heritage of the cove.
The policy is specific about the location and scale of buildings. To maximise open space and public waterfront access, it is anticipated that there will be no new building work other than on the location of existing buildings. To preserve the visual integrity of the cove in terms of views to and from the water no building will exceed 10.5 AHD. Any new development shall be of low scale and in keeping with the scale of existing buildings. The policy has been the subject of thorough community consultation and has been adopted unanimously by Manly Council. I seek to have the policy taken into account in conjunction with the bill.
The bill is simple and short. It translates the vision into legislation by requiring any consent authority to be satisfied that a proposed development is consistent with the aims and objectives of the development control policy and complies with the relevant requirements of it. Clauses 5(a) and 5(b) provide that a consent authority must not grant consent unless it is satisfied that the proposed development is consistent with the aims and objectives of the Manly Cove development control policy and would, if consent were granted, comply with those requirements of the Manly Cove DCP that are, in the opinion of the consent authority, relevant to development. The legislation binds the vision into law.
The second minor but important requirement is dealt with in clause 6, which basically extends the jurisdiction of Manly Council into the bay itself. That provision will require Manly Council to amend its local environment plan to include Manly Cove within the local government area. Manly Cove is defined within the bill as being the area above and below the high water mark between Commonwealth Parade, West Esplanade and East Esplanade, and a line drawn from the south-western end of East Esplanade to the southernmost point of Commonwealth Parade. I want to invoke the vision of the Premier in support of this legislation. On 19 August the Premier issued a press release setting out his vision for Sydney Harbour foreshores. In that press release the Premier was quoted as saying:
The harbour is too precious to be sold off for the exclusive use of Sydney’s silvertails.
My message to the Premier is to not sell off Manly Cove for a massive hotel development. The four key points of the development control plan envisaged by the Premier for Sydney Harbour include maximum public access and use of land on the foreshore, the retention and enhancement of links between existing foreshore open space, the retention of all items of heritage significance, and, where possible, the retention of maritime and related activities. I take the Premier at his word when he says he believes in a vision for Sydney Harbour and not in an alienation of space to commercial and private activities. I look forward to the release of a development control plan by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.
As I understand it, the purpose of preparing that development control plan is to provide a clear set of guidelines for use by consent authorities for the assessment of land-based, water-based and land-water interfaced development proposals. That is exactly what the bill seeks to do: it seeks to provides a clear set of guidelines, a clear vision and
a clear direction to consent authorities to take into account the council’s development control policy. In introducing this bill I am exercising my right in this House to represent my electorate. I wish to protect Manly Cove which, as I have already said, has a history that is immensely important to this State. The bill seeks to conserve the beauty and amenity of the area and to provide the planning certainty that currently is lacking so that the area does not run the risk of massive overdevelopment. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr E. T. Page.
CHILD PROTECTION BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Leader of the Opposition) [10.39 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
In autumn last year the Wood royal commission heard spectacular evidence from the witness T7 about employees of the Department of Community Services who had been exposed as peddlers of child pornography. At the time the evidence caused a sensation and sparked renewed calls for a crackdown on paedophilia. The evidence prompted the Premier to promise that he would crack down on paedophiles in the Department of Community Services and other agencies so that the problem could never arise again. But despite the Premier’s announcements and all of his assurances to the people of this State, the Carr Government has thus far failed to guarantee that paedophiles cannot work with children. There is still no law banning paedophiles from working with children.
Every day that passes our children are more at risk than they need to be - walking to school, catching buses, in the classroom, at the shops, in their local park. There is a gap in the law and the Opposition is seeking to fill that gap with this bill, which will, for the first time, make it a criminal offence for convicted paedophiles to work with children on either a paid or a voluntary basis. The bill provides that paedophiles who seek such work will be liable to tough fines of as much as $11,000, with a year’s gaol in addition to that. The bill meets a key recommendation of the police royal commission’s paedophile inquiry, a recommendation that the Premier has promised to meet but so far has failed to meet. It is an urgent job and it requires urgent action. No day could be more appropriate for that urgent action than this day. No bill could more adequately fill the void than this bill. As a parent, I want to know that every step has been taken to protect my children from the risk of exposure to paedophiles. At the moment I, along with other parents, do not have that peace of mind - nor do families across New South Wales. The bill places the onus where it belongs: fair and square on paedophiles. If a paedophile seeks work with children he immediately commits a criminal offence - no ifs, no buts, no excuses.
The bill deals with two situations. First, if a new job applicant has a criminal record and if the job would primarily involve direct contact or unsupervised association with children, the prospective employer would be required to ask the applicant whether he has a prior conviction for sex offences. The applicant must answer the question honestly and, if the answer is yes, must be rejected for the job or be provided with an alternative job that puts no child at risk. Importantly, an employer’s only obligation is to ask the question and reject the application if the answer is yes. He is not burdened with the task of making repeated and exhaustive inquiries into an employee’s record.
The employer’s task is not an investigative one. He discharges his duty by asking the question. That is not too much to ask employers to do when children could be at risk. It should also be borne in mind that the obligation to ask the question about a prospective employee’s record applies only to employers filling a vacancy for a job which would expose the successful applicant to children as a primary function or incident of the job, and not for all jobs. For instance, while the proposed legislation would apply to drivers of school buses, it would not apply to the drivers of ordinary commuter buses.
The second scenario concerns existing employees who acquire a criminal record after commencing their present employment. Any existing employee whose job primarily involves direct contact or unsupervised association with children who later acquires a conviction for a child sex offence would be required to immediately disclose that fact to the employer, who must either find the employee a risk-free job or dismiss the worker. As a precaution, any offender would be permitted to apply to the Supreme Court for an order suppressing his record if the court considers it justifiable having regard to the seriousness of the offence, the age of the conviction, the age of the offender at the time of the offence, the age of each victim, the difference in age between the offender and each victim, the seriousness of the offender’s criminal record and any
other factor that the court considers to be relevant. The public of New South Wales is entitled to feel that the Carr Government has acted too slowly in protecting the children of this State from paedophiles.
On this day it is important for me to say that I again reject the vile and malicious allegations made by the Hon. Franca Arena in another place. It will be to her permanent shame that she has acted with so much wanton disregard for the truth in relation to me and others, including royal commissioner Justice Wood. Whatever the Opposition’s criticisms of the Premier and the Government may be, this legislation can today send a clear, unequivocal signal from this Parliament to the people of Australia in relation to our determination to stamp out the heinous crime of paedophilia. I expect the full support of the New South Wales Parliament.
I ask the Minister to ensure that this matter, if it has not already been considered by the Government, is considered as a matter or urgency. This is not a standard form of words I use today. This matter requires the full attention of the Government. The Government should urgently pass the Opposition legislation. It sends a clear signal that the Premier, whatever the reasons for his delay on this issue, should seek to embrace. The Premier and the Government must support this legislation, as must every member of this Parliament - both Houses, all parties. With those words I commend the bill to the House because it will provide immediate protection for this State’s children.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr E. T. Page.
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 16 November 1995.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [10.47 a.m.]: The bill of the honourable member for Eastwood is fatally flawed and cannot be supported by the Government. It seeks to establish a parliamentary committee to oversight, make recommendations and comment about the budget of the Director of Public Prosecutions; to monitor and review the exercise of the DPP’s functions; to report to Parliament on any matter "appertaining to the DPP" or "connected with the exercise of the functions of the DPP" about which the committee thinks it should report; to report to Parliament on matters relating to annual reports and any other reports produced by the DPP; to report to Parliament about any change the committee considers desirable to the "functions, structure and procedures" of the DPP; and to inquire into any question in connection with the functions that is referred by the Houses and report to Parliament on it. All of those functions except the first are to have retrospective effect.
The bill also gives the parliamentary committee the power to veto the appointment of a DPP, a power which currently resides with the parliamentary joint committee on the Ombudsman. The proposed committee of the honourable member for Eastwood would not have any power to influence the DPP’s decisions relating to individual prosecutions. As I said, the committee and its functions are unacceptable to the Government, as is the retrospective nature of the bill. The proposals contained in the bill are unnecessary and misguided and would contribute nothing to the efficient operation of the DPP. They threaten the proper administration of the DPP and transgress the very principle behind the creation of that office.
I shall now refer to some specifics in that regard. I am advised that the proposed functions relating to budgetary control are not needed. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is already fully accountable for its budget through the Auditor-General and review by the estimates committees. The proposals in paragraphs (c) (d) (e) and (f) of proposed section 30B(1) relate to the power of the joint committee to report to both houses of Parliament on any matter pertaining to the DPP or connected with the functions of the DPP. Those provisions are redundant given that the Attorney General, to whom the DPP is responsible for the due exercise of these functions, already performs this role and should continue to do so.
A committee of the type proposed by the honourable member for Eastwood would inevitably politicise the office, which would be highly undesirable for an independent prosecuting authority. The Government must also refute any suggestion that the Director of Public Prosecutions is the same or similar enough to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Police Integrity Commission or the Ombudsman to justify a similar parliamentary committee. In fact, the functions involved are very different. The bodies which already have parliamentary committees report to the Parliament on the operations of Executive Government. On the
other hand, the DPP is charged with representing the State in criminal prosecutions.
No other jurisdiction in Australia has seen fit to establish a regime such as is proposed in the bill. In Victoria a Director’s Committee exists, as does a Committee for Public Prosecutions. The Director’s Committee is an advisory body comprising the Director, two other officers from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief Crown Prosecutor and, in those matters which involve advice from a Crown Prosecutor, the Crown Prosecutor concerned or the most senior Crown Prosecutor. The Committee for Public Prosecutions is comprised of the Director, the Chief Crown Prosecutor, the Solicitor for Public Prosecutions and a person appointed by the Governor. Clearly, they are not commensurate with the proposals made by the honourable member for Eastwood. The Government is considering a range of options to improve the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Government opposes the bill.
Mr GLACHAN (Albury) [10.51 a.m.]: I have a strong interest in this bill and I strongly support the aims of the honourable member for Eastwood in seeking the establishment of a committee on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Minister for Local Government has presented the view that the establishment of such committee would politicise the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I reject that view. Similar committees have not politicised the ICAC, the Health Care Complaints Commission or the Ombudsman. As I read the bill, the proposed committee would have a similar role to the roles of the committees I have mentioned. The establishment of a committee on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is not so much a matter of questioning in any way the integrity or the work of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions but of providing a mechanism for direct accountability to the Parliament. Proposed new section 30E provides that a joint committee consist of 11 members, three members of and appointed by the Legislative Council and eight members of and appointed by the Legislative Assembly. The explanatory note of the bill states clearly:
However, the Joint Committee will not be able to recommend that the Director of Public Prosecutions make a decision that relates to the institution or cessation of prosecutions or proceedings in a particular case, or to reconsider any such decision.
My particular interest in the establishment of the committee relates to incidents that occurred in my electorate some time ago and caused great concern and outrage in the Albury community. Some time ago police in Holbrook stopped and searched a vehicle and found in a sports bag on the floor of that vehicle three kilograms of heroin. The two occupants of the vehicle, Quoc Dung Duong and Mr Vu Phong Bui, were in possession of a huge amount of heroin, an amount that when distributed would almost certainly cause enormous harm to many Australians. The distribution of three kilograms of heroin would have a devastating effect on our community. The Border Mail of 25 July 1997 in an article headed "Heroin takes its toll" stated:
Nineteen Cabramatta drug addicts have died this year from the same type of high-grade heroin seized last year at Holbrook.
Insp Frank Weiss, who heads the Cabramatta police station, said the western Sydney suburb was known for the high quality of the heroin its pushers sold.
The $8 million of heroin seized at Holbrook on September 20 was most likely headed for Cabramatta, he said.
The article also stated:
Insp Tony Day, of Albury, said this week that while his officers were picking up drug traffickers, police at Cabramatta were picking up the bodies of addicts.
The incident in Holbrook was serious. Mr Quoc Dung Duong was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Honourable members may recall that I have previously mentioned the disappointment of police officers at the leniency of his sentence. A sentence of five years imprisonment for possession of such a huge amount of heroin is way too lenient. Police and the community in general expected that the Director of Public Prosecutions would appeal the leniency of the sentence. That did not occur, and the community still wonders why. The Director of Public Prosecutions must be independent, but it is important to provide a line of accountability back to the Parliament.
Mr Vu Phong Bui, the other occupant of the vehicle, was arrested at the same time as his companion. On 28 December he was committed to stand trial on charges of supply and possession of a prohibited drug. The police and the Albury community considered that Mr Vu Phong Bui must have known about the huge quantity of heroin in the car. Police have told me that drugs had been used by the occupants of the car while they were in transit. On 19 July, however, it was revealed that the DPP would not proceed with the charges, which would be dropped. The police were nonplussed on learning of this decision, for which they were not given reasons. The police believed that they had a strong case and wanted the matter to go to court. The community would have wanted the matter to go to court. When such a huge amount of heroin is
concerned it is the court that should make the decision; the matter should have gone to trial. Inspector Tony Day is quoted as having said:
It does knock the morale of the police around when decisions like those in this case are made.
We had all the evidence that was needed and this was what happened, it does leave us somewhat bewildered.
I, too, am left bewildered, as are other members of the community of Albury who knew of the incident and believe that the matter should have been brought before the courts. Three kilograms of heroin is a huge amount and the two offenders should have been brought to justice. It is the courts that should have made a decision. I do not suggest that the committee proposed under the bill would second-guess decisions made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, but the community and the Parliament need to be sure that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is accountable. I commend the honourable member for Eastwood for his proposal. I strongly support the bill, and I urge the Government to reconsider its position.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [10.59 a.m.], in reply: I am disappointed by the Government’s approach to the bill. I had hoped that the Premier’s change of heart on Saturday, when he was quoted as saying that the time had come for a parliamentary watchdog, would determine bipartisan support for oversight of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Such oversight is obviously long overdue and urgently required. The Premier, as I understand his comments on radio to Alan Jones on Tuesday, now seeks to retreat from that position and set up some operations review committee of the type currently involved with the ICAC.
If one looks at the reports of the parliamentary Joint Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption one can see the shortcomings and flaws in that proposal. The idea of an operations review committee, which the Premier suggested should be chaired by the Director of Public Prosecutions himself, if it were to follow the ICAC model, would simply be a waste of time. One of the major failings of the operations review committee of the ICAC is that it becomes a committee of support to the ICAC commissioner. I believe such a committee will simply become a committee of support to the DPP. Plainly that is not what is needed. What is needed is a robust committee that is prepared to and can take the fight to the DPP’s office.
It is proposed that the committee be identical to the committees set up to monitor both the Ombudsman and the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I note that when those bills were before the House the Government did not take a point about the nature of any possible retrospectivity of the legislation. The Opposition does not suggest that the proposed legislation in relation to the DPP should be retrospective, but that it is required to put the DPP on all-fours with the model that is already in place, that is tried, true and tested, in relation to both the Ombudsman and the ICAC. Suddenly the Government has some sort of indigestion or trouble with the nature of the key powers set out for the committee in this bill.
A logical consequence of the Minister’s speech this morning is to assume that the Government will move amending legislation to truncate the powers of the parliamentary committees on the Ombudsman and the ICAC, which would be absurd. It is obviously an agenda to cut down on the powers of Parliament to oversight statutory offices. That is not only regrettable but also reprehensible, and I would hope that the Government would not do that. If it does not - and I do not believe that it will - it will show that the Government’s argument in relation to these powers is nonsense.
The provision relating to the budget has been included in the legislation specifically because of the disgraceful brawl that occurred when the DPP virtually had to come to this Parliament and go public, begging about his budgetary position. As I recall, an unseemly and public brawl occurred between the DPP and very senior members of the Government, including the Premier himself. I think that is disgraceful. If the DPP’s office is to be truly independent - and, as the Government quite rightly is saying, independent of Executive Government - the Parliament should vote in his budget.
The DPP should not have to go to the Treasurer, as the key Cabinet member of the Executive Government, for his budget; he should come to the Parliament on a bipartisan basis. That makes him more independent in one of the key operational areas rather than less so. To say that in some way this legislation is inappropriate and, in the same breath, that the bill takes away from the independence of the DPP is just nonsense. The budgetary provisions of the bill in fact enhance the DPP’s independence; they do not take away from it. Hopefully the introduction of the legislation will prevent the sort of public brawling that has gone on between senior members of the Government and the DPP on issues such as this.
The Minister referred to the Victorian committee. Regrettably he did not say anything
about the House of Commons home affairs committee in England. To me that committee is the proper precedent for this sort of legislation. Some half-baked arguments have been put about how the legislation somehow strikes at the heart of independence between the various arms of government, that in some way it is Parliament meddling in the affairs of an independent judicial system, that somehow it is contrary to the Westminster system and that members on this side of the House do not understand those separations of power, otherwise we would not be putting a proposal such as this.
The argument is a simple one. In Westminster, the mother Parliament, there is no problem with this. The home affairs committee regularly gets the English DPP to appear before it - not to kick over the traces of individual cases. I give the Minister credit for the fact that he made the point in his speech that that is not what is proposed, that it is specifically excluded, and I think that is a very important proviso. But to look over the operational and administrative aspects of the DPP’s office is exactly what the English House of Commons committee does.
I have been through the House of Commons transcripts, I have looked at the questions asked by the committee of Barbara Mills, QC, the English DPP, and those were exactly the sorts of matters they discussed. When police have problems with the way the DPP is handling the administration of matters - not a particular matter, but matters generally - the parliamentary committee asks the DPP questions on oath. Indeed, in some cases the DPP will come back with comment that it is the police themselves who have a problem.
As far as I as a legislator am concerned, that is very instructive feedback. That is not something that this Parliament should be prevented from hearing. It is not something that should be outside the bounds of this Parliament to be educated about, to have knowledge of and to make public comment on. It may well be that the police have some of these matters wrong. It may well be that there are problems with police getting details of matters which are to be appealed to the DPP in time. I do not know.
What I do know - and this is uncontroverted by the DPP’s office - is that the DPP has not been talking to police. I would like to see a mature approach taken where we can, on a bipartisan basis, have the Director of Public Prosecutions in, hear the DPP’s side, and then have the police prosecutors in and hear their side. I would have thought that in a mature Legislature with a bipartisan approach that would be to the benefit of everyone. It is certainly to the benefit of the English Parliament and to the English legal system that that takes place. It is a fundamental flaw in the Government’s approach and reply to this bill that not a word has been said about the English DPP committee. The reason may well be that there is not much that can be said about it. On its face it is plain that nothing can be said to detract from the work that the English DPP does.
For the Government to say that there is not a need for legislation such as this flies in the face of ongoing problems in the DPP’s office which are obvious to everyone. Regrettably, we cannot agree on this legislation, which is a damn shame. I would have been happy to consider any amendments to get some form of legislation, rather than the blanket rejection approach that seems to have been taken. If a poll were taken of members of this House, I venture to suggest that not one member would say that he or she does not have the gravest problems with the administration of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
When I spoke yesterday in the debate - though I accept that during my contribution the debate became a little political and members were agitated - there was not one dissenting voice in the House when I made fundamental points about the failings of the DPP’s office. Not one member interjected or took issue with what I was saying, and that is because I honestly think everyone agrees on this matter. They agree not only on their own behalf, but they also agree because that is the overwhelming message that we are all getting from our constituents on these matters.
What everyone is saying is that if the ICAC has recommended to the DPP that he consult police - bear in mind that recommendation arose out of a complaint to the ICAC by police about the alleged mishandling of a matter by the Director of Public Prosecutions’s office in Lismore - if the ICAC as a result of complaint comes up with a recommendation that the DPP will and should consult police before these sorts of matters are dealt with, then it can, it must, and it should happen.
It has not happened and it did not happen in the Bui matter. This is not a minor Local Court matter but one involving 3.7 kilograms of heroin worth $8 million, heroin which was 86.7 per cent pure and which the police say was of the type that a few weeks ago was causing people to drop down dead in the streets of Cabramatta. This type of matter goes to the heart of law and order in this State. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided
not to appeal against a five-year sentence imposed on the person caught in possession of the drug, even though the penalty for having in possession one kilogram of heroin is life imprisonment. This person was found to be carrying almost four times the amount of heroin for which a person would go to gaol for life under legislation passed by the Parliament. The DPP did not even seek the advice of police about the need to appeal against that five-year sentence
When this Parliament sought to do something about life sentences, every member in this Chamber agreed that life should mean life for large commercial dealers in heroin. The courts and the judicial system have failed to give effect to the will of the Parliament. The DPP in this case did not seek advice from police about the need to appeal against the sentence imposed on a person carrying four times the life limit for heroin. That is a dangerous farce and is the reason the bill should be supported. However, the matter does not stop there. The co-accused who was alleged to be in possession of the drug was charged, brought before the courts, dealt with by a magistrate and committed for trial. On the last working day before the matter was due to commence in the District Court the detectives were told that the matter was going no further, that the charges had been dropped and that the accused had been released from custody.
I heard Inspector Tony Day speaking on radio 2UE to Alan Jones. He spoke eloquently and was remarkably restrained, despite enormous provocation from what had happened to his officers. Nevertheless, he said quietly but firmly that police had not been spoken to before the charges were dropped. I was alarmed, astonished and very angry because the recommendations of the Independent Commission Against Corruption to the DPP had not been followed. I took the liberty of ringing Tony Day to make sure that what I had heard was correct. He was the duty officer but not necessarily the police officer directly involved in the matter. I asked him who the detectives were with carriage of the matter and whether he had spoken to them and confirmed that this was all true. He is a professional and he said, "Yes, Andrew. I have done all that. I would not be on the radio talking like this if I had not checked that out".
That the police were not consulted is a comprehensive, disgraceful administrative failing within the Director of Public Prosecutions’s office in breach of the ICAC’s recommendations. I have referred this matter to the ICAC because that body must ensure that its recommendations are adhered to, or, if that is not the case, ascertain why that is not happening. This matter goes to the heart of the criminal justice system. The public has little confidence in the judicial system and organisations such as the ICAC, and that is dangerous. The legal profession, of which I am a member, tends to drag the wagons around, retreat into the laager and say, "We are the experts, we are the high priests, we are the only ones who know the legal system. The rest of you do not know what you are talking about. Leave it to us."
We have gone beyond that stage. Though I am a lawyer, the longer I spend in this place the more removed I become. It is commonsense to get away from the high priesthood of the law and to listen to the views of ordinary people. The ICAC got it right on the Lismore report when it said that it is commonsense and plain good practice for police to be consulted before the DPP makes decisions. I agree that the DPP should make its decision, independently arrived at. The ICAC commissioner and I agree - and the public are screaming until they are blue in the face - that a fully informed decision should be arrived at following input from all sides. What could be a more important source than the prosecuting police? I am not suggesting that the police are always right but their information is relevant and should be considered.
None of this happened, despite the ICAC’s recommendations. It was thought that at long last the penny had dropped, but then a person involved in the Carty matter was granted bail, without the police or the Carty family being informed. Most reprehensible of all, the DPP did not tell the witnesses. When will this office learn? Belatedly and reluctantly somebody apologised and said, under extraordinary pressure and begrudgingly, that the DPP had mucked it up again. That is not good enough. The office of the DPP is not having regard to recommendations of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. That is a disgrace. I have no basis for suggesting that the office of the DPP is in any way corrupt but, administratively speaking, it continues to ignore the ICAC’s recommendations. That ongoing and serious failing is threatening, in a material way, the whole basis of our legal system. At the end of the day the legal system relies on the implied consent of ordinary people to support it, to support the Parliament and to accept the findings and rulings of the judiciary.
If there is continuing or ongoing defiance or neglect of the ICAC recommendations to consult police, the high priesthood is placing in peril that implied consent from ordinary people. It is high time that lawyers listened to the concerns of ordinary people, and the Government also should
tune in to those grave concerns. I thought the Premier had got it right on Saturday when he referred to a parliamentary watchdog. I thought momentarily that maybe, for once, something would be done about this issue and that there would be some measure of accountability. Unfortunately, the Government has backed right off, which means we all back off because nothing gets through the Chamber without Government support. I suspect that the alternative has been put up only with a view to rejecting a bill the Opposition has been championing for a long time. There is no other tactical or strategic purpose for it.
On Saturday the Premier said that a parliamentary watchdog was necessary. However, I suspect that he was later told, "You are endorsing what the Opposition is proposing and that will be a major backdown for you. Don’t do it. Slide around the back of that idea and come up with something else because that way you will be able to claim the credit down the track." The Government will have to wear the consequences if further problems occur with cases that come before the DPP’s office - and the chances of that happening are high based on its past performance. The failings of the DPP’s office are administrative and procedural, to which the current hierarchy pays no regard. No senior person in the DPP’s office attributes sufficient weight to the recommendations of the ICAC. If someone did, we would not see these sorts of blunders and stuff-ups on an ongoing basis. It is as simple as that. These blunders and stuff-ups indicate that no senior person in the DPP’s office has any competence or, alternatively, any commitment to meeting these requirements. If a competent approach were taken to meeting the recommendations of the ICAC, there would be a high-level and top-priority commitment to ensuring that such problems did not arise.
If the problem occurred in the Albury matter it should have been fixed in time for the Carty matter. If there had been a problem with a relatively minor matter in the criminal law we may have given the DPP’s office the benefit of the doubt and said, "This was not a top-priority criminal matter; this was not a first-order matter. It has slipped through but we are working on it." However, such DPP office stuff-ups could not have occurred in two more significant and high-profile criminal matters in this State, which is why the public is furious and concerned - possibly a little frightened - about what is going on. What could be bigger than a heroin matter that involves four times the legal life limit, if I can put it that way? High-grade heroin kills. What could be a more significant drugs matter?
These drugs are killing people in western Sydney. What could be a more important case than the murder of a police officer in the most extraordinary and disgraceful circumstances seen in this State for some years? In such a case the recommendation of the ICAC should be implemented as a top priority, regardless of what else may be happening in regard to District Court matters and bail applications and Supreme Court bail applications in less serious matters. The DPP’s office should have got this right for the Carty case. If it stuffed up in the Carty matter and the Albury drug matter, chances are it is stuffing up elsewhere.
We do not know who is responsible. We do not know what steps the DPP has put in place to deal with this because he does not tell anyone - apparently he does not think it important to tell anyone. He seemed to take umbrage at accountability, which is why we cannot rely on the current system. I have a lot of respect for the Attorney General, both as a lawyer and as the Attorney General, but we cannot rely on current oversight, through the Attorney General, into Cabinet on this matter. Quite simply, if accountability of the DPP through the Attorney General to the Parliament were working, these sorts of stuff-ups would not continue in the face of the ICAC recommendations to the contrary. If the Attorney General were providing effective oversight and accountability to the Parliament we would not have these problems.
When matters blow up involving the DPP’s office, the Attorney General ends up fighting with him, as does the rest of the Parliament. The only way to deal with this matter is through a genuinely bipartisan committee. Some of the best work of the Parliament is done in bipartisan committees, such as the joint Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the joint Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission. I am extremely disappointed that the Government has not taken up the challenge to do something today by way of this bill in its current form or in an amended form. This is an opportunity lost to the extent that there will be future problems of this type from the DPP’s office, if past performance is any guide. Be it on the Government’s head that an opportunity to do something was not taken on a genuinely bipartisan basis. This is not a big deal - it is done in England and it can be done here. The fact that it is not done here will reflect badly on the Government, which must wear responsibility for any ongoing administrative incompetence in the DPP’s office.
Question - That this bill be now read a second time - put.
The House divided.
Mr Beck Mr O’Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Brogden Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Collins 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 Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Small
Mr Hazzard Mr Smith
Mr Humpherson Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr J. H. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr R. W. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers,
Ms Moore Mr Jeffery
Mr Oakeshott Mr Kerr
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 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 Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr Carr
Mr Cochran Mr Knight
Mr Cruickshank Mr Shedden
Question so resolved in the negative.
CONDEMNATION OF THE PREMIER AND THE TREASURER
Debate resumed from 25 September.
Mr TRIPODI (Fairfield) [11.36 a.m.]: I wish to address the House on the delusion and state of amnesia affecting the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who on 25 September condemned the Premier and the Treasurer for their alleged financial incompetence. I am amazed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition could accuse the Government of allegedly failing to introduce fiscal measures to absorb unforeseen variations in the State budget, in line with good budgetary practice. This accusation comes from a shadow minister, a member of a previous coalition government that clearly failed to introduce any fiscal arrangement that could absorb even foreseen variations in its budget.
In fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was a member of a government that, through its fiscal irresponsibility and carelessness, created detrimental variations in the State budget which, with a little economic morality, could easily have been avoided. I remind members of the Opposition of the headlines that littered the press when it was in government, beginning with those relating to the HomeFund fiasco. Honourable members will recall that the HomeFund scheme advertised home loans for which yearly repayments would not exceed 27 per cent -
Mr Kinross: On a point of order. According to the longstanding custom of this House, it is not appropriate for members to read speeches of this nature. If the honourable member is reading, I ask him to name the author.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Clough): Order! The convention of the House is that members may not read speeches but may refer to notes. The honourable member for Fairfield is referring to copious notes.
Mr TRIPODI: The HomeFund scheme advertised home loans for which yearly repayments would not exceed 27 per cent of a combined household income, at a rate about 2 per cent lower than the going home loan interest rate available in the market. The extent of the coalition’s mass deception of the New South Wales public, however, became evident when many HomeFund borrowers were ordered to make repayments that were more than 27 per cent of their incomes. That was not
what they were led to believe when they took out their loans.
As a result many borrowers claimed they faced eviction because they could no longer afford the crippling loan repayments. Many others were in financial crisis because their repayments increased by 6 per cent each year regardless of whether their income increased. The HomeFund experiment under the coalition Government resulted in the Government-backed Housing Loans Insurance Corporation reporting its second highest rate of mortgage failure in eight years, with claims from lenders totalling $13.2 million in the year ended June 1992 and provision being made for outstanding claims of $28.9 million.
In this House the coalition has referred to Labor’s financial incompetence. The coalition’s financial mismanagement showed the extent to which HomeFund attracted borrowers who should never have been encouraged to buy their own homes. HomeFund lent money to people who could not get loans from private banks. That meant that HomeFund was shouldering a high level of risk. Who could forget the damning McMurtrie report on HomeFund which forewarned that more people would end up out of their depth?
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: I trust that the honourable member is referring to copious notes and not reading his speech.
Mr TRIPODI: Many constituents who have come into my office are still suffering from the financial devastation caused by the HomeFund fiasco. It is hypocritical of Opposition members to come into this Chamber and allege that the Government has mismanaged this State. It is beyond measure. Today we are still suffering from the mismanagement of the former Government, which, in the end, cost New South Wales taxpayers about half a billion dollars. A Labor Opposition saved the former Government from its own disaster. A Labor Opposition brought this matter to the attention of the public. A Labor Opposition also brought to the attention of the public the plan by the honourable member for Wagga Wagga to spend another $1.5 billion on more HomeFund loans. If a Labor Opposition had not done that the former Government would have damaged the taxpayers of this State even further.
As the Australian Financial Review argued, some elementary mistakes were made in the HomeFund experiment by the coalition Government. It should have restricted the subsidies to those low- income earners who had a good chance of handling the debt. Ideally, the scheme should have done no more than subsidise the interest on normal commercial loans. The banks and building societies would then have borne most of the risk and, as a result, would have made careful lending decisions. I deal now with other examples of the financial incompetence of the coalition Government. Eastern Creek was another monument to coalition Government stupidity. Who could forget the collapse of Mr Greiner’s quest to establish a private international motor racing circuit in Sydney, or how his Government was forced to bail out businessmen it had backed for three years, costing taxpayers at least $27 million? The coalition Government signed documents committing it to take over the Eastern Creek circuit.
Mr Phillips: On a point of order. I have listened with interest to the honourable member’s speech to determine whether it has any relevance to the motion. The motion has nothing to do with HomeFund or Eastern Creek; the motion is about the current budget of this State.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. This is wide-ranging debate on a motion that this House condemn the Premier and the Treasurer and the material being introduced by the honourable member for Fairfield is valid.
Mr TRIPODI: How do Opposition members conduct a financial analysis? The only way to establish a government’s economic record is to compare it with the record of another government. I am comparing the financial disaster of the former Government and the hypocrisy of these allegations with the great economic management that has occurred under Premier Carr and Treasurer Egan. That has been the focus of this discussion. We are comparing seven years of disaster with three years of good economic management. The shadow treasurer alleged yesterday that there has been a blow-out in the deficit. More spending is occurring as a result of conscious decisions being made on policy issues, for example, to fund pay increases for teachers or to expand health care by an extra $1 billion a year, but they are conscious decisions; it is not mismanagement. The deficit blow-out is not a consequence of this Government’s mismanagement.
Compare the record of this Government with that of the previous Government - the disaster of HomeFund, Eastern Creek and all the other calamities at that time. As I said earlier, the coalition Government signed documents committing it to take over the Eastern Creek circuit, when $75
million in taxpayers’ money had been swallowed up by it, after refusing to guarantee another $US1 million dollars for the 1992 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. That decision saddled taxpayers with an extra $22 million of debt. Once again the Greiner Government had shown itself to be just like the Victoria and Western Australia governments. It was trying to pick winners by punting with taxpayers’ money. The coalition Government was totally defenceless when it was asked to justify its financial blunders. In 1991 the then Minister for Planning, Mr Webster, agreed that the Government’s spending on the track had reached about $75 million, despite Mr Greiner’s undertaking to Parliament in 1989 that government underwriting of only $2 million would be involved.
When Mr Webster was asked how the State Government’s acquisition of a motor racing track stood with its private enterprise bias his feeble response was, "Obviously the private sector and the government sector have had great difficulties in recent times with their projected forecasts." He was trying to blame the private sector for the disaster. The great irony of the coalition Government’s financial blunder was not lost on the people of New South Wales. The impact of the Eastern Creek debacle was especially felt by people in the Illawarra and on the south coast. The money involved would easily have completed the clinical services block at Wollongong Hospital and upgraded and improved services at other hospitals on the coast. [Time expired.]
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order. He moved the motion and should listen to the debate in silence.
Mr DEBNAM (Vaucluse) [11.46 a.m.]: What an enlightening speech from the honourable member for Fairfield - his second in two days. Yesterday he made an outrageous attack on members on his side of the House; an intriguing matter to which I will refer later. Page 1-11 of Budget Paper No. 2, which refers to the 1997-98 budget surplus, states:
The 1996-97 Budget projects a surplus of $145 million on a Government Finance Statistics . . . basis . . . The projected Budget result is a surplus of $5 million . . .
Honourable members would be aware that that $5 million surplus is what the Treasurer projected in the media at that time. This debate is about the financial management and competence of the Government. In the last month the Government declared that the budget would go from a surplus of $5 million to a deficit of $324 million. I think the shadow treasurer said that that figure grossly underestimates the expected result. Because of the speeches that have been made in the last two days the Opposition is projecting a deficit in excess of $500 million this year. We could almost end the debate at that point, as we are talking about whether the Government is competent to manage New South Wales and the large budget that it is responsible for. I suppose that the Government has tried to do its best in 2½ years, but its best has not been good enough and the budget is now out of control.
In the last month the Treasurer and Premier have publicly said that the budget is out of control and that the Government needs to be saved. Is that a sales gimmick to simply convince the community, the Labor Party and the unions that the Government needs to sell its electricity assets? No. For the first time in their political lives I think they are telling the truth. We have finally got some honesty from the Premier and the Treasurer. The budget is out of control; it has been for 2½ years. Obviously, 2½ years ago the Treasurer had very high hopes, but caucus and his fellow Cabinet colleagues put paid to his hopes of financial management and responsibility. They sorted him out in the first year he was in office. Do honourable members remember the famous debates before the last two budgets, with either the Premier or the Treasurer overseas and the debate happening internationally for the whole world to see? The New South Wales Labor Party could not hold the budget together in either of its first two years in office. Now into the third year we see that the small theatrical budget surplus of $5 million is blowing out to, on the Treasurer’s own estimate, $324 million.
The honourable member for Fairfield interjects. He also interjected yesterday when former members of Parliament were in the gallery. The honourable member for Fairfield turned to one of his own colleagues and said, "That is where you ought to be." That is the sort of Labor Party that I am talking about here: a party that cannot hold itself together, let alone hold the State budget together. To return to the crux of the matter, financial management, in the past few weeks another Labor member has given his views on the State budget and, in particular, the Premier’s own tax. In an extraordinary letter to the Treasurer dated 23 September the honourable member for Drummoyne said that the tax on homes introduced by the Premier this year was unfair. He also let the cat out of the bag on the Labor Party’s election policy when he said that the Premier will convince the unions to sell some of the electricity assets in the next few
months, as a result of which he will get some money in the bag and then try to withdraw all the taxes. But the community will not put up with it. In the past 2½ years the Government has systematically put offside one section of the community after another, and they will not forgive him.
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [11.51 a.m.]: The motion condemns the Government’s financial administration. The only way one can determine the competence of a government is to look at how the other side managed the affairs of the State when it was in government three or four years ago.
Mr Debnam: On a point of order. The motion refers to the financial competence of this Government. The Government is clearly incompetent. The motion has nothing to do with looking at the past.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Clough): Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr Scully: There has already been a ruling on that, you goose.
Mr Debnam: On a point of order. I take exception to the Minister abusing me. I ask him to withdraw the comment.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! The longer the honourable member for Vaucluse is in this Chamber the more he will become used to that type of interjection. No point of order is involved.
Mr NAGLE: We saw the debacle created by the former Government when the mover of the motion - the shadow treasurer, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - was the Minister for Health. We saw the debacle at Eastern Creek. We saw how the people of the Illawarra and the south coast were continually deprived of financial assistance, of which Wollongong Hospital is a good example. When the coalition was elected my electorate had three hospitals: St Joseph's, Lidcombe and Auburn. After it left power my electorate had one hospital: Auburn, on a five-year good behaviour bond. That loss is as a result of its administration. When Opposition members want to measure the competence of a government they should look at their own administration. It would be dumb and dumber of the people of New South Wales in 1999 to re-elect the coalition to govern New South Wales. We saw the debacle of the $14 million refinancing of Luna Park. We saw everything the coalition Government did in its seven years in office until the people of this State threw it out. I move an amendment to the motion:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "That" and inserting instead "this House congratulates the Premier and the Treasurer on their sound financial management of this State of New South Wales."
Look at the $110,000 wasted on the appointment of former Minister for Education and Youth Affairs Dr Terry Metherell to the senior executive service. That expenditure was totally irresponsible and was instrumental in destroying the then Fahey Liberal Government. In the past two years the New South Wales Government has attracted $12.4 billion worth of investment including Samsung’s expansion of corporate headquarters, $455 million; British Aerospace; the New South Wales-Victoria gas and pipeline project; Wireless Data Services; Norvet, a health product research company; the Western Aluminium recycling plant at Kurri Kurri; and the ForBio Group, a robotics company on the central coast - all part of the good work being done by the Premier in this State.
Our Government is also encouraging city-based firms to relocate in rural and regional areas. Examples include Junox Pty Ltd, a manufacturer and distributor of veterinary pharmaceutical products, which moved from Silverwater, in my electorate, to Maitland - a loss to Silverwater but a great gain for Maitland, a Liberal seat. We do not consider who holds the seat. When we send business to the country we do so for the benefit of the people. Since Bob Carr was elected Premier, New South Wales has been in sound financial hands. He has been running the State in the interests of the people and will continue to do so long into the next millennium. I commend my amendment to the House.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [11.56 a.m.]: On behalf of the coalition I totally reject the amendment and support the motion to condemn the Premier and the Treasurer because the Premier and the Treasurer have already condemned New South Wales families to an extra $1,000 a year in tax burden. They have reduced the number of job opportunities available in New South Wales and have condemned next year’s school leavers to even fewer job opportunities when they are ready to join the job market. The Premier has failed to maximise the benefits that New South Wales should be gaining from the Olympic Games, by failing to manage the State’s finances responsibly and showing no interest in marketing New South Wales to the world in the lead-up to the Games.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the Olympic Games were being held in Melbourne, where Jeff Kennett knows how to market his State and attract investment. But Premier Carr has entrenched longstanding high-taxing Labor
principles. The Government has no ideas, so when things get rough it slaps another tax on New South Wales families. The honourable member for Fairfield should remember the Premier’s promise: no new taxes, no tax increases. Who remembers the Premier inviting business people to a business summit on 13 April 1995 in the other House and telling them about all the great things he was going to do? When he inherited New South Wales from the Greiner-Fahey governments it was the most competitive, efficient, attractive, fast-growth State in Australia. The Premier told those business people, "I’m sick of visitors to New South Wales saying they are sick of being visited by Jeff Kennett and Wayne Goss." I am sorry, Mr Premier, but they are still visiting and, what is more, Jeff Kennett is walking with them back across the border to Victoria. The Premier also told them:
In the recent campaign, I placed the restoration of New South Wales to its proper place of economic and social leadership of Australia at the centre of our program.
New South Wales was already there but has since gone backwards. He said:
It is simply a recognition of the fact that when New South Wales lags, Australia lags.
The Premier has caused that. He further said:
In our fiercely competitive region, Australia will fall behind if New South Wales falls behind.
Responsibility can be sheeted home to the Premier for that. Finally he said:
My Government will compete aggressively for new investment, new business and new jobs for New South Wales.
Well, Mr Premier, not aggressively enough. It is not good enough. Every item on the list of businesses lost to other States is a blow to New South Wales school leavers next year. Let us look at the opportunities that have been lost to other States. Foxtel moved its national customer service centre to Melbourne - 1,000 jobs lost to New South Wales. Westpac is moving its $200 million national loan centre to South Australia - creating 1,000 jobs in South Australia, not New South Wales. Bankers Trust established a new regional operational site in Adelaide - 300 jobs created when the site is operational. Cathay Pacific’s national headquarters were moved to Melbourne. Esso moved from Sydney to Melbourne. Schweppes made Melbourne its regional headquarters. Every one of those jobs will not be available to New South Wales school leavers thanks to the Premier and the Treasurer of New South Wales.
Other companies which are establishing regional headquarters in Melbourne include Air International, Campbell's Soups, Chiquita Foods and L. and M. Ericsson. The list goes on and on. Boeing went to Queensland. The message from Bob Carr to job seekers is: go to Victoria; do not stay in New South Wales. Business investment in Victoria increased by 18 per cent in the year ending June 1996. The honourable member for Fairfield should stay in the Chamber to listen to my speech. It would be good for him. He might actually understand what is happening in New South Wales.
Let us look at the current budget. Only a few months ago the Treasurer promised a surplus of $27 million. Four months later he had to walk into caucus and say, "Sorry, the deficit will in fact be $324 million." Added to that is the $150 million missing from expected electricity dividends because the privatised Victorian electricity industry is poaching New South Wales clients from New South Wales generators. I would like to know what the Treasurer did to explain that at the recent ALP conference. A deficit of $470 million is bad enough but what is next? Bob Carr is spending faster and harder than he can possibly keep up with to try to keep up with broken promises on tollways and teacher salaries - promises that he never believed he could pay for. He is doing this with a record windfall of stamp duty receipts from a mini property boom. But he cannot keep up because he cannot manage the system. The Premier and the Treasurer deserve to be condemned. [Time expired.]
Mr IEMMA (Hurstville) [12.01 p.m.]: In raising this issue the shadow treasurer has set himself apart from any other State or Territory finance spokesperson. He is the only one not to mention the single biggest factor impacting on State and Territory budgets - the massive reduction in grants and funding from the Federal Government in every portfolio area. Even the Victorians and the Western Australians have taken on Costello and Howard. They have spoken of the vicious cuts in community services, health, transport, housing - the whole range of portfolio areas. The cuts to New South Wales have involved $900 million. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is the only State or Territory finance spokesperson not to say anything about the decisions of the High Court of Australia which have cost New South Wales $144 million in excise duties. Even the Queenslanders have taken on their people in Canberra, but not the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
It is not surprising that he has not, given the number of meetings taking place with the Prime Minister to try to resolve the conflict within the
Liberal Party, and the role that he is playing in the factional manoeuvring. One can picture what has been going on at the meetings. John Howard has been impressing on the shadow treasurer, "I am copping all this flak from the Victorians and the Queenslanders about Federal funding and services. I do not want you to play up in the New South Wales Parliament by talking about these issues. Otherwise we might have to do something serious about the sorts of things you have been up to in your branches and with the upcoming preselections in the Liberal Party. You have to behave. Do not be too naughty. I do not want you to follow the lead of the Queenslanders, the Victorians and the Western Australians."
Federal cuts and the recent High Court decision have brought pressure on the New South Wales budget. Difficulties have not been caused by financial incompetence. The problems have everything to do with the sorts of things Cheryl Kernot has been talking about yesterday and today. In 1995-96 the Deputy Leader of the Opposition predicted that the New South Wales budget would be $600 million in deficit. The outcome was a $154 million surplus. That prediction ranks with the prediction by Nick Greiner on 10 April 1991, as recorded at page 1807 of Hansard. In response to a question about the New South Wales budget he said, "In 1991-92 there will be a balanced budget in New South Wales." He repeated this statement on 30 April 1991. But on 8 April 1992 he had to come clean by saying, "The budget deficit has blown out by $400 million." This was in the context of increasing revenues from Canberra as the then Federal Government moved to increase public expenditure, especially in areas such as health, community services, education, housing and training programs.
Remember all the training programs that used to exist in this country. They provided training opportunities for unemployed people with funds channelled through the States. They all went by the wayside. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition criticises the Government’s financial management but he did not refer to the $900 million ripped out of New South Wales taxpayers by his friends in Canberra and, in particular, the Prime Minister. He also has not referred to the High Court decision. Coalition members, especially those in Canberra, claim that the High Court is biased against the conservative side of politics but when the court made a decision which took $144 million out of the New South Wales budget coalition members were silent. [Time expired.]
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [12.06 p.m.], in reply: I want the record to read very accurately on this point. The entry for the honourable member for Fairfield in the New South Wales Parliamentary Handbook shows his qualifications as "B.Ec (Hons) (Syd.)" and "Economist, Reserve Bank of Australia". The honourable member for Hurstville has a qualification of "B.Ec (Syd.)". For the rest of their political careers the record will show that they support the economic agenda of this Government. They support the high-taxing, high-spending, debt-ridden agenda of the Government and the direction in which the Government is driving the State. It is old-style Labor. It is the direction which drove Victoria and South Australia broke. It caused the Federal Government to incur a huge national debt. I want it to be on the political tombstone of those two honourable members so that they will be put to shame amongst their supporters in the community.
I am not the only one damning Labor’s policy. Alan Mitchell of the Australian Financial Review said that "the spending blow-out endorsed by the Government in this year’s Budget was completely irresponsible." Terry McCrann in the Daily Telegraph - the honourable member for Fairfield seems to doubt his competence - wrote that if the effects of the property boom were taken away "New South Wales budget finances would be in deep doo-dah." If honourable members opposite do not want to accept what those financial journalists say about the direction of the Government, let us look at what the Treasury papers say. I refer to the New South Wales budget position caucus briefing paper. In the summary it says:
This year’s Budget and the next - the last of this term of government - are in serious trouble.
The next quote is:
The outlook for the next two years is bleak.
That is the Treasury’s advice to the Labor caucus. Referring to the financial predicament of New South Wales, specifically to what is happening in electricity, a New South Wales Treasury document states:
This exposure makes it difficult for the State to manage its budget strategy . . .
Therefore, if the State is to maintain its commitment to high priority expenditure in education, health and other areas adverse fluctuations can only be managed by cuts in other budget programs, borrowings or tax increases . . .
That is what the Treasurer’s own documents says, that the Government is heading in the direction of increased taxes or service cuts.
Government members are crying poor mouth. On coming to office Bob Carr said he would produce a balanced budget, would reduce debt, and would cap spending. He said he would cut payroll tax and that he would pay for the Olympics. It all sounded pretty easy, but in just two years there has been a 16 per cent increase in expenditure. I defy anyone to sustain any business with cost increases of that magnitude. How has the Government paid for it? It has lodged 13 different tax increases, including three new taxes, in just two years. For the first time in this State’s history there is now a tax on people’s homes - a land tax. People will now be taxed by this Government for living in their homes. The total increase in taxes is $2 billion. So the extra money the Government has in just two years is $2 billion, yet it is broke. [Time expired.]
Question - That the amendment 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 Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer 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 Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Debnam Mr Rixon
Mr Downy Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Ms Seaton
Mr Glachan Mrs Skinner
Mr Hartcher Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Small
Mr Humpherson Mr Smith
Dr Kernohan Mr Souris
Mr Kinross Mr Tink
Mr MacCarthy Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Merton Mr Windsor
Ms Moore Tellers,
Mr Oakeshott Mr Jeffery
Mr O’Farrell Mr Kerr
Mr Carr Mr Armstrong
Mr Knight Mr Cochran
Mr Shedden Mr Cruickshank
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion as amended 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 Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer 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 Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Debnam Mr Rixon
Mr Downy Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Ms Seaton
Mr Glachan Mrs Skinner
Mr Hartcher Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Small
Mr Humpherson Mr Smith
Dr Kernohan Mr Souris
Mr Kinross Mr Tink
Mr MacCarthy Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Merton Mr Windsor
Ms Moore Tellers,
Mr Oakeshott Mr Jeffery
Mr O’Farrell Mr Kerr
Mr Carr Mr Armstrong
Mr Knight Mr Cochran
Mr Shedden Mr Cruickshank
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion as amended agreed to.
CONDEMNATION OF THE GOVERNMENT
Debate called on, and adjourned on motion by Mr Kerr, on behalf of Mr Armstrong.
WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [12.25 p.m.]: I move:
(1) That this House acknowledges the significant contribution World Environment Day on 5 June 1996 has had in focusing the community on the need for each and every member of the community to take steps to minimise his or her contribution to polluting our environment.
(2) That this House calls upon the Government to ensure there are not conflicting statements made to the community by the Government about the need to address environmental pollution such as statements made by the Acting Minister for the Environment that air quality was improving over Sydney and statements made by the Minister for Health acknowledging that many hundreds of people are dying in Sydney as a result of complications caused by air pollution.
(3) That this House acknowledges the need to have the Government continue the initiatives commenced by the coalition Government in 1992 to improve air quality and air quality monitoring in Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra.
(4) That this House calls upon the Government to ensure that stage 2 of the environment protection legislation be implemented as soon as possible to bring legislation affecting air and water quality and pollution generally into one effective Act of Parliament.
Look at all the monkeys lined up on the other side: see no evil, hear no evil -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry): Order! The honourable member for Wakehurst will confine his remarks to the motion and address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr HAZZARD: I was encouraged by the visages of the monkeys opposite, who are excited to hear my words on why this Government has failed so miserably in regard to the environment. Notice of this motion was given more than a year ago and referred to World Environment Day 1996, which was in June 1996. Since then, in June 1997, there has been another World Environment Day. Of course, the same issues that applied in 1996 are still applicable: this miserable Government has failed completely to do anything for the environment of New South Wales. The Government is very good at rhetoric. The Premier gives his five-second media grabs, but beyond the veneer of rhetoric the Government has done nothing substantial for the environment. That is it failed to celebrate World Environment Day in 1996 and did very little in 1997. It does not want the spotlight or the focus on what failings it has achieved in the environment area.
Mr Tripodi: Even our failings are achievements!
Mr HAZZARD: I am not sure about the honourable member, but collectively the Government scored 100 per cent of a failure by cheating. Those failings are too numerous in the time available to me today, but I can assure the honourable member for Londonderry that he will be stunned by the delays of his Minister in closing the Castlereagh tip. I will tell other members from the western suburbs of the Government’s failings - and I do not include the honourable member for Cabramatta because she is really the member for Neutral Bay, filling in time in the west on her long journey to Canberra. The Government has failed the west on water environment issues and on air quality issues.
I shall address air quality first because it is the major reason why the Government was not prepared to celebrate World Environment Day. Air quality in the west of Sydney is abysmal. What has the Government done? The Minister for Health has said that 400 people a year die from the effects of air pollution. But at almost the same time the Minister for the Environment has said, "Gee whiz, aren’t we doing well? We have actually improved air quality." No-one except the Minister for the Environment believes that, except perhaps Premier Carr, who wants to beat his chest and kid us that he actually has environmental credentials.
I refer to the mid-term review of the environment protection program - a misnomer - of the New South Wales Government, issued by the Total Environment Centre. These are not coalition organisations but independent environment organisations that would normally have more of a kindred feeling for a government of Labor’s persuasion than that of the coalition. The Government has failed the Total Environment Centre, the Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the National Parks Association of New South Wales and Friends of the Earth. I refer to a document that is hot off the press dated September 1997, which states:
AIR POLLUTION - despite a far reaching 1995 election policy promising cleaner air and a declaration of war on smog soon after gaining office, very little has eventuated. The Metropolitan Air Quality Study has revealed 400 deaths -
the honourable member for The Entrance, the honourable member for Cabramatta and the honourable member for Fairfield should not laugh about that -
and thousands of cases of illness occur a year from air pollution. Major changes in transport infrastructure programs and policies are a necessity.
The Government has been given an F for its performance on the environment. The Government allocated a lousy $500 million in its last budget to air quality, but it has done nothing to address the substantive issues - it stuck in a few extra air monitors, and that was it.
Mr Tripodi: Your lot took them out of my area.
Mr HAZZARD: The honourable member for Fairfield does not care about the 400 people who die each year because of the air quality.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry): Order! The honourable member for Fairfield will have an opportunity to participate in the debate at the appropriate time. He will remain silent.
Mr HAZZARD: I refer to water quality. What an Olympian failure by the Government! Is it any wonder the Government did not want to celebrate Environment Day? Is it any wonder it kept its head down and kept quiet? What about water quality in the Richmond, the Clarence, the Brunswick, the Cooks and the Georges rivers - even in Duck Creek, in the heart of the Fairfield electorate? The Government has done nothing to improve water quality along the coast. The Government has not introduced the coastal policy that was ready before the coalition lost office in 1995. The chairman of the committee examining coastal policy has told the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning that he will not conduct any more meetings. The Labor Party will not give us a coastal policy; it will not do anything to protect our coast. The committee has not met during the past 18 months.
Our waterways are in trouble. The Minister for the Environment, who is in the Chamber, blamed one death and 300 injuries at Wallis Lake on the Great Lakes Council. She was featured on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald - the article used some great adjectives to describe her that day; she probably has it sitting by her bed. Regrettably, the description it applied to her would be better attributed to the Premier and some of his cronies on the Labor backbench who are prepared to see their Government do nothing. What happened at Wallis Lake was a debacle; there were many other similar debacles, including the events at Lake Macquarie, which I referred to last night. The honourable member for Lake Macquarie is in the Chamber. He knows that selenium is toxic. Studies in California have shown that the brains of ducks come out of their eyes because of high selenium levels. The Government is doing nothing about this problem - it has not even organised a study.
Does the Minister for the Environment know that studies of Wyee Creek indicate that its selenium level is 10 to 30 times higher than that in Lake Macquarie. People fish in that creek; I have fished there. Fortunately, in 16 months time a new coalition government will be keen to do something at Lake Macquarie. It will talk to people about how to fix these problems; it will address air quality and water quality issues; it will look at integrated transport strategies; it will take notice of what the environment groups say. The environment groups have said that the Government has failed. If the Minister for the Environment has not read the document from which I quoted earlier, I will send
her an embossed copy, I will have it laminated, I will put it in a frame. The Minister has to take this issue seriously. She has to do something about waste, urban bushland, planning, toxic chemicals and water quality. [Time expired.]
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [12.35 p.m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out paragraphs (2), (3) and (4) with a view to adding the following paragraphs:
(2) That this House recognises the Government’s frankness in releasing available data from the metropolitan air quality study on the health and environmental impacts of air pollution on the environment and on human health.
(3) That this House acknowledges the consistency between statements made by the then Acting Minister for the Environment that air quality had improved as a result of reforms made by the Wran Government and statements made by the Minister for Health that air quality is still not satisfactory.
(4) That this House congratulates the Government for expanding the air quality network by two stations as well as providing new funding for air toxics monitoring, when the former Government was proposing to close down seven air quality stations (a quarter of the air quality monitoring network) which would have led to the dismantling of effective air quality monitoring in Sydney’s west and south west.
(5) That this House condemns the former Government for not taking decisive action to improve Sydney’s air quality over a seven-year period and for abandoning the drafting of stage II protection of the environment legislation intended to overhaul all of the State’s anti-pollution statutes.
(6) That this House congratulates the Government for reactivating this legislative reform program, for its progress in advancing to the release of a draft exposure bill in December 1996 and for its unwavering commitment to introduce this crucial legislation as quickly as possible.
The motion moved by the honourable member for Wakehurst is as outdated as the Opposition’s policies on air pollution. His motion recognises the importance of World Environment Day on 5 June 1996. This Government has taken action, rather than merely using words, to celebrate each World Environment Day and to bring forward innovative programs to protect the environment. This Government has not issued conflicting statements about the need to address environmental pollution, rather it has provided comprehensive information about trends in air quality and health effects. The Environment Protection Authority’s metropolitan air quality study (MAQS) monitoring data shows that over the past 10 years air quality key parameters have improved. Lead in air and visibility generally have improved. The number of days on which the ozone goals were exceeded has declined.
This improvement has occurred as a result of the programs introduced by the Labor Government in the mid-1980's to tackle motor vehicle pollution and backyard burning. At the same time, thanks to the health and air research program (HARP) undertaken by the Department of Health in conjunction with the EPA, we now have landmark research about the effects that air pollutants may have on health. These two facts are not inconsistent. HARP has provided detailed local information on the health effects of ozone, fine particles and nitrogen dioxide. While there has been a steady decrease in air pollution in the past two decades, even at the current low levels there are important adverse effects on public health. If we do not tackle air pollution now the situation will most certainly get worse. MAQS and HARP, together with the initiatives that the Government is bringing forward as part of the development of the air quality management plan, provide a solid basis for developing effective policies to address air quality and health issues.
The Government has taken the initiative in the fight against air pollution. It has extended air quality monitoring across the Sydney Basin, expanding monitoring that was restricted under the previous Government to the eastern basin and the south-west - and indeed was even under threat, as the previous Government’s budgetary papers then showed - to areas of expected growth in coming decades in the western basin, and the Lower Hunter and Illawarra regions. It has made information on air quality more widely available by the establishment of a system of regional pollution indexes, issued to the public twice a day by the Environment Protection Authority.
Through the metropolitan air quality study - MAQS - the Government has established a detailed emissions inventory to show the sources of photochemical pollution and brown haze, which provides an indication of where the largest gains can be made and points to the strategies to achieve those gains. As part of the MAQS the Government has developed a valuable air-shed model to assist the identification of a cost-effective and co-ordinated mix of strategies to combat air pollution. Recently I offered the Indonesian Government the opportunity to talk to the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority about that air-shed model in an attempt to help it solve some of its draconian air pollution problems. The Government has brought these initiatives together within the framework for a
comprehensive, whole-of-government, air quality management plan which has been undergoing extensive public consultation
In addition to MAQS and the health and air research program - HARP - the air quality programs to date have included the establishment of a lead reference centre last year to co-ordinate a whole-of-government response to managing all lead hazards. The Government has also undertaken a pilot study of selected air toxics in Sydney last year to determine qualitatively and quantitatively what toxic organic compounds are present in the air and to develop an inventory of emissions sources and allocation of $500,000 in this financial year to establish an air toxics monitoring program. This is the first time that monitoring has occurred anywhere in Australia and one of the first time it has occurred anywhere in the world.
New air quality emissions standards for industry and controls on motor vehicles have been implemented in a revised set of clean air regulations, which were promulgated in August this year. New regulations and education strategies have been undertaken both last year and this year to reduce fine particle-brown haze pollution including passing new regulations to require new wood heaters to be certified to the Australian standard and a voluntary don’t-light-tonight alert on high pollution days.
To ensure effective public consultation the Government released two green papers on the air quality management plan - AQMP - in 1996: "Developing an Air Quality Management Plan for Sydney, the Illawarra and the Hunter" and "Developing a Smog Action Plan for Sydney, the Illawarra and the Hunter". Work has progressed on both the smog action component and the larger agenda. In addition to smog, particular attention has been given to another major air quality issue for Sydney and a number of regional centres: brown haze and fine particle pollution.
There has been a lot of input by community and industry groups, as well as local government, into the development of the air quality management plan. There were 70 written responses to the green papers and a series of public consultations were held in Sydney, Wollongong, Gosford and Newcastle. The responses have been carefully considered and the Government is in the process of shaping a strategy. In addition, EPA scientific and technical staff have worked with industry to develop and cost possible strategies through a series of joint technical committees covering major industry areas such as petroleum, natural gas, power generation, surface coatings and adhesives, chemical manufacturing, dry cleaning, printing and aerosols - all the areas that have the potential to create problems in the community.
At the same time as it is advancing the various parts of the air quality management plan the Government has been an active participant in national initiatives to improve air quality, especially with regard to motor vehicles. Motor vehicle emission standards are set through a complex national process - far too complex for the shadow minister for the environment to understand - with the Commonwealth having the final legislative responsibility. This State is taking a leading role in advocating more stringent national standards for both cars and light vehicles and, even more importantly, is advocating improvements in the emission standards for diesels. New South Wales is leading the charge at a national level to develop higher emission standards for diesels. Given the major improvements in the emission standards for cars in recent years, diesel vehicles are a growing and significant source of emissions causing both smog and fine particle pollution. This State will strive to ensure that Australian standards do not lag inappropriately behind international developments.
An important element in any plan to improve air quality is a set of goals or standards for acceptable ambient air concentration levels for the key pollutants. The State is participating in a process to develop national environmental protection measures for air quality. These will establish national standards for ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particles, among others. New South Wales will align with these national standards when they are finalised and our air quality management plan will take account of this development.
The Environment Protection Authority seconded a full-time scientist to the national environmental protection council project developing these proposals. We are very keen that the national standards are as good as the standards that are already in place in this State. The shadow minister addressed a number of these issues, and the honourable member for Lake Macquarie will also contribute to this debate and will take the opportunity to address some of those issues, particularly the shadow minister’s absurd statement about what the Government is doing or not doing about the selenium levels in Lake Macquarie. I look forward to continuing to celebrate World Environment Day in future years as Minister for the Environment, well beyond 1999. It is feeble of the Opposition to talk about the Government’s performance in regard to the environment when everyone, including the community, knows what a
high standard the Government has set on environmental issues.
Mr RICHARDSON (The Hills) [12.45 p.m.]: I support the honourable member for Wakehurst in this debate. The Minister in her reply focused exclusively on the air quality issue and did not address some of the other major concerns of green groups about a range of environmental issues that this Government is neglecting. However, I want to make some comments about the Minister’s rhetoric so far as air quality is concerned and about what the Government is doing to improve the standard of air quality in the Sydney Basin in particular.
I represent an electorate which has no government public transport whatsoever. The Hills electorate is the fourth largest in New South Wales, and is one of the fastest growing areas in New South Wales. The Rouse Hill development will house 250,000 people on the western flank of my electorate. Despite continuing attempts by successive members for The Hills, by the honourable member for Baulkham Hills and by the honourable member for Hawkesbury to force the Government to address this important issue, it has done nothing.
The Minister has referred to the Government’s wonderful program of monitoring. Who started that monitoring program for air quality in the Sydney Basin? It was the former coalition Government, not the Labor Government. The time has passed for relying on monitoring as an excuse for an action. Genuine action needs to be taken in regard to air pollution. An integrated public transport strategy needs to be addressed by this Government as a matter of real urgency.
Despite what the Minister has said about motor vehicles, she has done nothing to address this issue. If the Government wants to get people out of their cars it has to provide them with an alternative. What has this Government done? Its mates in Canberra opposed the one-third sale of Telstra to create that wonderful $1.2 billion natural heritage trust, then had the audacity to say that money should be applied to putting a light rail link from Rouse Hill along Sunnyholt Road to Blacktown. That is absolutely ludicrous because the route carries such sparse traffic it would be a white elephant. That shows the Government’s hypocrisy. On the one hand it opposed a measure that would provide $1.2 billion for environment protection throughout the nation and on the other hand it suggested that the money be spent in a totally inappropriate way. It does not understand the basic issues of air quality in this city or how to address those issues.
The Minister spoke about fine particle pollution and the problems created by diesel engine emissions. In The Hills electorate, and in much of western Sydney, the only means of getting around is by diesel bus. The Government is not attempting to do anything about that or about providing any substitute for private cars. It is scarcely surprising that about 83 per cent of the people in my electorate use private cars to commute to work or to study. Other issues need to be addressed, for example, the Minister’s expansion of the liquid waste plant at Lidcombe.
Mr Hazzard: At a cost of $15 million.
Mr RICHARDSON: An amount of $15 million is being invested in that plant, right next to what is supposed to be a green Olympic site.
Mr Hazzard: Thousands of new homes are going up across the road.
Mr RICHARDSON: As the honourable member for Wakehurst pointed out, thousands of new homes are being built across the road, but the Government has done nothing to address the problems of dioxins in Homebush Bay, again right next to the Olympic site. This will not be a green Olympics; so far as I can tell, this will be a radioactive Olympics. It will be an indictment on this country and this Government if something is not done to address those problems before the year 2000.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [12.50 p.m.]: I support the amendment moved by the Minister that this House congratulates the Carr Labor Government on expanding the air quality network. Honourable members might remember that the former coalition Government wanted to close down seven air quality stations. I refer to Lake Macquarie electorate as I know that the shadow minister for the environment made mention of it. Air monitoring around the Pasminco smelter at Cockle Creek has been expanded as a direct result of intervention by this Government. We now have daily monitoring as well as 90-day or three-monthly monitoring reports. And the air monitoring network in the Lake Macquarie area has been improved. This Government has placed conditions on the Pasminco smelter. By the end of this year it has to meet World Health Organisation standards for lead and sulfur dioxide emissions. If Pasminco does not meet the World Health Organisation standards set by the Minister for Planning when approving the upgrade, I will ask the Government to close the plant until it can install equipment that will result in a drop in lead and
sulfur dioxide emissions, or it should face heavy fines and be forced to reduce its production until it complies with World Health Organisation standards.
Reference was made to discharges into Lake Macquarie and to selenium levels. The honourable member for Wakehurst failed to acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Planning. The Minister said to Pasminco that by the end of the year 2000 it must cease effluent discharges into Lake Macquarie. That means that no more heavy metals, including selenium, will be discharged from that plant into Cockle Creek, Cockle Bay and Lake Macquarie. The shadow minister should look at some of those conditions and bring himself up to date with what the Government is doing to reduce selenium levels in Lake Macquarie. Currently no sewage is being discharged into Lake Macquarie; we have a tunnel under the lake and effluent is being discharged into the ocean. The Government has spent millions of dollars on expanding a sewerage scheme to include more areas in the West Lakes district. That has also reduced the number of pollutants going into the lake. A number of power stations are situated around Lake Macquarie. I will investigate reports of high effluent levels in Wyee Creek.
Mr Hazzard: Ten to 30 times higher.
Mr HUNTER: The honourable member for Wakehurst refers to a level in this area 10 to 30 times greater than the level in other areas. I am working with the Environment Protection Authority to ensure that power stations continue to reduce selenium discharges. There have been great improvements over the past four or five years and I intend to ensure that those improvements continue. I will work with the Government to ensure that a rehabilitation program is implemented in the Lake Macquarie area. It is the policy of this Government to protect air quality in New South Wales, especially in metropolitan areas. This policy is based on our conviction that everyone has a right to breathe clean air. Air quality in Sydney and in other urban centres stands up well when compared to air quality in many cities throughout the world. In fact, our air quality has improved over the last two decades. The Government is determined that Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie will never have the air pollution of Los Angeles or Bangkok.
The Government is taking action to ensure that the quality of our air does not deteriorate; that it improves in the future. The Labor Government has taken the initiative in the fight against air pollution. It has extended air quality monitoring across the Sydney Basin, and it is expanding monitoring, which was restricted under the previous Government to the eastern basin and the south-west, which were under threat, to areas of expected growth in coming decades such as the western basin, the lower Hunter, Lake Macquarie and the Illawarra region. We have made information on air quality widely available by the establishment of a system of regional pollution indexes, issued to the public twice a day by the EPA. Honourable members should support the amendment moved by the Minister and oppose the motion moved by the honourable member for Wakehurst.
Mr HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [12.55 p.m.]: I join my colleagues in supporting the motion moved by the shadow minister, the honourable member for Wakehurst. In the past 2½ years the Government has failed in every environmental area. The rhetoric that members opposite have displayed is as bad and as exaggerated as it was when it they were in opposition. In 1995, when the honourable member for Blacktown was shadow minister, she waxed long and lyrical on environmental issues. The promises and commitments she made then have not been delivered in the 2½ years that this Government has been in office. By contrast, Ministers Tim Moore and Chris Hartcher, two excellent environment Ministers, delivered more in that area than any Labor Minister. Quite simply, in all areas - be it air pollution, water pollution, or the bushland environment - those Ministers did far more in the seven years that they were collectively in that portfolio than any Labor Minister. There is no cause to celebrate either last year’s World Environment Day or this World Environment Day. I want to focus on an adverse report by key environment groups which, in a mid-term assessment, reflects poorly on the Government’s achievements in the environmental area. I quote in part from a number of their comments:
AIR POLLUTION - Despite a far-reaching 1995 election policy promising cleaner air and a declaration of war on smog soon after gaining office, very little has eventuated.
COASTAL PROTECTION - The late release of the Coastal Policy has breached the promise of an urgent inventory of coastal conservation sites.
NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDERNESS - Less than half of the area in the ALP’s Wilderness Policy has so far been protected.
POLLUTION - Long-awaited reforms to pollution laws disappointing and break key election promises on pollution prevention and public involvement.
In all areas the Government has failed. That mid-term report, which is from a number of environmental groups that traditionally have supported the Labor Party - against logic -
concluded that the Government is failing. Let me refer to one other election promise - a promise made in the Manly-Warringah area to make Manly Dam a national park. That is yet another promise broken because this Government and this Minister have taken no action to declare Manly Dam part of Garrigal National Park to provide resources to maintain that dam. I also refer to the selenium levels in Lake Macquarie, a matter which has been referred to by a number of speakers in this debate. The Opposition is justifiably concerned about the high levels of selenium in the creeks and tributaries that enter Lake Macquarie.
The Government has yet to act decisively and effectively by conducting a full public inquiry into the levels of selenium. We are all aware of the serious adverse effects of selenium, particularly on young children. Anyone who lives or fishes in that area should have serious concerns that children may eat fish that has been caught in those waters. If no action is taken by the Government the result will be serious long-term health effects for children. When will the Government seriously investigate the Opposition’s concerns about that area?
Air quality is worsening, particularly in western Sydney, with the progressive increase in the number of registered vehicles. The Government has done nothing about the worsening urban pollution in Sydney. Under the coalition Government the network of air pollution monitoring stations was dramatically widened and increased from the total number of monitoring stations that existed when the present Premier was Minister for Planning and the Environment. There was an increase of some 27 stations over the first couple of years that the coalition was in government after 1988. The achievements of the coalition Government were second to none, but nothing has been done by this Government. Nothing in practice has been done about the cash-for-clunkers scheme that was announced 12 months ago.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Report: Driver Licensing in New South Wales - First Entry into the Driver Licensing System
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [1.00 p.m.]: This report breaks new ground. Staysafe 37, one of the most important Staysafe reports that has been done by the committee, is a report into the driver licensing system and focuses on first-entry drivers in the system: the new, novice, and typically young, drivers. It is a major report dealing with the crucial issue of serious injury to young drivers in road crashes. The report proposes major reforms to driver licensing in New South Wales. The practical reality of road trauma is that young drivers are involved in more than a quarter of all fatal road crashes in New South Wales each year, and also in more than a quarter of the serious injury road crashes, yet hold only about 10 per cent of the drivers licences on issue in New South Wales. About two-thirds of accidental deaths in the 17- to 24-year age group are as a result of road trauma.
As a community, we cannot accept these statistics. We must look to major reforms to reduce this trauma. The personal tragedies and the social and economic costs to New South Wales are unacceptable and unnecessary. No-one wins from road crashes. The Staysafe committee has proposed major reform of the New South Wales driver licensing system, including: extended minimum licence tenure for learner drivers to 12 months, rather than six months as is the current provision; extended licence tenure for provisionally licensed drivers to a period of between three and five years, rather than 12 months as occurs now; confirmation of compulsory carriage of drivers licences, together with police power to conduct random licence checks; financial incentives to remain a learner driver, including relatively cheap learner licences, but more expensive provisional licences; encouragement of insurance incentives for young drivers, such as reduced premiums for provisionally licensed drivers if they remain in the learner phase for a long period, or if post-licence driver training is undertaken; and emphasis on the major role played by parents in teaching their children to drive, with improved information for parents, research into the driver training process involving parents and their children, and consideration of parents’ legal rights regarding minors whose driving causes worry and concern.
The committee has also investigated the development of a system of solo learner driving, subject to stringent conditions including a minimum period of at least one year’s tenure of learner licensing under active supervision, specific restrictions for no passengers and no night driving, display of a unique and distinctive plate indicating solo learner status, and severe sanctions for non-compliance with solo learner driving conditions. Also, introduction of an exit test between provisional licensing and the full adult licence, involving assessment of a driver’s ability to perceive road hazards and the effective performance of on-road manoeuvres; requirement for accumulation of bonus
marks before progression to unrestricted licensing - for example, if people undertake a defensive or advanced driving course, or have not been booked or involved in an accident.
Other proposed reforms are: encouragement of the development of alternative methods of driver education and testing, including competency-based assessment by accredited driving instructors; further development of appropriate accountability and audit procedures for driving instructors, particularly with regard to competency-based assessment by accredited driving instructors; encouragement of the development of a driver improvement program, including traffic offenders programs and habitual driver legislation; increased speed restrictions for learner drivers to 90 kilometres per hour and abolition of the current 80 kilometres per hour speed restriction for provisionally licensed drivers; encouragement of further research and exploration into the means to maintain access for young people to the New South Wales roads system while reducing the likelihood of risky and dangerous behaviour by young drivers.
The current procedure for licensing new drivers through the learner and provisional phases lasts a minimum of 18 months to two years. Under the Staysafe committee’s proposals the minimum period for licensing new drivers through the learner and provisional phases will be four years - one year in the learner phase and three years in the provisional licensing phase - and may last up to eight years if a new driver wishes to stay in the learner and provisional phases for the maximum period. Many people are forced into taking an unrestricted licence earlier than they should, even though they might not be competent or have enough confidence. This clause gives them the chance to achieve competency and confidence. The Staysafe committee in its recent reports has identified the urgent need to ensure that the Carr Government’s annual objectives of fewer than 500 road fatalities and fewer than 5,500 serious casualties from road crashes by the year 2000 will be realised.
Reform of the way in which we deal with young drivers will be a major initiative necessary to achieve the Carr Government’s road safety program objectives, and reform of the graduated driver licensing system is one of the keys to further reductions in road trauma now and in the longer term. The inquiry into the New South Wales driver licensing system is one of the most extensive and detailed undertaken by the Staysafe committee. The mid-1990's are proving to be a watershed for driver licensing administrators and road safety workers interested in driver education, training and testing. Throughout the motorised world - in Europe, North America, and Australasia - significant reviews and research are being conducted into all facets of driver licensing, notably young drivers, elderly drivers, high-risk drivers, habitual and repeat traffic offenders and drivers of heavy vehicles.
Information and research concerning all manner of categories of driver licensing is being scrutinised in a search for better and safer methods of managing all drivers within a driver licensing system. Arising from this process are new and novel proposals for consideration, some of which challenge accepted practice in driver licensing dating from the turn of the twentieth century. The impact of new technologies in driver licensing, ranging from the maintenance and interrogation of mass databases of driver information through to the possibilities offered by smart card technologies and developments in vehicle information technology, has provided an impetus to the questioning of basic aspects of driver licensing practice. A recent major briefing paper into driver training and testing released by the European Transport Safety Council in 1996 noted that:
At the beginning of the motorised era, new car owners were taught how to handle the brakes, the accelerator, the clutch and other technical features of the vehicle and they were ready to move the vehicle off. With increasing motorisation basic behavioural rules and regulations on how to interact with other road users were introduced. Not long afterwards, in the beginning of this century the first European countries introduced driver training and testing and the driver licence.
It is surprising and disappointing that now, more than 60 years later, despite an enormous increase in motorisation and consequently, an enormous increase in the complexity of the traffic system, and in the light of the almost universal finding that the newly-trained driver is over-represented in accidents, little has changed with respect to training, testing and licensing requirements in most countries.
Staysafe is committed to a complete review of the New South Wales licensing system for drivers of cars and light vehicles. I hope that in several years time the European Transport Safety Council will be able to report that in New South Wales at least, if not throughout Australia, much has changed in the training, testing and licensing of new drivers. I congratulate the committee on the hard work it did and its bipartisan approach to road safety. The members are committed to saving lives. I also thank all the parliamentary staff involved, including the printers. Many times I have noted the contribution of the Staysafe committee director, Mr Ian Faulks. His skills and knowledge of road safety have been internationally recognised. He has been invited to advise the Swedish National Road Administration on driver licensing requirements, and I congratulate him
on that. It highlights the expertise that the Staysafe committee has. The committee has been so successful over the years because of the expertise, hard work and bipartisan approach of members of the committee.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [1.10 p.m.]: Staysafe 37 is entitled "Driver Licensing in New South Wales - First Entry into the Driver Licensing System". The Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety, Mr Paul Gibson, has given an excellent outline of the committee’s report. It is an important report that aims to save lives and improve education and training of young and learner drivers. The report deals with pre-driver issues, learner driver issues, provisional driver issues and general issues regarding new drivers. It makes 37 recommendations.
My electorate of Murray is very much in a farming community. Most young people, both boys and girls, in the area have the opportunity to learn to drive off-road, on a property. They are not doing anything illegal; they can drive tractors, utilities, cars or even headers. They have a wonderful advantage in being able to get the feel of vehicles at the age of 11 or 12 years, or even younger. However, young people living in cities and urban areas do not have that advantage. They have to rely on parents or driving schools for their training. They also may have to learn in heavy traffic. Driver education training systems are extremely important to the future of these young people, and they should have enhanced facilities so that they can learn to handle vehicles off road before moving into the main traffic stream.
Only the week before last a young lass I met failed for the third time to gain a driver’s licence test conducted by a Roads and Traffic Authority officer. She had crossed an unbroken line when making a left-hand turn and moved into what was really a parking area, although there were no markings to identify the centre of the road. It was on the Silver City Highway in the town of Wentworth. I spoke to the tester and explained that the young lass was heartbroken, given that there was no sign stating that vehicles were not permitted to travel in that area. Frankly, I would not have known any better, because there was no sign clearly stating the position.
It is difficult for young people to gain a licence, and we are not trying to make it more difficult; we are trying to help young drivers to become more competent. We would also like them to be more responsible and considerate of people driving with them. One of the greatest problems with young people is that quite often two or three of them get into a car and they have a disproportionate chance of having an accident. As has been stated, young people account for more than 25 per cent of road deaths. I hope that the 37 recommendations of Staysafe 37 are accepted and adopted.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [1.15 p.m.]: I join my colleagues in speaking on Staysafe 37, entitled "Driver Licensing in New South Wales - First Entry into the Driver Licensing System", dated June 1997. In 1995, following a request from the Minister for Roads, the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety, the Staysafe committee, announced an inquiry into the driver licensing system. The terms of reference for the inquiry were extensive, ranging from an examination of pre-driver and novice driver issues through to a review of age testing of older drivers and medical fitness issues. Staysafe determined to examine these issues through a series of reports.
The nub of the young driver problem can be expressed as a question: What set of rules and conditions can be imposed within a driver licensing system that will lead a young driver to make appropriate and sufficient decisions to minimise the likelihood of involvement in a road crash? Staysafe’s report calls for a major revision of the early phases of driver licensing, including the learner permit and provisional licence stages as well as the pre-driver stage. Staysafe’s findings and recommendations support and extend the findings of young driver research at Federal and State levels.
This is a major report dealing with the crucial issues of serious injuries to young drivers from road crashes. The report proposes major reforms to driver licensing in New South Wales. Young drivers are involved in more than a quarter of fatal road crashes in New South Wales each year and in more than a quarter of the serious injury road crashes, yet they hold only about 10 per cent of drivers licences on issue. About two-thirds of accidental deaths in the 17- to 24-year age group are as a result of road trauma.
I would like to outline some of the reforms that the Staysafe committee has proposed. The committee suggests the extension of the minimum licence tenure for learner drivers to 12 months rather than six months as is the current position; extended licence tenure for provisionally licensed drivers to a period of between three and five years rather than 12 months as is the current provision; confirmation of compulsory carriage of driver licences, together with police power to conduct random licence checks; and financial incentives to remain a learner
driver, including relatively cheap learner licences but more expensive provisional licences. The report also urges emphasis on the major role played by parents in teaching their children to drive, with improved information for parents, research into the driver training process involving parents and their children, and consideration of parents’ legal rights regarding minors whose driving causes worry or concern.
After attending an international conference in France on behalf of Staysafe and the State Parliament I returned to Australia via Singapore. There the Australian Government, through the foreign affairs department and the Australian High Commission, arranged for me to visit the local police department. I was pleased to have with me on the visit Merv Lane, the former head of the traffic branch of the New South Wales Police Service, who had also attended the international conference in France. During the visit we witnessed first-hand Singapore’s driver testing and training range.
Although the report does not make such a recommendation, I personally would recommend that we seriously consider making it compulsory for learner drivers to undertake some form of compulsory driver education and that training facilities such as those witnessed by the committee in Singapore be provided. The view has been expressed many times in this House - and I am sure it is a view shared by many members of the Staysafe committee - that it is a privilege and certainly not a right to have a driver’s licence, and the more we can do to educate our learner drivers the better. The promotion of road safety in our schools will certainly ensure that we head in that direction. I commend the report to the House.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [1.20 p.m.]: I also support the Staysafe 37 report, entitled "First Entry into the Driver Licensing System". Much has been said about it by other members, so I will speak only briefly. As has been said, the recommendations in the report are very much directed towards our youth, who are overrepresented in road trauma and road deaths; and more than a quarter of road deaths and injuries are directly attributed to young people between 17 and 24, who hold only 10 per cent of the licences in New South Wales. Any measures that the road safety committee takes for the future will be what I term the hard miles. The easy and effective measures have already been taken, and we know that this State is leading the world in taking steps to ensure that people drive safely. However, the implementation of the recommendations in this report will constitute the hard miles.
The Staysafe committee heard evidence from expert witnesses, made visits to places within New South Wales and throughout Australia, and even looked at overseas jurisdictions. Our licensing system would still lead the majority if not all of the jurisdictions throughout the world. But that does not mean that there are not better systems, which was the reason for the Minister’s reference to the committee to look into our licensing system, which had not been examined for many years. The Staysafe committee has spent a lot of time collecting information from experts in the field and has come up with a total of some 36 recommendations, some being extremely major changes to the present provisions, and some being quite minor.
I would like to point out a few of what I consider to be the major differences and those measures that the committee hopes will make a tremendous difference, particularly to our youth, who are disproportionately losing their lives on the roads. The first is the extended licence tenure for learner drivers from the current provision of 15 months to three years. After hearing from witnesses the Staysafe committee took the view that we should not limit learner drivers to a licence tenure of 15 months when the fact is that the longer a young person is prevented from attaining full licensing requirements the more likely it is that his or her knowledge and safe driving habits will be extended. It is difficult to put an old head on young shoulders, so we really have to wait until the attitudes of young people change and they become more responsible on the roads. Increasing the licence tenure for learner drivers from 15 months to three years will ensure that they become more competent drivers and less of a danger on the roads.
Another recommendation of the committee relates to the development of a system of solo learner driving subject to stringent conditions, including a minimum period of at least one year’s tenure of learner licensing under active supervision, with specific provisions for no passengers, no night driving, display of a unique and distinctive plate indicating solo learner status, and severe sanctions for non-compliance. The committee believes that this measure will also extend the learner drivers’ period of exposure on the roads - even though they are allowed to drive solo - thereby increasing their driver competency and ensuring that no-one else is at risk. [Time expired.]
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [1.25 p.m.]: I join my committee colleagues in commending this report to the House. I recall some years ago a road
safety slogan that said, "Young drivers are most skilled but they are also the most killed." That slogan is even more illustrative of today, because it is a tragic fact that these days young people suffer death and injury on our roads in a disproportionate ratio. The Staysafe 37 report attempts to address the basic reasons for that tragic phenomenon. Staysafe’s report calls for a major revision of the early phases of driver licensing, including the learner permit and provisional licensing stages, as well as the pre-driver stage. Staysafe’s findings and recommendations support and extend the findings of young driver research at Federal and State levels in Australia.
The report represents the third time that Staysafe has inquired into driver licensing matters in New South Wales. The previous inquiries, conducted in 1983 and 1990, resulted in significant changes to the driver licensing system in this State. I hope, as I am sure other committee members hope, that the recommendations in the report are implemented, so that further opportunities are taken to develop our driver licensing system as an effective mechanism to reduce road trauma, particularly amongst young people.
Report: Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act 1996 - A Report Relating to the Sunset Provision
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [1.27 p.m.]: On 20 May 1997 the Staysafe committee released its report into illegal street racing. The report recommended that the motor vehicle impoundment provisions of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act 1996 continue to be applied to combat street hoons and dangerous driving behaviour. At that time I said that the Act had been in operation for less than six months and that many of its provisions remained untested, but that some conclusions could be drawn. The most important conclusion was that the Act had been a success. The creation of new offences and the threat of vehicle confiscation had successfully broken up the large congregations of car enthusiasts who previously regularly engaged in illegal, dangerous and disruptive activities such as street racing and performing burnouts and donuts.
Several other matters were the subject of comment and recommendations by the committee. Those matters included: the need for the New South Wales Police Service to ensure that there are appropriate, safe and convenient areas available for the storage of impounded motor vehicles; the need for the Police Service and the Roads and Traffic Authority to jointly review the activities and requirements of local street machine and drag racing groups with a view to assisting in the provision of safe legal alternatives for such activities where possible; the need for the Police Service and the Roads and Traffic Authority to jointly promote awareness of both the activities prohibited by the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act 1996 and the penalties provided for any breach of the Act; and the need for the Roads and Traffic Authority to undertake appropriate research into the use of motor vehicle impoundment, confiscation and forfeiture to deal with illegal road behaviour.
The Staysafe committee recognised that the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act provides police with significant power to seize motor vehicles in situations where they reasonably believe illegal street racing offences have occurred. But the committee emphasised that exercise of this power must be beyond reproach. To that end, the Staysafe committee indicated that it would continue to review the operation of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act as part of its annual reporting process and make further reports to the Parliament as necessary. In particular, the committee noted the need to examine the motor vehicle forfeiture provisions of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act at some future time.
The Government, with the support of the Opposition, acted quickly. On 19 June 1997 the Government acted to remove the sunset provision from the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act, and thus allow police to continue to combat street hoons and dangerous driving behaviour. A number of minor but necessary amendments to the Act were introduced at that time. The Act has now been in operation for over nine months and it remains a success, as recently reported by the member for Ashfield in his capacity as Minister for Police.
A significant aspect of the Staysafe committee’s operation is the bipartisan manner in which 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. The Staysafe committee has been ably served by its Director, Mr Ian Faulks, the committee secretariat, the Hansard staff in recording the committee’s public hearings, and Printing Office staff in preparing the
report for publication. I commend this report to Parliament.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [1.31 p.m.]: I shall speak briefly to the report of the Joint Committee upon Road Safety entitled "Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act 1996 - a Report Relating to the Sunset Provision". The honourable member for Vaucluse introduced a private member’s bill that specifically related to the congregation of people for the purpose of drag racing in certain places in New South Wales, one of which was the Vaucluse electorate. The bill was later picked up by the Government and became the present Act. Initially I was worried whether as parliamentarians we should enter the area of legislating for the confiscation of motor vehicles, but I understand the Act has been well received by the community and has been extremely effective in breaking up some illegal activities when people congregate to watch motor vehicles perform burnouts. I am not familiar with what happens at these gatherings because I have never attended one. Apparently thousands of people enjoy these illegal activities. Certainly this creates much disruption to local residents.
The Staysafe committee examined the problem and determined that in one respect the Act was not operating as effectively as it could. Police indicated that rather than have to identify immediately those undertaking this activity and confiscate the vehicle, they should be given a set period of time in which to locate the persons and bring down the force of the law upon them. The amendment has been implemented to that effect and the Act continues to operate effectively.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [1.33 p.m.]: I join with my colleagues in commending the report. This is the first review of the operation of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act 1996. The Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety conducted hearings in which a representative section of those most directly affected by the Act were examined. These included the New South Wales Police Service, the Roads and Traffic Authority, and members car clubs and road safety experts. A submission was received from the Hunter Valley Drag Racing Association, a club with membership in the electorate I represent, and some of its representatives appeared before the committee to give evidence.
This report is necessarily brief and reflects the short time for which the Act has been in force. However, in time the committee will be able to present to the Parliament a more comprehensive assessment. The report recommended that the motor vehicle impoundment provisions of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act continue to be applied to combat street hoons and dangerous driving behaviour, and that minor but necessary amendments to the Act be introduced as soon as possible.
The new street racing offences and the threat of vehicle confiscation as punishment have successfully broken up the large congregations of street hoons who previously engaged in illegal, dangerous and disruptive activities such as street racing and performing burnouts and doughnuts on public roads every weekend. Other recommendations of the Staysafe committee report into illegal street racing included a focus on appropriate, safe and convenient areas being available for the storage of impounded motor vehicles; police, roads and local council authorities to assist local street machine and drag racing groups in the provision of safe legal alternatives for such activities where possible; increased publicity and advertising to promote awareness of the activities, as mentioned by the chairman; and research into the use of motor vehicle impoundment, confiscation and forfeiture to deal with illegal road behaviour.
The Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act provides police with significant power to seize motor vehicles where illegal street racing offences have occurred. The committee will continue to monitor the illegal street racing situation and make further reports to the Parliament as necessary. Certainly the committee has formed the view that the Act should be confirmed with minor amendment and reviewed again in the next two to three years. I commend the report to the Parliament.
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [1.36 p.m.]: I should like to comment briefly on the Staysafe 35 report, the review conducted by the committee of the sunset provisions of the Traffic Amendment (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Act. The Act came into force on 21 December 1996 and contained a sunset clause requiring review of its operation after six months. The Act was drafted in response to community concern over the behaviour of groups of car enthusiasts engaged in illegal, dangerous and disruptive activities such as street racing and performing burnouts.
The Act gives police power to confiscate vehicles of anyone engaged in these illegal actions. The people of my electorate and in neighbouring areas were aware of problems being caused to local residents, beachgoers and picnickers by large gatherings of so-called car enthusiasts at Dolls Point and Kyeemagh. People were being stood over and
intimidated by hoons and the amenity and peace of the neighbourhoods were being upset. In response to a question about this matter from me at the Staysafe hearing on 21 April Senior Sergeant Hayston of the Police Service said:
I have been in the area for some time and I was there before the Act was introduced and I know the problems that have been associated with the area over a number of years. Prior to the Act we used to have gatherings of up to 3,000 drivers and 1,000 motor vehicles used to race on the Grand Parade, General Holmes Drive. They used the airport tunnel. They used the lights at Bestic Street to stage their events.
These places are all in my electorate. Sergeant Hayston continued:
Of course there are road safety issues involved and when you get a group of 1,000 people congregating in a circle of about 30 feet in diameter with a car in the middle doing five or six 360 degree burn-outs, the potential there for massive death and destruction is evident.
That was one police officer’s view of what was happening regularly in the Rockdale local government area. It was an experience shared by many local people. Clearly something had to be done. This Act has given the police the power to intervene on behalf of the general law-abiding public in a more effective manner than was previously possible. The problem has not been resolved fully, but the situation has improved greatly. During the review period in the six months from December I received hundreds of letters from constituents strongly supporting the extension of this Act past the sunset phase. The Act enjoys broad community support and certainly has the strong support of Rockdale City Council.
The committee recognises the need to continue to monitor the Act, and that will be done as part of Staysafe’s annual reporting process. Through this mechanism the Parliament will be kept informed of the operation of the Act and will be able to amend or finetune it as may be required. In the meantime, the Act has had a positive effect on the problems it was enacted to address. It has drawn few complaints, and there is sound evidence that it enjoys general acceptance and support in the broad community. Despite the fact that the Act has been in operation for less than six months and many of its provisions remain untested, some conclusions can be drawn immediately on the evidence before us. One can safely assume that the threat of vehicle confiscation provided by the Act has successfully broken up large and regular congregations of car enthusiasts engaged in illegal, dangerous and disruptive activities such as racing and performing burn-outs. Whilst it is accepted that such behaviour will not cease entirely, police testimony to the committee confirms that the Act has had a positive effect on the problems it sought to address. I commend the report to the House.
Report: Drivers as Workers, Vehicles as Workplaces: Issues in Fleet Management
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [1.41 p.m.]: The release of Staysafe 36, the committee’s report entitled "Drivers as Workers, Vehicles as Workplaces: Issues in Fleet Management" provides one of the most comprehensive reviews of work-related driving, or occupational driving, in the world. It is estimated that between one-fifth and one-quarter of the road fatalities in Australia each year are associated with drivers who are at work while they are driving. This includes heavy vehicle drivers - drivers of trucks and buses - people in sales and trades occupations, and drivers commuting to the office or factory. I underscore the fact that this Staysafe report is a world first. It documents for the first time the research and statistical information concerning work-related driving and records the opinions of road safety workers, driver licensing regulators, driver trainers and insurers.
The report contains the proceedings of a seminar on work-related driver safety organised by the committee as part of an inquiry into driver licensing in New South Wales. The primary focus of the inquiry by the committee concerns the management of drivers throughout their period of licence tenure, or whole of driving life. This is a very different approach from most reviews of driver licensing. The committee seeks to identify principles and practices that provide for effective and efficient management of drivers through the driver licensing system and through initiatives in road safety education. The Staysafe committee is particularly interested in the ongoing management of drivers after they have first entered the driver licensing system.
As a first step the committee sought information about drivers who are working while they are driving - either as fleet drivers, as drivers who are required to journey from place to place in the performance of work or as commuters travelling to and from their homes and workplace. When the committee sought information on those issues it found that there was an information gap; it could not get the information it required. Certainly there is a great deal of advertising of successful strategies and successful programs in the area of fleet operations. There is a great deal of anecdote amongst insurers, amongst driver trainers, and amongst licensing and
road safety workers. But there is very little that is published and very little in the public domain on the issue as a whole. Information is scattered, difficult to find and tends to view relevant issues from a single perspective - perhaps from the point of a driver trainer or from the point of an insurer or a government policy maker.
There is comparatively little information available concerning drivers who are required in the performance of work to journey from place to place, or as commuters travelling to and from their homes and workplace. The committee moved to organise a seminar into issues in fleet management, to assist in drawing together the various threads of information about what is being done regarding the issues and problems and the best practices for post-licensing management and regulation. A feature of the report is the examination of specific company practices regarding work-related driving, involving multinational companies such as Federal Express, DuPont and Johnson & Johnson. The report also reviews specific driving-intensive industries such as the taxi industry.
Current approaches to road safety place a lot of responsibility and legal accountability on the driver to drive appropriately for the conditions always and to avoid crashes. But employers are bound by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which means that they cannot routinely take the defence that something was the employee’s fault. Employers have to foresee human failure. They have to take all reasonable steps to prevent injury and they are expected to provide a foolproof environment. The work environment is not just factories and offices. If vehicles are an extended part of the workplace, employers have the same obligations to seek a foolproof environment, at least in the areas they can control.
Clearly, employers cannot control much of what happens in terms of design of the road environment, but they do have direct control of the choice of vehicles and equipment and they have control over the training and the attitudinal and skill development of their employees when they are driving company vehicles. The Staysafe 36 report into work-related driving applauds the initiatives of the Roads and Traffic Authority in developing a model safe driving policy for use by companies operating fleet vehicles, although the RTA should be more active in informing companies of the availability of the model safe driving policy; conducting the new car assessment program - NCAP - to test the crashworthiness of motor vehicles, and developing an information booklet for companies on selecting safe vehicles.
The search for better and more effective measures to address the problems of road trauma means that we need to consider road transport from a number of different perspectives. It seems that a focus on work-related driving, with its attention to issues in employee health, fitness and stress management, as well attention to the selection and operation of the safest vehicles possible, may be a fruitful exercise as we strive to meet and better the Carr Government’s road safety targets of fewer than 500 road deaths and fewer than 5,500 serious injuries by the year 2000. The report will be used for subsequent Staysafe committee investigations into the management of the New South Wales driver licensing system and I believe that it will be a valuable general aid in the development of road safety policy and directions into the twenty-first century. I commend the report to the House.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [1.47 p.m.]: I commend the Staysafe committee for its report "Drivers as Workers, Vehicles as Workplaces: Issues in Fleet Management", containing the transcripts of a seminar the committee held at Parliament House, Sydney, on Monday, 29 April 1996. The report was concluded in May 1997 and tabled in the Parliament subsequently. Some time has elapsed since the seminar but the compilation of all this information will be of great benefit to many people in industry, the State Parliament and other State jurisdictions. I congratulate Mr Ian Faulks and the committee secretariat on their work in putting together this report.
The report contains the proceedings of the seminar on work-related driver safety, which was organised by the committee as part of an inquiry into the driver licensing system in New South Wales. The primary focus of this inquiry concerns the management of drivers throughout their period of licence tenure - or the whole of driving life experience, as pointed out earlier by the committee chairman. That is a very different approach from most reviews of driver licensing. The Staysafe committee sought information about drivers who are working while they are driving - either as fleet drivers, as drivers who are required in the performance of work to journey from place to place, or as commuters travelling to and from their homes and workplace.
When the committee sought information on those issues it found that there was an information gap. It could not get all the information it required. The Staysafe committee organised the seminar into contemporary issues in fleet management so as to assist in the drawing together of those threads of information about what is being done regarding the
issues and problems, and the best practices for post-licensing management and regulation.
I attended the seminar, which was very informative. I believe that the people who attended the seminar were pleased that someone had taken the initiative to bring together all these different people and to have the information placed before them. By compiling it in a report and tabling the report in Parliament the committee has now made it available for the general public and for people in the industry to use. I hope it will result in better awareness and an improvement in those practices in the industry. I commend the report.
Report: Report of the 2nd Meeting of Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees and Ministerial Nominees
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [1.50 p.m.]: The report provides the edited transcript of a two-day meeting of Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees that took place in Parliament House, Sydney on 2 and 3 April 1997. Parliamentary delegates from jurisdictions with parliamentary road safety or road transport committees attended the meeting, and the Commonwealth and other State and Territory jurisdictions which do not have a parliamentary road safety or transport committee sent ministerial nominees as delegates. Every Australian State was represented, as were the Federal Government and the New Zealand Government. Ministerial delegates included the Hon. John Cleary, MHA, Tasmanian Minister for Transport and Chairman of the Australia Transport Council; the New South Wales Minister for Roads, Mr Carl Scully; and the Hon. Michael Richardson, MP, Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Roads.
The meeting proved highly informative and resulted in several recommendations for action, including: implementation of a 50 kilometre per hour general urban speed limit in Australian jurisdictions; implementation of alcohol ignition interlock programs for high-risk drink-drivers, that is, repeat drink-drive offenders and high-range drink-drivers; continued investigation of hazard perception testing technologies for new drivers; support for Australian roads ministers in their efforts to identify and implement road safety initiatives and countermeasures to road trauma. It was resolved that the parliamentary road safety committees would hold further meetings as the Australasian Council of Road Safety Committees on a biennial basis. The provision of a safe and healthy community remains a core objective of Australian State and Territory governments of all political persuasions. The scrutiny of road safety activities should be a core function of any legislature that accepts its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy community.
I am grateful for the assistance, advice and guidance of my parliamentary colleagues, the members of the Staysafe committee, in carrying out their responsibilities to monitor and investigate road safety matters in New South Wales. I and my fellow members were enriched by the discussions with our parliamentary colleagues and with departmental officials during the meeting of Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees. The committee is appreciative of the assistance of the Director of Staysafe, Mr Ian Faulks, and committee secretariat staff. The committee also extends its thanks to Mr Peter Makeham and the staff of the Federal Office of Road Safety for their assistance with the organisation of the meeting. I commend the report to the House.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [1.52 p.m.]: Once again I join with the Chairman of the Staysafe committee in commending the report of the second meeting of Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees and Ministerial Nominees. The meeting was held at Parliament House in Sydney on Wednesday, 2 April 1997, and Thursday, 3 April 1997, with the report being published and tabled this month. Parliamentary delegates from jurisdictions with parliamentary road safety or transport committees attended the meeting, and the Commonwealth and other State and Territory jurisdictions which do not have a parliamentary road safety or transport committee sent ministerial nominees as delegates. Ministerial delegates included the Hon. John Cleary, Tasmanian Minister for Transport and Chairman of the Australian Transport Council, the New South Wales Minister for Roads and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Roads. In addition the Hon. Harry Duynhoven, Opposition Spokesman on Transport and a member of the New Zealand Select Committee on Transport and Environment also attended. Members of the committee were pleased that New Zealand was able to participate in the meeting.
The meeting proved highly informative and resulted in several recommendations for action, some of which have been outlined by the chairman of the committee. The meeting of the Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees followed an earlier meeting hosted by the National Road Trauma Advisory Council and the Federal Office of Road Safety early in 1995. I attended both days of the
meeting and the proceedings were very informative. I had the opportunity to deliver a paper on Thursday, 3 April, entitled "Occupational road safety or workplace road safety". The other States and Territories that were represented displayed considerable interest in the meeting. The committee has agreed to meet again, and that was one of the resolutions passed at the committee meeting. I look forward to further discussions with my colleagues in other States who have an interest in road safety.
One major recommendation to come out of the meeting involved support for the introduction of a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour in urban areas. Although it has not been acted upon in other jurisdictions, I commend the Minister for Roads and the Minister for Transport for their decision to undertake a trial of the 50-kilometre-per-hour urban speed limit in New South Wales. Certain areas in the Hunter region, in Lake Macquarie and in Newcastle have been designated 50-kilometre-per-hour speed trial areas and there has been great acceptance of them by the local community. The Minister for Roads visited Lake Macquarie last Thursday and inspected one of those areas. I believe that the trial will be successful and that there will be a reduction in the accident rate. I encourage the New South Wales Ministers to take the bold step and lead Australia with the introduction of a 50 kilometres per hour urban speed limit throughout New South Wales. That, I believe, will result in a saving of lives and help the Carr Government to reach its target for the year 2000. I commend the report.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 1.56 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
Mr SPEAKER: I welcome to the Parliament students and staff from the applied science and agricultural course at Sydney University.
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 Blackmore, Mr Brogden, Mr Collins, Mr Debnam, Mr Downy, Ms Ficarra, Mr Glachan, Mr Hartcher, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Dr Kernohan, Mr Kerr, Mr MacCarthy, Mr Merton, Mr O’Doherty, Mr O’Farrell, Mr Photios, Mr Richardson, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Mr Schultz, Ms Seaton, Mrs Skinner, Mr Smith and Mr Tink.
Camden District Hospital
Petition praying that the maternity ward and birthing centre at Camden District Hospital be retained, and that the hospital be retained as a general hospital, received from Dr Kernohan.
Israel Heroin Addicts Program
Petition praying that the heroin addicts program in Israel be evaluated with a view to establishing a similar program in all States of Australia, received from Mr Price.
Petition praying that Ryde Hospital and its services be retained, received from Mr Tink.
Police and Community Youth Clubs
Petitions praying that, in line with the Inspector General’s report of 1993, permanent dedicated police officers be retained at police and community youth clubs, received from Mr Beck and Mr Blackmore.
Riverwood Police Station
Petition praying that Riverwood police station not be closed or downgraded, received from Ms Ficarra.
Gloucester Public School
Petition praying for extra funding for capital works at Gloucester Public School, received from Mr J. H. Turner.
Petition praying that telecommunication carriers not be allowed to erect transmission structures within close proximity to residential homes, schools, child-care centres, hospitals, and aged-care centres, received from Mr Brogden.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Mr Gibson, as Chairman, tabled the report entitled "Young Drivers", dated September 1997.
Ordered to be printed.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
SCHOOL STUDENT END-OF-YEAR ACTIVITIES
Mr COLLINS: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Education and Training. Did a school muck-up day at Bulli High School last night result in kangaroo carcasses being skinned, gutted and hung in the school; dead fish and faeces being strewn around the school grounds; and a greasy substance, on which at least one student slipped and was injured, being smeared around the school grounds? What action has the Minister taken over this incident?
Mr AQUILINA: The Leader of the Opposition did not have the fortitude to ask me a similar question on Tuesday in relation to a non-government school on the lower north shore.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order. I call the honourable member for Northcott to order. I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Canterbury to order.
Mr Collins: You have two standards.
Mr AQUILINA: The Leader of the Opposition is the one with the double standards. When I made a statement in the House on Tuesday in relation to a similar matter I did not mention the name of the school, nor indicate where it was.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr AQUILINA: The Leader of the Opposition has no hesitation in besmirching the name of a government school. He is a little hypocrite. I will show in a moment how hypocritical he is. He drags public schools through the mud.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will address his remarks through the Chair. Opposition members will desist from goading and interjecting.
Mr Phillips: On a point of order. The question asked by the Leader of the Opposition related to a school that is under the Minister’s management. This is an important matter. We expect a sensible answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. I place the honourable member for Bulli on three calls to order.
Mr AQUILINA: Early this morning I was informed of an incident that occurred overnight at a high school in the Illawarra. I am advised that the school was broken into and that the principal immediately informed the district superintendent, who in turn advised the senior departmental officer. An investigation commenced immediately. My information is that one classroom was entered and tomato sauce and honey were smeared around the room.
Maybe some Kings students had been there. Rubbish was also brought into the playground. Two dead wallabies were strung up on the school fence, and a third was thrown into a tree. Police were immediately notified and a veterinary surgeon was organised to carry out an autopsy on the dead animals.
Mr Merton: Tie me kangaroo down, sport.
Mr AQUILINA: This is supposed to be a matter of great concern to the Opposition. Everyone has treated this matter with abhorrence, and the honourable member for Baulkham Hills says, "Tie me kangaroo down, sport."
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Mr AQUILINA: He is sick! I am advised that in the opinion of the vet the animals had been dead for some time, one possibly for some weeks. It is believed that they were killed as a result of road accidents and collected from the roadside - possibly the F6. Police do not believe that cruelty to animals has been involved. However, while there has been no suggestion of cruelty to animals, I regard this behaviour as sickening and abhorrent, unlike the view taken by some members opposite. It has not been confirmed whether these acts were committed by students of the school or, indeed, by school students at all. While there is no evidence at this stage that students were involved, I remind all students of the warnings given by the Department of School Education last month and by me earlier this week. There is no place for illegal activity in end-of-year celebrations. If students break the law they will face the consequences - no ifs, no buts.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the National Party to order. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time.
Mr AQUILINA: Students should not ruin their future because of one reckless event. I am
disturbed that the Opposition has denigrated the name of this school when there is no evidence as to who the culprits are.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Northcott to order for the second time.
Mr AQUILINA: Is may well be that the school is the victim in this instance. We cannot expect anything else from this negative, whingeing, whining Opposition. As I said earlier this week, the Government has taken steps to remind students to have positive end-of-year celebrations. The Government has circulated to all schools the detailed end-of-year celebrations kit.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr AQUILINA: The kit reminds students of the need to behave responsibly as part of their celebrations. No such comprehensive campaign was ever conducted by the Opposition when it was in government.
MOTOR VEHICLE HYDROCARBONS
Mr IEMMA: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Fair Trading. What progress has been made by the National Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs to deal with the dangers of hydrocarbons in motor vehicles?
Mrs LO PO’: The honourable member for Hurstville has taken a great deal of interest in this matter and will continue to do so. Almost two years ago the Government acted to ban the use of highly flammable hydrocarbon gas refrigerants in motor vehicles in New South Wales because it was confronted with a mountain of evidence that the gas is potentially lethal if it is ignited in a car. A demonstration undertaken by officers of the Motor Vehicle Industry Repair Council, assisted by the New South Wales Fire Brigades and WorkCover Authority graphically illustrated the dangers. They released 300 grams of hydrocarbon gas into a car, added a spark, and the car was blown to smithereens. A vigorous debate ensued as to the likelihood of this happening in everyday circumstances. I took the view that the risk of families being blown up in their cars outweighed all other considerations. I said the onus of proof was on the industry to prove the gas was safe.
One view put by a lobbyist of the hydrocarbon industry - a view that was parroted by the Opposition - was that the chance of a car exploding was two in one million. My response was to ask them to name the two families they were willing to see incinerated to protect the commercial interests of the hydrocarbon companies. The industry was invited to return with proof of its arguments that the gas is safe in cars. The industry did not do so. All the evidence points in another direction. In the United States of America no-one will touch car refrigerant. Many States have banned it and the United States Environmental Protection Agency says it is too dangerous to risk using it in cars. All the major car manufacturers, motoring organisations, fire authorities and insurance companies agree. Until recently the only dissenters appeared to be the makers of the hydrocarbons, in particular a company called Esanty Pty Ltd, one lonely academic who admitted that he received research assistance, and members of the Opposition.
Since New South Wales led the way with the ban to protect motorists and their families, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania have followed suit with regulations that effectively prevent the use of hydrocarbons in cars. South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory will introduce similar measures this year. It may surprise honourable members to learn that the Victorian Government, under the leadership of Jeff Kennett, has held out against this weight of evidence, this national and international body of opinion. Earlier this year a letter was circulated with papers for the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs by the Victorian Government. It was a scandalous libel which accused me and New South Wales public officials of being captive of an industry lobby and party to a hoax. Mr Peter Bradford, Chairman of the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council, has described the paper as scurrilous, offensive and damaging. The paper was subsequently withdrawn. When I challenged the Victorian Minister, Jan Wade, about it at the meeting of the ministerial council in August, she apologised profusely and said that the paper had been prepared without her knowledge and withdrawn the moment she saw it. I accept her word on this, but I have to wonder who was responsible if she was not.
Imagine my further intrigue when she told the meeting that the Victorian Premier’s Department had shown a keen interest in this matter. My intrigue deepened further when I learned that the person appointed by the Victorian Government to the Australian Standards Committee, which has oversight of this matter, was none other than Mr Colin Spencer. Until recently, when Mr Spencer was not lending his expertise to a committee charged with protecting the safety of Australian consumers, he busied himself as the managing director of Esanty. He has moved on to bigger things. He now heads Boral Energy. Mr Spencer’s career move followed Boral’s acquisition of Esanty this year. I
am left with these questions: why did people in the Victorian Government circulate a scurrilous libel about me and New South Wales public officials?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Mr Kerr: Why don’t you move a motion of urgency?
Mrs LO PO’: Why don’t you gag me?
Mr Phillips: On a point of order. It is the responsibility of members to ask questions of the Minister and for the Minister to provide answers, not to pose questions. She should provide the answers to the questions she is asking.
Mrs LO PO’: No-one can provide answers to Jeff Kennett. Why did people in the Victorian Government circulate a scurrilous libel about me and New South Wales public officials? Why did this happen without the knowledge of the relevant Minister, Jan Wade? Why did the same Government appoint a man with the most flagrant conflict of interest to an Australian standards committee which is supposed to put safety first in all things? Why is that Government clearly doing the bidding of a big energy company, Boral Ltd, in trying to overturn regulations designed to protect Australian families?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time.
Mrs LO PO’: Why is the Federal coalition now doing Boral’s bidding via the member for Deakin, Mr Phil Barresi, who went in to bat for exploding cars only last week in Federal Parliament? Who owns Boral anyway? The answer is that many people own Boral.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members who continue to interject will be placed on three calls to order.
Mrs LO PO’: Many people own Boral; it is a publicly listed company with many shareholders. However, it is interesting that six of those shareholders are members of the Liberal Party and the National Party and members of Parliament in the once great State of Victoria.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sure that members of the Probis Club of Adamstown would be disgusted at the behaviour of many members.
Mrs LO PO’: Is Mr Barresi also a shareholder or is it just that the former Esanty has its headquarters in his electorate? Victoria is fast acquiring a reputation as the "conflict of interest State". Instead of "You’ll love every piece of Victoria", perhaps its tourism motto should be "You can buy every piece of Victoria".
SCHOOL STUDENT END-OF-YEAR ACTIVITIES
Mr O’DOHERTY: Did the Minister for Education and Training say one year ago today that he would consider changes to the Education Reform Act to bar students from getting their HSC if they indulged in offensive muck-up behaviour? Why has he broken yet another promise?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Illawarra to order.
Mr AQUILINA: The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai should think about the question he has just asked. In effect, he answered his own question. He is quite right about what I said last year. I said that if there were grievous offences I would consider altering the Act. Last year I issued that warning to students and to this House. I said that if there were any grievous instances I would consider amendments to the Education Reform Act. I am advised that there were no grievous instances last year; therefore there is no need to change the Act. I will, however, continue to monitor the situation in consultation with the education community.
RURAL FIRE STATION CLOSURES
Mr NEILLY: Will the Minister for Emergency Services inform the House what plans the Government has for closing fire stations in small country towns?
Mr DEBUS: I am aware of a document of the Fire Brigades Employees Union that canvasses the possibility of the closure of country fire stations. I am also aware that that document has been described in today’s media as a confidential memo. I have my doubts that a newsletter sent out to a few hundred retained firefighters and a lot of other people in this State constitutes a confidential memo. The answer to the honourable member’s question is quite simple. The Carr Government has no plans for the closure of fire brigade stations in small country towns. Not one New South Wales fire brigade station has been earmarked for closure and no recommendation has come before me in relation to country fire stations. I categorically guarantee that I would not even consider, let alone accept, any recommendation that did not guarantee higher levels of fire protection to country New South Wales. Sadly, I can confirm that a plan for the closure of country fire stations nevertheless exists.
Mr Armstrong: Oh!
Mr DEBUS: And it is yours! These documents were signed by Ted Pickering and Terry Griffiths. The Leader of the National Party and the member for Dubbo have been running around whipping up fear and anxiety in country towns. They have been engaging in that kind of baseless scaremongering, but they are the ones who went to the last State election with plans to close fire stations in dozens of country towns around New South Wales. They were not just small fire stations either. In the document that I have, which is addressed to P. C. Koperberg, Director-General, Bush Fire Services, and Mr P. Rath, Director-General, New South Wales Fire Brigades, Ted Pickering suggested that it would not be such a bad idea to close down fire stations in towns with a population of up to 70,000. Ted Pickering wanted to close fire brigades in towns like Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga. Shame on him!
Mr Phillips: Table it.
Mr DEBUS: Okay; I seek leave to table the document.
This Government has massively increased resources - to the tune of $30 million - for fire protection in country areas and for 160 new firefighters. We will never take any action that would lessen fire cover for anyone in this State and there are no plans for the closure of fire stations in small country towns.
RURAL GOVERNMENT ACCESS CENTRES
Mr ARMSTRONG: My question without notice is directed to the Premier. Is the Government’s much-vaunted access program, designed to enhance the delivery of government services to rural and remote communities such as Grenfell, Nyngan, Oberon, Gilgandra, Kyogle, Maclean, Nambucca Heads and Dorrigo, in danger of collapse because government departments show little interest in the program?
Mr CARR: We have had 10 Opposition questions this week and I have been asked one. Here I am, always ready to help with useful information; ready to help members go about their business properly informed. I have some fat folders full of interesting material to share with the community. I am used to speculating whether I should send Opposition members $5 in a white envelope in return for a question. What does one have to do to get a question? There are all those great issues that Opposition members could ask me about and there are terrible divisions on that side of the House in relation to the great issue of electricity privatisation.
Mr Photios: On a point of order. My point of order relates to relevancy. The Premier is not answering the question. He never answers a question and he does not deserve a question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr CARR: The honourable member for Ermington promotes such ill feeling in this place when he makes negative remarks like that. This is the last sitting day for this week and the one searing, withering attack that was made on me was by the honourable member for Gosford, who accused me of having an interest in Australian history, to which I plead completely guilty. I got a call from Cheryl Kernot. She said, "Yesterday it was a finely balanced thing."
Mr Photios: On a point of order. Once again my point of order relates to relevancy. The Premier is not answering the question. He does not answer any question. He does not deserve a question if he does not address the issue.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr CARR: The then leader of the Australian Democrats said that it was a finely balanced decision, that she could have gone either way. But when she tuned into New South Wales Parliament question time and heard the honourable member for Gosford attack me for being interested in Australian history she said, "That’s it - the only viable political movement to join is the Australian Labor Party." In that spirit, I will say that our negotiations with none other than the honourable member for Lane Cove are proceeding very well. Mum’s the word.
I advise the leader of the National Party that our plans are proceeding so well that even the Federal Government is engaged in discussions with us about linking up with our State Government access centres. That is a nice vote of confidence from Tim Fischer who occupies his mind, such as it is, with great affairs of State. The Federal National Party leader has given the tick of approval to involve the national Government and all its
resources in our initiative to make access to government departments and agencies easier for the people of rural New South Wales.
SPORTS INJURY INSURANCE SCHEME
Mr GIBSON: My question without notice is to the Minister for Sport and Recreation. What information can the Minister give on improvements to the Government’s sports injury insurance scheme?
Ms HARRISON: The Government actively encourages all people in New South Wales to participate in sport regardless of their skill level. Sport plays a role in keeping people fit and healthy and consequently minimises the drain on public health resources. The Government acknowledges that one of the realities of competitive sport, unfortunately, is the risk of serious injury. Since 1978 the Government has administered the New South Wales sporting injury insurance scheme to provide compensation for seriously injured sportspeople. The scheme was created to protect sporting clubs, which are often community-based organisations, from costly litigation that may arise in the event of serious injury. The scheme also provides benefits for the families of sportspeople who are fatally injured.
The scheme, which is administered by the Sporting Injuries Committee, has extended protection to both amateur and professional sporting clubs as well as to schools participating in organised sports. Sports covered by the scheme include rugby league, Australian football, cricket, netball, hockey, basketball, swimming, tennis and nearly 50 other sports. The Sporting Injuries Committee has levied participating sporting clubs while providing free cover for schools. The scheme is administered by a six-person committee, comprising the chairperson, three public members appointed by the Minister for Industrial Relations, one schools representative appointed by the Minister for Education and Training and one member whom I will appoint to represent the Department of Sport and Recreation. The scheme has been operating so well in recent times that the Government has received advice that it should increase all benefits by 14 per cent.
Under the increases, benefits for loss of the use of an arm increase from $37,950 to $43,265, loss of the use of a leg from $34,650 to $39,500, loss of sight from $48,750 to $55,575 and permanent loss of mental capacity from $150,000 to $171,000. Benefits for death are also up from $62,000 to $70,680. The maximum benefits payable under the scheme also rise from $150,000 to $171,000. These payments are available as of right and do not take away a person’s right to take common law action in the case of negligence. These increases in benefits will not lead to an increase in premiums and can be absorbed by the scheme’s $3 million surplus as at 30 June 1997. This is great news for all people who participate in organised sport, because it means they will have more comprehensive protection in the unfortunate event of an accident on the sporting field. While increasing the benefits, the Government has also decided to make another significant reform to the Sporting Injures Committee.
In recognition of the increasing importance of disabled sport, the Government has also decided to appoint a dedicated representative of disabled athletes to the committee. I am confident that this measure will make this important organisation even more responsive to the needs of all sportspeople in New South Wales. In addition to the financial protections available through the scheme, my department is heavily involved in a range of sports safety forums and initiatives designed to reduce the incidence of injuries. The department has now accepted responsibility as lead agency for sport and recreation injury prevention in New South Wales as recommended in the State goals, targets and strategies for injury prevention and control document issued by the Department of Health. The department is in the process of establishing a sport and recreation injury prevention working party to develop strategies for injury reduction with membership of the group, including representatives from organisations responsible for and interested in the safety of participants in sport and recreation. I shall keep the honourable members informed of the working party’s progress.
COMMISSIONED POLICE OFFICER INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION
Mr TINK: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police. Is the Minister aware of an internal affairs investigation into one of his senior commissioned police officers of or above the rank of chief superintendent? Does the investigation relate to allegations that the officer was in breach of traffic laws and used rank in an attempt to avoid any ensuing police action?
Mr WHELAN: As the Minister for Police many reports come to my attention. The matter raised by the honourable member is not within my knowledge but I will make inquiries about the matter.
OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES HEALTH SERVICES
Mr NAGLE: I ask the Minister for Health what the Government is doing to ensure effective planning of health services for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and Paralympics.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for Auburn has an ongoing interest in the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics and related issues in his electorate. The Government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the success of the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. While construction work at Homebush Bay is physical evidence of that preparation, much more is being done and planning for the health needs of the Games is already well under way. Part of our planning has been a comprehensive examination of the medical program at the Atlanta Games. The lessons learned from Atlanta will provide a basis for the mammoth task of providing health care for the Sydney Games.
The Olympic Health and Medical Working Committee has been established to work with the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games on health planning. That committee is being chaired by the Director-General of New South Wales Health, Mr Michael Reid. New South Wales Health will be providing specific Olympic health services with a goal of securing the highest quality health care for athletes and spectators. A vast range of issues have to be considered - from deciding on the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals required to ensuring easy access to venues for ambulances and adequate shade.
Essentially we need to focus on four areas: public health services, hospital care, disaster planning and health care interpreters. A specifically designed public health strategy has been devised for the Sydney 2000 Games. It will cover issues such as injury prevention, heat and sun exposure, environmental health surveillance, infectious diseases and food safety. For example, in Atlanta food safety presented an enormous challenge because there were 467 food vendors. A team of 49 people conducted 2,593 routine food inspections, with an extra 1,167 monitoring inspections. Although there were a few unconfirmed cases of gastroenteritis, no food-borne outbreaks occurred.
That was the first time in the history of the modern Olympics that a food-borne outbreak did not occur at the Games. This is a standard by which Sydney will be judged. At any Olympic Games there is a potential for major incidents. Atlanta developed plans and training in conjunction with the county, State and Federal authorities. Emergency medical specialists and area hospitals were involved. During the 1996 Atlanta Games up to 150 staff were on standby for the treatment of victims of a disaster. For Sydney the New South Wales disaster plan will be activated. The plan ensures a co-ordinated response to major incidents, and New South Wales Health plays a major role.
The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games medical command centre will be responsible for health issues at the Olympic venues, working closely with New South Wales Health. The medical command centre will have a public health co-ordinator who will liaise with the Olympic public health team leaders, who will in turn control the mobile Olympic public health teams. The mobile teams comprise food inspectors, environmental health officers and surveillance officers. Parliament is bringing in legislation to allow health professionals to accompany and treat the team members.
In line with actions taken in Atlanta, health professionals will not have to individually seek registration in the way that others who would be coming to work here permanently would. They can be nominated by their team management and given limited registration so that medical practitioners and allied health professionals will be able to treat team members coming here. Many of the teams will come to Australia before the Olympics for training and the legislation will allow the medical staff to accompany and treat team members during the practice period. The legislation will also apply to the Paralympics. Planning is well under way. Throughout next year the New South Wales health department, area health services and hospitals will be developing detailed operational plans for the Games. This is yet another example of the Carr Government’s determination to secure successful and healthy Olympics and Paralympics in the 2000.
BLACKTOWN HOSPITAL BREAKFAST FORUM
Mrs SKINNER: How does the Minister for Health explain spending thousands of health dollars hosting tomorrow’s free dig-in breakfast at Blacktown Hospital for more than 100 people when he cannot find the money to fund the New Children’s Hospital and when he has always claimed that money should go to patients, not administration?
Dr REFSHAUGE: Tomorrow there will be a meeting at Blacktown Hospital involving doctors and administrators of the Western Sydney Area Health Service. In regard to the New Children’s Hospital,
since coming to office the Government has increased its budget by $24 million.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: This is a 37 per cent increase. While we are increasing funding -
Mr Phillips: You are closing wards.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: Talk about closing wards - we remember the pictures of the closed wards at Westmead Hospital, the chains on the closed wards. Who closed those wards? The coalition Minister for Health.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Georges River to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: Yet we are putting $24 million extra into the Children’s Hospital, a 37 per cent increase. What are the coalition member’s mates in Canberra doing? What is Michael Wooldridge doing? He has taken $68 million out of our public hospitals, blaming the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for it. I will not ask the taxpayers of New South Wales to give to Canberra their money that they want to put into hospitals. It will go to increased funding for hospitals.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the second time.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The breakfast program in western Sydney is a regular monthly forum.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: It is an information exchange between clinical managers and administrators. They come from a whole range of medical disciplines and different hospitals. It is aimed at keeping local doctors and medical specialists, the local medical community, and administrators up to speed with what is happening in their area, and it provides feedback on new policies. I am told that tomorrow 120 people - I will be going so it will be 121 people - will attend. I am told the cost will be less than $400. The forum occurs outside normal working hours, so at no time is patient care compromised. The forum was started a number of years ago by the then coalition Minister for Health - old dead meat over there - the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He started it. It is his forum. It is held regularly and I have been invited to address tomorrow’s meeting. The holding of the forum is one of the few policies produced by the coalition with which I agree. Doctors should talk to administrators. It is not a bad idea. I am happy to support it. Obviously the new policy of the Opposition is: do not let the doctors talk to administrators. I will be happy to sign a joint letter and provide the full cost of sending it out to every chairman and every medical staff council to inform them of the new policy of the Opposition, that health professionals should never meet with administrators.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the third time.
Dr REFSHAUGE: There is underlying seething resentment about the factional operations of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and a move to dump him. I have seen this happen before in the coalition. I have seen the way Opposition members start turning on themselves. The once-great Liberal Party is now racked with factionalism.
BLACKTOWN HOSPITAL BREAKFAST FORUM
Mrs SKINNER: I have a supplementary question for the Minister for Health. How much money will he be spending to hire extra security guards to lasercast his dig-in breakfast so that staff can be enticed to stop work at 12 o’clock at seven underfunded hospitals in western Sydney?
Dr REFSHAUGE: As long as the honourable member for North Shore commits herself not to attend there will be no need for security.
Questions without notice concluded.
MINISTER FOR CORRECTIVE SERVICES, MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES,
AND MINISTER ASSISTING THE MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
Suspension of Standing Orders
Mr HARTCHER: I seek the leave of the House to move a motion to suspend standing orders to enable me to move a motion of censure of the Minister for Emergency Services for misleading the House at question time today.
Leave not granted.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Ovine Johne’s Disease
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [3.10 p.m.]: I ask the House to consider urgently the motion of which I gave notice, rather than the motion of the Leader of the National Party. Ovine Johne’s disease has been a major issue in rural New South Wales, and in fact the honourable member for Southern Highlands raised the issue last night in the Address-in-Reply debate. I ask the House to give priority to my motion because the issue is becoming very topical. The Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand meeting of 8 August resulted in a whole-of-government and industry agreement to an eradication program, and now we are getting signals from Canberra that the Federal Government will not commit itself to this jointly funded project. In fact, as the debate will show, the commencement of the program has been put back at least a month, from 1 December this year to 1 January 1998.
The passing of my motion would give the Minister for Primary Industry an opportunity to advise this House of the Federal Government’s commitment, given at the ARMCANZ meeting, to financially support this project which is to be jointly funded by the State governments, the Federal Government and the industry. I understand that the Australian Animal Health Council is due to report on this matter over the next couple of weeks. It is important that the motion be treated as urgent to give the Federal Government an opportunity to respond to the concerns now being raised around rural New South Wales that it is now pulling out of the agreement reached at the ARMCANZ meeting in August.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [3.12 p.m.]: My urgent motion is as follows:
(a) notes the latest crime statistics from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics;
(b) notes that 43 country towns experience higher crime levels in the categories of sexual assault and common assault than those experienced in Cabramatta, scene of the highly successful Operation Puccini;
(c) condemns the Carr Labor Government for its abandonment of the people of regional New South Wales to a rising tide of lawlessness; and
(d) calls on the Carr Government to immediately commit similar task force resources to country New South Wales.
My motion is urgent because statistics show that people in many country towns across the State are potentially at high risk of experiencing thefts from businesses, break and enters, stealing from motor vehicles and sexual assault.
Mr Whelan: On a point of order. The Leader of the National Party knows full well that he is restricted to arguing priority. He should indicate to the House why his matter should have priority. He is not permitted to go into the substance of the debate, nor to make allegations or assertions. He should follow the example of the Minister for Agriculture, who displayed a remarkable knowledge of the standing orders.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the National Party may continue.
Mr ARMSTRONG: This matter is urgent because the number of serious crimes in country New South Wales - including thefts from businesses, break and enters, stealing from motor vehicles and sexual assault - is higher than in Cabramatta. Cabramatta is the location of Operation Puccini, a most successful operation recently carried out by the Police Service. The Opposition asks this House to support -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. The standing orders are quite specific. The Leader of the National Party must establish why his motion is more urgent than the motion of the Minister for Agriculture. He is not allowed to enter into substantive argument on the matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member’s point of order is a little premature. The Leader of the National Party may continue.
Mr ARMSTRONG: It would be unfortunate if the public were to think that the Government does not support a motion to contain the level of crime, particularly assaults on the person, sexual assaults and break and enters, in many of our country towns. In arguing against consideration of this motion, Government members are effectively denying the people of New South Wales the right to have their urgent problems raised in this place. The citizens of Port Stephens, Bombala, Albury, Eurobodalla, Forbes, Narrabri and Grafton are simply being denied that right, and they will be told who is preventing matters of crime in their towns being raised in this House.
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. The Leader of the National Party must prove why his motion is more urgent. It has nothing to do with Moss Vale, Gundagai, Timbuktu, or any other area.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will address his point of order through the Chair. The Chair will hear the point in silence.
Mr Gibson: The standing orders are very specific. The Leader of the National Party must prove to the House why his motion is more urgent. It has nothing to with what is happening at Timbuktu, Gundagai, or any other area, and it has nothing to do with telling those people -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard sufficient. I uphold the point of order.
Mr ARMSTRONG: The honourable member for Londonderry is simply out of touch. He has not been here long enough to understand what crime is doing in this State. The member does not understand what has happened while he has been away for the past months in Europe. He does not understand that crime is out of control in this State and this is now a particularly urgent matter in country areas of this State. [Time expired.]
Question - That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Mount Druitt be proceeded with - agreed to.
OVINE JOHNE’S DISEASE
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [3.17 p.m.]: I move:
That this House calls on the Federal Government to fulfil its commitment to financial support of the national Ovine Johne’s Disease eradication and control program as agreed at the ARMCANZ meeting in Darwin on 8 August 1997.
I thank the House for being convinced by my argument as to why my motion should be treated as urgent. Ovine Johne’s disease is a serious disease which has been explained on numerous occasions in this House, and I will not take up the time of the House to explain it again. Currently 186 properties in New South Wales have been classified as infected. The disease is causing increasing and severe personal financial hardship not only to affected producers but to other sheep producers in areas where there are infected properties. Infected or suspected properties cannot sell sheep other than for slaughter. Property values of infected properties have been reduced markedly and some regions have become blacklisted as being unsafe areas from which to purchase restock of sheep.
Whilst the consequences of the disease are bad enough for commercial breeders of flock sheep, they are catastrophic for the stud breeders whose livelihoods depend on the sale of stud rams and ewes to other breeders. In addition to the losses to the individual producer, loss of the superior genetic seed stock from sheep studs is a loss to Australia’s entire $4 billion per year sheep industry. If immediate action is not taken to control the spread of ovine Johne’s disease it can be guaranteed that the disease will spread throughout all States of Australia and become a serious national problem. This situation is one which should cause great concern to the Federal Government as it does to the State Government. An ongoing detailed surveillance program undertaken by New South Wales Agriculture and rural lands protection boards indicates that in New South Wales the disease is largely localised within the central tablelands and that the majority of cases outside this area can be directly linked to movements of sheep from the central tablelands.
The situation in other States is much better than in New South Wales, with no cases being recorded in Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, apart from Flinders Island, and only one case in South Australia. Already last summer Victoria embarked on a preliminary eradication program but several new infected flocks have since been detected. A special market assurance program developed by industry and government veterinarians is now operational and already 12 flocks have met the requirement to join the scheme. This includes some of our large merino studs. Many more flocks are in the process of joining and this will help to provide a source of clean sheep.
Fortunately, recent investigation into a possible trace-back involving major poll Dorset studs has failed to produce any evidence of infection and many of these properties will now be included in the market assurance program. This means that if decisive action is taken this summer, New South Wales and Australia can localise the disease and progressively eradicate it. To ensure eradication, infected properties need to be destocked for at least 15 months, including two summers, to ensure that all infected organisms on the property are killed. Organisms are very sensitive to heat and it is essential that a commitment is made for financial support of the program to allow affected producers to commence an eradication program this summer.
The substance of the motion is that the Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, known as ARMCANZ, agreed at its Darwin meeting in August this year to endorse the proposed national program for control and progressive eradication of ovine Johne’s disease, subject to consultation within jurisdictions. Judging from the speech last night by the honourable member for Southern Highlands, she agrees with the progressive eradication of ovine Johne’s disease. Despite this pledge, which was made under the chairmanship of Mr John Anderson, Federal Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, the Commonwealth Government has yet to honour this agreement and financially commit itself to the program. This delay has already seen the anticipated start of this campaign delayed from 1 December 1997 to 1 January 1998. Failure by Mr Anderson and the Federal Liberal and National Party Government to make this commitment is placing the national ovine Johne’s disease program in peril.
If a positive financial commitment by the Federal Government is not immediately forthcoming, the campaign cannot commence this summer, and will be delayed for 12 months. Any further delay may well mean that eradication will never be successful and that Australia will be forced to live with this disease and its associated control costs, production losses and possible trade restrictions. In New South Wales at least 30 affected producers have prepared property disease eradication plans to commence this summer, subject to financial assistance for eradication. If this financial assistance is delayed or is not forthcoming, the considerable momentum to eradicate this disease that currently exists within the farming community will be lost or seriously delayed.
It is vitally important that the Federal Government provide financial support for assistance to affected producers and for operational expenses to help run the campaign. National Party members and Liberal Party members in country seats should also take this matter up with the Federal Minister because signals have been received from Canberra that indicate that the Federal Government considers its existing contribution to research is all that is required. Much of this research is directed at cattle Johne’s disease and not the sheep Johne’s disease, and still the Federal Government is trying to claim credits. This is definitely not the case and it was never the intention, following the ARMCANZ resolution, that governments would make in-kind contributions to this program.
Industry has already given a commitment to fund 50 per cent of the costs associated with the eradication program over a 10-year-period, subject to an equivalent contribution from government. The amount of money required to eradicate this disease is not excessive if the Federal Government and all State governments contribute. The initial estimates presented to ARMCANZ were $38.2 million. I understand that revised estimates, prepared by the Australian Animal Health Council in consultation with industry, now place this figure at approximately $50 million. This would be shared by the industry picking up 50 per cent and the Federal Government and State Government agreeing on a formula for the whole program to be jointly funded. On many occasions the farming community has put to the Government that industry is not prepared to fund an eradication program unless government provides dollar-for-dollar funding. I use the generic term "government" to include the Federal Government and State governments.
If the Federal Government met its expected contribution of 25 per cent, this would amount to only $12.5 million over a 10-year period, that is, $1.25 million from the Federal Government per annum. This is a modest amount for a disease that the Government is trying to contain within New South Wales and ultimately to eradicate. It is important that the Federal Government supports the progressive eradication of ovine Johne’s disease in a clear and positive manner. The Federal Minister and all State Ministers were present at the ARMCANZ meeting, as, I understand, were representatives from New Zealand, which has been living with Johne’s disease for 30 years. The feeling at that meeting was very positively that the disease could be eradicated. The Federal Government should immediately contribute $12.5 million for financial assistance and operational expenditure. I am sure that the Opposition will ask what the State Government is doing about funding. I give an assurance that the matter is before Treasury, and the Government has not suggested that it will not meet its commitment to this program. All State governments should contribute and the Federal Government must make an equal commitment. This clearly signals that the Federal Government is prepared to act rather than just talk about the problem.
Only last night this matter was raised by the honourable member for Southern Highlands. She said that many farmers in her electorate had been suffering as a result of controls placed on their properties. Wool producers can still get wool from sheep that are not severely affected or send them to slaughter, but the farmers most seriously affected are the stud breeders. Though the honourable member for Southern Highlands indicated that I had not received advice from some people in her electorate,
I have received a deputation from stud breeders around the State and an organisation that briefed her also visited me in Sydney to discuss how the eradication program should be implemented. That organisation argued for a progressive program over an extended period to give industry an opportunity to put in place market assurance and other projects. This motion should be agreed to, to enable a resolution to be sent to the Federal Government and a response to be obtained. The Australian Animal Health Council has until the end of this month to report on the mechanics and the nuts and bolts of raising the industry levy. The Government is awaiting that advice and a commitment from the Federal Government that it will honour the pledge and positive spirit of the ARMCANZ meeting held in Darwin in August.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [3.27 p.m.]: Two principles must be strictly observed in this process. The first is that as Minister in charge of animal health in this State, the Minister for Agriculture, has to provide the money. He cannot move an urgent motion and then say that the matter of the commitment of New South Wales is before Treasury. The people of New South Wales believe Cabinet is in charge of their State and that it should be a simple matter for the Minister to present a minute to Cabinet. I am sure that 90 per cent of people would have thought he had already done that and received approval. The second essential principle is that full industry co-operation is necessary. This disease cannot be eradicated by groups or individuals in isolation. That brings me to the politics of this disease, be it professional politics of governments trying to make points off each other - State to Federal or State to State - or, more to the point, politics within the industry. I am pleased that the Minister referred to the stud industry because unarguably New South Wales has the cauldron on the fundamental genes of the fine wool industry in the world today. New South Wales fine wool sheep have the most significant and historically valuable genes in the world. Therefore, New South Wales has a different mission to other sheep countries when it tries to eradicate ovine Johne’s disease.
From time to time it is argued that other sheep countries have ovine Johne’s disease and have learnt to live with it. New South Wales has a cauldron of world-superior genetics, which cannot be replicated. It is a nonsense to talk about a major cloning operation involving a number of foundation studs in the case of an emergency. Every ewe would have to be cloned. The cloning of 5,000 ewes would cost at least $15 million and a clean property would have to be found. This is an impractical proposition so far as the concentration of family groupings and genetic space within the studs is concerned. We have to control and eradicate ovine Johne’s disease. As the Minister for Agriculture said, a number of flocks have been identified. However, few flocks have been identified subsequent to the initial identification. The Minister did not get off his proverbial butt and do something about this until the New South Wales Farmers Association and the rural lands protection boards put a plan together. Since the initial identification of ovine Johne’s disease, more flocks would have contracted it but farmers have not come forward.
The rumour and innuendo that are being circulated for commercial reasons from farmer to farmer and district to district have become rampant. Serious trade barriers have been applied to some people in the stud business. The New South Wales Government has displayed a lack of leadership; it has failed to understand the magnitude of the problem. Secondary trading embargoes have been imposed on some stud breeders; a rumour machine is running rampant; and many farmers are not prepared to have their sheep tested. Ovine Johne’s disease is difficult to test - one has to kill the sheep and test the lining of the gut. A blood test is approximately 95 per cent accurate on 40 per cent of the flock and a faeces test is only 50 per cent accurate. Over the past decade many flocks have been tested on a regular basis for internal parasite infections. The veterinary laboratories at Armidale and Wagga Wagga used to test for such parasites. However, since the closure of those laboratories the rate of testing in the New England area has fallen from 70 per cent to 20 per cent.
Mr Schultz: That is a disgrace.
Mr ARMSTRONG: Yes, it is. The Minister waited for his department to give him the answers. The disease has a long incubation period, and the long survival of the organism in the environment, the shedding of the organism by apparently normal but infected sheep, and the unreliability of diagnostic tests that detect the disease contribute to the difficulty of detection and control. The Minister’s motion is responsible and we respect it. However, we want to know why he has not shown leadership. He should take charge of what is essentially the leprosy of sheep in this State.
Some honourable members may question the value of the sheep industry to the New South Wales and Australian economies. I do not wish to get into the figures, but time and again the wool industry has been the catalyst for the revival of our economy. Despite the fact that returns for wool are somewhat
depressed, the industry is still the backbone of the rural economy west of the mountains in New South Wales. It is a reliable income earner year in and year out. The industry cannot lose its stock and then rebuild it in a short period of time; we cannot allow the base stock to disappear.
A compensation scheme has been developed for farmers whose flocks will be eradicated. They will have to spell their properties for up to 18 months, over two summers. I question what I understand to be the range of valuations that have been arrived at, particularly for stud ewes. Based on the current market for rams, cast for age ewes, and surplus 1½-year-old ewes, why are stud ewes not worth in the vicinity $600 a head? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question. One could do some simple mathematics on the back of a cigarette packet and work out the returns from ram, cast for age, and surplus 1½-year-old sales and auctions to see what the stud figure should be. The stud industry holds a paramount place in our economy that must be recognised. The Minister’s footprint to identify where and how widespread the disease is, is inadequate. Abattoirs have tested fewer 1,000 sheep. Why will the Minister not test across the State? He would then know how widespread the disease is. Why will he not establish a proper statewide footprint?
Mr McManus: He is doing that.
Mr ARMSTRONG: He has tested only a random sample. Honourable members from both sides of the House support the eradication of the disease. It is up to the Minister to listen to the industry, to appreciate the stud industry, to recognise that he has to stop the innuendo and the slander, to encourage people to come forward. [Time expired.]
Mr CLOUGH (Bathurst) [3.37 p.m.]: I am saddened, but not surprised, that the Leader of the National Party has made no reference to the failure of the Federal Government to assist New South Wales farmers to eradicate ovine Johne’s disease. I am equally saddened, but not surprised, that he did not support the motion of the Minister for Agriculture. Ovine Johne’s disease commenced in areas around my electorate on the central tablelands of New South Wales. I understand why farmers are trying to hide this disease - sheep are important to their livelihood. The Minister for Agriculture understands the necessity to do something about this disease, and a compensation fund has been established. However, it will not operate without the Federal Government’s involvement. The disease is prevalent in the colder areas of New South Wales, such as the central tablelands and highlands.
My constituents are committed to the eradication of the disease. Three or four months ago some of them paid their own way to New Zealand to study the New Zealand system. As the Leader of the National Party said, New Zealanders live with the disease because they cannot afford to eradicate it. The honourable member for Monaro was part of the deputation to New Zealand, which was led by Mr John Seaman. Unfortunately I was unable to be part of that delegation at that time.
The Bathurst Rural Lands Protection Board has an ongoing testing program. Urgent steps have to be taken to ensure that farmers are assisted to deal with the problem. This matter should not be the subject of argument between the State and Federal governments, and there should be no argument about availability of funds. The Federal Government has a greater responsibility than the State Government because this disease will make its way into the colder southern States. I understand the infection has spread as far as Flinders Island, off the coast of Tasmania.
If flocks are eradicated, farmers will have no income. Paddocks have to be left for at least two years in order to eliminate the virus. The effects of the virus will result in grave ramifications for the sheep industry in this country, and in particular in New South Wales. If sheep are removed from affected lands, cattle can be brought into the same area immediately because they are not affected by this strain of the disease. My constituents depend on all honourable members to support the motion. Very few of the farmers on whose behalf I speak today vote for me, but they recognise that I put their points of view in this place, as I am doing today.
Farmers are worried about the prospect that their flocks will be tested for ovine Johne’s disease and that they will be found to be infected. The only cure is eradication, but they receive no income from that. A reasonable compensation plan must be provided, to be divided equally between the producers on the one hand and the State and Federal governments on the other. I deplore the fact that the Federal Government has, in effect, failed the farming community in my area and in other areas by not making funds available for these most important programs. Ovine Johne’s disease is not a joke. It is one of the most important problems affecting farm life today.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [3.42 p.m.]: I thank the Minister for acknowledging what I said last night about ovine Johne’s disease in the southern highlands and the southern tablelands. It is important for those who have approached me in the
last year to know that at last the message is getting through. But I am concerned that he has missed the point slightly. Compensation is not the only solution to ovine Johne’s disease. It is uncertain what the State Government’s contribution would be. The Minister said today he has provided Treasury with a document, but that does not give me any joy because we all know Treasury is $500 million in the red this year.
I hope the Minister will argue assiduously for ovine Johne’s disease to be recognised in the budgetary process. As I said last night, the solution to ovine Johne’s disease involves a good deal of research and a tight and reliable method of eradication. My local producers know that until we are confident of the viability of the method we are using, we have no idea what the total financial implication will be. The figure is unknown because not enough is known about the disease or about the reliability of the method of eradication.
It is important for the Minister to recognise that he cannot avoid the State’s responsibilities on this issue. The Department of Agriculture has a pivotal role to play. The Minister is aware of some of the feedback I have received about lack of confidence in some of the research strategies that the department has recommended and followed. More research needs to be carried out into soil science and the causes of ovine Johne’s disease, and into what other vectors will spread it. A single animal test is needed, and we need to go beyond the department’s straitjacket of research. We need independent co-ordinators and researchers and we need to think outside the department’s envelope.
The Department of Agriculture is satisfied that testing which produces less than a 100 per cent result is fine, but anything less than 100 per cent OJD-free status is not all right for farmers. There is one rule for the department and one for farmers. It is the farmers and their families who pay. The stigma in regard to zoning proposals is that they will greatly affect the value of properties over time. The Minister recognises the impact of the disease on families, particularly on stud breeders who cannot continue to produce wool if their flocks are affected. Some people are relatively asset rich but are finding it difficult to hold things together.
I congratulate the Federal member for Hume and my colleagues the honourable member for Burrinjuck and the honourable member for Monaro, who have all shown great interest in and compassion about this problem. I also congratulate the staff of the member for Hume, some of whom wear a couple of different hats. One works with the Rural Lands Protection Board and others are farmers. They genuinely understand the problems and have all worked positively towards a solution. We are dealing with families, human situations, psychological problems and family break-ups. I congratulate all my colleagues on their approach to this matter.
I agree that this matter is urgent. I suspect it would not have been urgent if the Minister had taken more interest in it this time last year. I have made private members’ statements about the issue, as have some of my colleagues. I invite the Minister to visit the southern tablelands area at any time, alone and independent of the Department of Agriculture. Once he gets outside that fairly rigorous straitjacket he might begin to see some creative solutions to the problem. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter today. This issue is so important to me that I devoted my entire contribution on the Address-in-Reply to it. I hope some solution can be found to this problem.
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [3.47 p.m.]: I support the Minister again today on the issue of ovine Johne’s disease. I listened with interest last night to the contribution of the honourable member for Southern Highlands. Today she has reiterated some of the issues she raised last night. She said that the United States of America is ahead of Australia in research and that we should send people to the United States. That statement is false. This country leads research into this type of disease, and in fact the United States has called on Australian ministries for support and assistance in research. The honourable member is completely off the track with what she knows about ovine Johne’s disease.
She has called for 100 per cent accuracy in the tests. It is impossible to get 100 per cent accuracy. Has she not heard of false negatives in biological tests on human beings? A 100 per cent result cannot be achieved even for humans, yet she asks a mere Minister to achieve what medical science cannot achieve. That is absolutely ridiculous. Last night the honourable member mentioned that she was seeking a commitment for trace backs to be finished by 1 October. She said that this Government had made such a commitment. That is not true. The Government never made that commitment, simply because it was impossible to achieve it: it could not be done. I do not know why the honourable member even raised the matter.
The Federal Government is getting cold feet on this issue. The New South Wales Government is keen to see a speedy eradication of this disease, but the Federal Government will not bite the bullet and
make the same commitment that this Minister has made. When this Government came to office, what did it find in the bottom drawer? The Minister found ovine Johne’s disease, the helix cotton trash issue, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the Sydney Market Authority and the issue concerning the rural lands protection boards. All those things were in the bottom drawer. When the former Government was in office it did nothing about those issues, yet Opposition members have the hide to abuse people on this side of the Chamber when they are trying to defend the farmers in this State. The former Government had an opportunity to do something about those issues, but it did not. I cannot believe the number of untruths that Opposition members have told in relation to these issues. Even the farming community does not believe them.
Ovine Johne’s disease is a chronic intestinal disorder caused by a tuberculosis-like bacteria. Once introduced, it spreads slowly through flocks and causes mortality in 2 to 5 per cent of adult sheep. Ovine Johne’s disease is serious. I do not believe that Opposition members should knock this Government and this Minister who are desperately trying to achieve something. If we prolong any further research into ovine Johne’s disease and it delays the start of the eradication program I guarantee that it will get out of hand. We must act immediately; we do not have any time to spare. That is why the Minister dragged this issue out of the bottom drawer and that is why he has taken the action that he has. If Opposition members want to do something to help they should get hold of John Howard and make him understand that this Minister is keen to ensure that the farmers are protected. The Minister is prepared to put money into the joint research program or any other Federal Government program but he is up against a brick wall in Canberra. Opposition members should accept the fact that the Federal Government is causing the problem. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on their efforts in this area.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [3.52 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Southern Highlands, the honourable member for Bathurst and the honourable member for Bulli for their contributions to the debate. If all honourable members agree to this motion in a non-political sense it will send a message to Canberra that we want the Federal Government to respond to the concerns being expressed by people in rural New South Wales, by departmental officers and by veterinarians. The Federal Government appears to be reluctant to commit itself to a program which it agreed to on 8 August 1997. That is the reason for this motion. I will refer to a number of matters raised earlier by various honourable members. The Leader of the National Party, who was having a bit of fun, said that I should get off my proverbial backside and do something about ovine Johne’s disease. The honourable member for Bathurst and the honourable member for Bulli have already pointed out that I am the only Minister for Agriculture in the history of New South Wales to have said so much about ovine Johne’s disease. The Leader of the National Party is a former Minister for Agriculture. I understand that in 1991 he decreed that this issue should only be monitored.
All honourable members would be aware that since 1991 the spread of the disease has been quite dramatic. The disease was first detected in New South Wales in 1981, but by about 1989 the industry became concerned about the fact that sheep on 100 properties were affected. When this Government came to office it decided to work with the industry to determine the extent of the problem and to find some solutions. We can all have a bit of fun and point the finger and ask what party has done the most to resolve this issue. It is this Labor Government that has the runs on the board. The honourable member for Bulli said earlier that this is one of the matters that was pulled out of the bottom drawer. Those Opposition members who contributed to the debate said the matter has been referred to Treasury. I have placed before Treasury a submission to enable it to determine where money for this project will come from. The matter has also been referred to the Cabinet budget committee. I have been informed by my office that there are no problems with the money being allocated by the State Government. However, we are waiting on the Federal Government to give us a more accurate estimate of the cost of the project. The National Health and Medical Research Council is also doing some work in this area.
There is no lack of commitment by the State Government, whether it be the Cabinet budget committee, my office or the Premier, to the funding of this project. It appears that the Federal Minister, Mr Anderson, is hedging in relation to the agreement reached between him and other State Ministers. The Leader of the National Party referred earlier to the ELISA blood test and the accuracy of post mortems. Those are some of the problems to be resolved when addressing the issue of ovine Johne’s disease. The science of the disease, the cures for the disease and the methods of testing are still in their infancy. Only now are we getting reasonable success rates when we use the ELISA test. I strongly reject - and I hope anyone interested in this issue also strongly rejects - any suggestion that New
South Wales is not keeping abreast of research that is being carried out in this area.
New Zealand has been conducting research into this disease for 30 or 40 years so one would expect it to be one of the top researchers in the world. However, other countries come to New South Wales for advice as it is regarded as a leader in research into ovine Johne’s disease, the methods of testing and its long-term eradication. I reject out of hand the suggestion that New South Wales is dragging the chain on this issue. The honourable member for Bulli was right. The testing for any disease is not 100 per cent accurate, but we want to improve. We are certainly doing a lot of work in this area. This Government established a centre of excellence for sheep diseases at Orange. Before April 1995 very little research was being done. I thank all honourable members for their support for this motion. I hope we obtain an appropriate response from the Federal Minister as a result of this debate.
Motion agreed to.
DRUG MISUSE AND TRAFFICKING AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs), on behalf of Mr Whelan [3.59 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to introduce on behalf of the Government the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment Bill. The principle of harm minimisation has been adopted as an objective of the national drugs strategy. Recently that principle has been affirmed by the final report of the Wood Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service. It is opportune at this time to reaffirm the commitments of this Government to policies that support the principle of harm minimisation. In many ways this bill stands apart from those issues relating to drug law that generate controversy. It does not, and does not purport to, represent a departure from present laws that prohibit the use of drugs. Rather, it introduces a reform that impacts only on the question of sentencing of offenders.
The primary effect of the bill will be to remove the penalty of imprisonment for those offences under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act that relate to the personal use and possession of small quantities of cannabis. "Small quantity" is defined by the Act to be in the case of cannabis leaf not more than 30 grams, and in the case of cannabis plants not more than five plants. Over recent years, statistics from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research have shown that custodial sentences for such offences have already largely been rejected by judicial officers in the Local Court as inappropriate to the nature of the offence. In simple terms, that means that magistrates have taken the view that while the conduct in question is illegal, the level of criminality involved in such offences is sufficiently low that it would be improper to punish it by way of gaol. The bill reinforces that view.
The removal of the most serious criminal punishment for the least serious category of offences, as is proposed, represents an appropriately moderate step in bringing the law into line with community expectations. This point brings us back to what the Government believes is the real issue: harm minimisation. Imprisonment is a harmful experience. It is well recognised that prisons are dangerous and disturbing places to be. Young people, and naive offenders in general, are particularly vulnerable in prisons. The prison environment brings naive offenders into contact with more hardened criminals. It is widely contended that that experience can be significant in leading naive offenders into further criminal activity. For these and other reasons, it has become an established principle of sentencing law in this State that imprisonment should be a form of punishment used only as a last resort. It takes on particular significance when it is considered that most cannabis use is by people under the age of 25 years. The financial costs to the community of imprisonment are well documented. Having regard to the foregoing issues, the present proposals will bring about a clear harm reduction.
I turn now to the details of the bill. Item  of schedule 1 relates only to offences involving the possession or cultivation of not more than five cannabis plants. Its effect is to ensure that such offences will always be dealt with summarily. At present, though these offences may, in theory, be dealt with on indictment, that occurs only infrequently. Item  may be thought of as the central item in schedule 1. That item amends section 21 of the Act, which is the section that specifies penalty levels for wholly summary offences under the Act. The effect of the amendment is to remove the existing gaol penalties for the possession or cultivation of a small quantity of cannabis, as well as for offences involving water pipes or the use of
cannabis. Nothing in the bill reduces the maximum fines that may be imposed for any of these offences when they are disposed of summarily. Items  through to  effect consequential or tidying amendments. Schedule 2 concerns matters of a transitional nature, and is unremarkable.
I hope that the following will be abundantly clear, both to members of this House and to members of the community. The cultivation, possession and use of small quantities of cannabis remains illegal. Any person who does those things will still be liable to arrest, will still be liable to substantial fines, and will still be liable to the stain of criminal conviction. None of that has changed. What has changed is that a disproportionate penalty, which does little good and in fact has the potential to cause substantial harm, is being removed. In undertaking these reforms, the Government is proceeding prudently. The Government has not acted to decriminalise the offences in question because it is currently unclear what the effect of that step has been in other Australian jurisdictions where it has been tried. In the meantime, the Government’s reforms will help to keep the law in step with community expectations and ensure that respect for the law is maintained. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Small.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE PROPOSED DUPLICATION OF NORTH HEAD SEWERAGE TUNNEL
Mr SPEAKER: I report the receipt of the following message from the Legislative Council:
The Legislative Council having on Wednesday 24 September 1997 appointed a Select Committee on the Proposed Duplication of North Head Sewerage Tunnel and that committee wishing to examine certain members of the Legislative Assembly, requests that the Legislative Assembly will give leave to its members to appear before and give evidence to the select committee on such day or days as arranged between them and the committee.
Legislative Council Max Willis
Motion, by leave, by Dr Refshauge agreed to:
16 October 1997 President
That this House, having had under consideration the request of the Legislative Council message of 16 October 1997, gives leave to members of the Legislative Assembly to appear before and give evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Proposed Duplication of North Head Sewerage Tunnel.
Message sent to the Legislative Council advising it of the resolution.
GOVERNOR’S SPEECH: ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
Seventh Day’s Debate
Suspension of standing and sessional orders agreed to.
Debate resumed from 15 October.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [4.06 p.m.]: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Address-in-Reply debate to the Speech given by His Excellency, the Hon. Gordon Samuels, on the occasion of the opening of the spring session of Parliament. To my delight, last year His Excellency and Mrs Samuels undertook a three-day tour of my electorate and met many constituents.
I would like to refer also to the great sadness felt on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. On 29 August I flew to London under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, arriving there at 5.30 a.m. on Monday, 1 September, the day after Diana had been killed in a tragic motor accident. During the following week my wife, Judy, and I experienced the feelings of loss and sadness of the London people. They were stunned, as were people right around the world. I went to Buckingham Palace and saw huge crowds, not to mention the flowers and messages. At Kensington Palace acres of wreaths of flowers, messages, and candles were laid to a depth of some five feet. It was incredible. We had not seen anything like this before and probably never will again. Diana, Princess of Wales, was very popular and the world was in mourning.
As I stated before, when I was in London at the time of Diana’s death I witnessed the unbelievable feeling of grief over Diana's death among my wife’s relatives and everybody else in Britain. I am honoured and proud to be a member of this State Parliament. As a resident of Australia from a country area of New South Wales where there is plenty of space I appreciate our excellent environment. We have really good education. There are difficulties with health but one appreciates how lucky Australians are when one sees the crowded conditions other people around the world experience.
As a member of the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety I have been able to look at what can be done to save lives on the roads. A reason I was overseas at the time of Diana’s death was to attend to Staysafe commitments. In 1982 New South
Wales introduced compulsory wearing of seat belts. Diana’s bodyguard was the only one wearing a seat belt and he survived. That must give the strongest message to everybody around the world. Staysafe has taken positive steps. Whilst European countries have laws against drink-driving and have speed limits, the laws are not policed in the same way that they are in Australia. Many people in Australia probably wish the police to Jericho but on reflection they would admit that they are doing a good job in saving lives.
In my speech on the Address-in-Reply I wish to speak about some of the concerns within the Murray electorate. There are environmental problems in relation to water needs and water management. This country has experienced a wonderful growth period in harnessing river storages for electrical power generation and agricultural production. National Party members, Liberal Party members and one Labor Party member who forthrightly represents a country region of New South Wales appreciate that development and growth. Many people say that in some areas over the last 200 years since white settlement of Australia we have been irresponsible. Maybe that is true, but on the other hand as a young nation of only 18 million people we are very well off.
Thank goodness we are doing the right things environmentally to enhance our rivers and our land. Visiting other areas of the world makes Australians appreciate what is happening here and how lucky we are. Following drought conditions we are short on water this year and there will be a large loss of agricultural production. That will be felt by rural towns, particularly in my electorate. Land and water management plans, local government involvement, the Department of Land and Water Conservation, the environment department, New South Wales Forests, the Western Lands Commission and the National Parks and Wildlife Service all have an important part to play.
In the last three weeks there have been three land claims of a massive area covering the Riverina and the western part of New South Wales. Two or three years ago there was a claim by the Yorta Yorta tribe. The recent claims are causing genuine concern, dividing the Aboriginal people and the communities. I would like the matter resolved. I hope the Federal Government can enact legislation so that people understand the situation following the Wik case. It is important that there be a sunset clause so that after a certain time no further claims may be lodged. There must be policy direction because unfortunately there are some selfish and greedy people, who are not necessarily black, making claims on behalf of the Aboriginal people. I believe they are driven by money and involvement in the legal system.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS
BARK HUTTS RESERVE PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT
Mr MOSS (Canterbury) [4.15 p.m.]: Strathfield Municipal Council has received a $77,400 section 94 contribution from the Department of Housing in connection with a recent public housing development which is adjacent to a public reserve within my electorate, namely, Bark Hutts Reserve. The housing development is a very large one for the built-up electorate of Canterbury. It involves 31 dwellings, hence the reason for such a large section 94 contribution. Approximately 30 children aged between two and 16 years are living in the new dwellings. I am informed that 14 of the dwellings are pensioner units. A number of the pensioners in the units are visited by their grandchildren. At weekends there would be more than 30 children at the site.
Public housing residents in the area are well aware of the section 94 contribution that has been allocated. They are anxious that playground equipment be provided in the adjacent Bark Hutts Reserve. However, in spite of the efforts of the three Labor councillors on Strathfield council, together with one other councillor, Strathfield council appears to have dug its heels in by not complying with the wishes of the local residents. In fact, the council’s role in the whole issue has been somewhat shoddy right from the beginning. At a council meeting on 5 August this year it was stated that the council had not yet received its contribution of $77,400. Later in the month I made inquiries and was advised that the funds had been sent to Strathfield council in November 1996. Strathfield council has now admitted that it did receive the money then but that it was misplaced.
Council originally resolved that no equipment at all would be set up in the park. However, the position has changed somewhat since then. The council has stated it will put some new equipment in but nowhere near the new housing development, which is unacceptable to the residents of the public housing site. Apart from the fact that the new development is to be nowhere near the houses
themselves, the area that the council has chosen for installation of the equipment is somewhat isolated. I am informed that the site attracts certain practices that children should not be exposed to. A local councillor has informed me that on a number of occasions condoms and syringes have been found in the area in which the council proposes to put playground equipment.
The residents definitely feel entitled to this equipment. I know that section 94 contributions cannot be spent on facilities that are great distances from where the contribution was derived, but in this case I feel the true spirit of such contributions should apply, that is, the money should be spent to directly benefit and complement the contributing development. From a geographical and economic point of view it makes sense to put the playground equipment where the residents want it. Bark Hutts Reserve does have playing fields. The residents have suggested that the playground be installed away from the playing fields but nevertheless near their homes. Of the $77,400 contribution it was stipulated that $73,260 be spent for open space purposes. What could comply more with open space purposes than playground equipment?
I raise this matter this evening to suggest that the Minister for Local Government ensure that Strathfield Council and local government generally comply with the provisions of section 94 in relation to contributions and to alert the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning because he has responsibility for allocating such contributions. I feel the Minister should intervene in this matter with a view to ensuring that my constituents in this new housing development in Strathfield are properly compensated by section 94 contributions.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.20 p.m.]: I note what the honourable member for Canterbury said about Strathfield council and its dealings with section 94 moneys that were meant for housing development by the Department of Housing in that municipality. It is true, as the honourable member for Canterbury said, that section 94 contributions are quite often used in a cavalier way by councils. The fact that the money was given over in 1996 and the council came up with a paltry excuse that the money was missing or misplaced suggests to me, and should suggest to the Minister for Local Government, that we should look at the council’s competency to administer the municipality.
The honourable member for Canterbury, with his enormous experience in local government, would know better than anyone that this was quite a contemptuous act by the council. The Minister for Housing should have that brought to his knowledge not only in that capacity but also in his capacity as the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, as should the Minister for Local Government. The fact is that for some councils, the way they see the social mix, it would not be fitting for people occupying Department of Housing homes to enjoy amenities such as those enjoyed by more affluent people in other parts of the Strathfield municipality. The honourable member for Canterbury should be commended for his sincerity and his considerable experience in looking after his constituents. I will undertake to refer the matter urgently to the Minister for Housing in his capacity as the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and to the Minister for Local Government.
THORNLEIGH BIOREMEDIATION FACILITY
Mr O’FARRELL (Northcott) [4.22 p.m.]: I have previously spoken in this place about Hornsby Shire Council’s dealings over a now defunct proposal to build a green waste bioremediation facility on the old Thornleigh tip site. Those speeches in September and December 1995 and September last year documented the various stages of this whole sorry saga. The latest stage of this affair occurred last week when the New South Wales Ombudsman issued a report on council’s financial dealings over the proposed bioremediation facility. I thank the Minister for Local Government for his efforts in ensuring that I speedily received a copy of the Ombudsman’s report. I hope he and his department exercise the same speed in implementing the changes sought in that report - a speed and interest which were sadly absent when I raised the issue with his department in 1995.
All Hornsby ratepayers should be horrified at the content of the Ombudsman’s report. The report documented a shocking standard of neglect of ratepayers’ funds invested in this project. It essentially confirmed the fears of residents about the bioremediation financing deal. The report also contains issues which should concern ratepayers in all councils across New South Wales. While principally concerned with my own local government area, I fear that the poor practices in Hornsby are reflected in other councils. I am concerned that the State Auditor-General is prevented from ensuring better financial practices
and greater accountability in local government. The Auditor-General is barred by legislation from delving into local government issues. He must wait to be asked - and, not surprisingly, his dance card is empty.
In relation to Hornsby’s bioremediation fiasco, a simple review by the Auditor-General in 1995 would have discovered the problems which have been subsequently unearthed by the Ombudsman. Thousands of dollars would have been saved. I favour amending the Audit Act to increase the Auditor-General’s powers. It would be wrong to leave Hornsby ratepayers with the impression that all is still rotten with council’s financial systems. I commend Mayor John Muirhead and council’s manager of financial services, Ken Burchell, for making the positive changes detailed at length in the Ombudsman’s report. I also commend the Normanhurst and Thornleigh residents for their determination and persistence in this matter. They deserve the praise and gratitude of all Hornsby ratepayers. Despite pressure from council - from both councillors and staff - despite threats of, and in one case actual legal action, the residents would not be silenced. They could not be diverted from their efforts to get to the bottom of this sorry affair. Last year they achieved a great victory in the Land and Environment Court. This year, following the Ombudsman’s report, they have achieved another victory.
I also place on record my appreciation and respect for Councillor William Blunt. The Ombudsman’s inquiry only eventuated because of his actions. Councillor Blunt took the residents’ fight into the council chamber and he convinced the Ombudsman to investigate. Like the residents, he would not be silenced, no matter how loudly some councillors or senior staff shouted. He acted without any concern for his political future. The Ombudsman’s report is a vindication of Councillor Blunt’s concerns about bioremediation. It also gives support to his long-held views about Hornsby council’s financial practices. I hope that those with honour, amongst both staff and councillors, will now acknowledge the service Councillor Blunt has provided to the shire over this matter.
Ratepayers across Hornsby shire will be drawing their own conclusions from local reporting of the Ombudsman’s report. Having read the report and viewed council’s actions to date, I, as a local member of Parliament and a local ratepayer, have drawn my own conclusion. My main conclusion is that council’s general manager must resign. He must go, and to my mind go quickly. In the Ombudsman’s words he has "failed to exercise due care and diligence expected of a responsible general manager" in this affair. To my mind, as chief executive he has no alternative but to go. If he will not go voluntarily, council should make the decision for him. My only hesitation about the latter course is that ratepayers should be protected from a large compensation payment. They have paid enough in this sorry saga.
I was appalled to learn last week that the general manager had been asked by council - against the wishes of the mayor and Councillors Blunt and Orr - to head up a committee to prepare a report on the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations. That move lacks any semblance of impartiality, and I note that both Northcompass and the Dural District Progress Association have expressed their concern. Council’s decision is akin to asking an accused person to prepare the case for his own prosecution. I cannot fathom what motivated those councillors who proposed, and supported, such a proposition. I was further appalled at last night’s antics. Councillor Muirhead succeeded in ensuring that independent advice, and not the general manager’s, would be sought on the Ombudsman’s report. A rescission motion was then tabled. Some who support that motion do so naively, not fully understanding the ramifications of the issues involved. The same cannot be said of the person who seems happy to take on the mantle of chief defender of the abuse and failings in council’s financial systems and practices.
Councillor McMurray is continuing the destructive, dangerous and damaging path she has followed for some time on council. She should wake up and open her eyes to the enormity of the Ombudsman’s findings. She should stand up for ratepayers and support greater accountability. She should side with those who want to ensure this sorry saga can never be repeated. Ratepayers want some good to come out of this matter. They want the efforts of Councillors Muirhead, Blunt, Orr and Pringle supported.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.27 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Northcott for his contribution. Obviously Hornsby residents have considerable concerns about the bioremediation fiasco, as he says, and the subsequent issuing of the Ombudsman’s report. No doubt the Minister for Local Government will have a close look at the matter in light of that. I cannot but agree with the honourable member that lessons can probably be learned from what has occurred.
GLENDALE REGIONAL ATHLETICS FACILITY
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [4.28 p.m.]: I wish to speak this afternoon about the Glendale regional athletics facility proposed to be built at Glendale in the Wallsend electorate. By way of introduction I go back to four years ago when, with the leadership of my colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing, who was then the shadow minister for sport and recreation, Labor members of Parliament in the Hunter region met to discuss a pressing need. Despite the Hunter region sharing in sport and recreation grants over many years since they were introduced by my late predecessor, Mr Ken Booth, nevertheless there was a lack of high-quality, large regional facilities of the kind one expects in Sydney. However, in regional areas such as the Hunter and other smaller areas of New South Wales funds are often unavailable.
It was agreed that the proposal should proceed in a manner similar to that adopted in the Illawarra, where members in a group of electorates pool their sport and recreation grants and work in co-operation with local government to obtain sufficient funds to build reasonably large facilities of regional significance. With that background the Hunter region members of Parliament visited Wollongong and inspected its facilities, along with the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, sporting representatives from departments and other sporting bodies in the Hunter region and local government representatives from Newcastle City Council and Lake Macquarie City Council.
We returned and discussed the possibilities. The Department of Sport and Recreation identified the most urgent need as being a high-quality athletics track. This proposal received priority because the Hunter region, including the Hunter Valley and almost to Tamworth at the top of the range, has more than double the number of registered athletes per capita compared to the rest of New South Wales. No decent track was available; the old track was more than 30 years old, had potholes, was dangerous to run on and was on a small site in the middle of Newcastle city.
Local government, in co-operation with local members, agreed that Glendale was the best site. The land was becoming vacant as the former railway workshops at Cardiff were closing in 1992. Following agreement with members of Parliament and local government, land was sought from the State Rail Authority. There was no joy under the former Government but the Labor Government agreed to set up an arrangement for 11 hectares to be sold for $1 to Lake Macquarie City Council to build the facility and the remainder of the land was to be rezoned to allow State Rail to make best use of possibilities for development of that land. This has been proceeding. Contamination became an issue and a series of delays occurred because council did not as yet own the land and the new use of the land required rezoning.
As the process continued and got closer to finality, 5½ weeks ago the council raised concerns that concurrence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service over the threatened species Tetratheca juncea, a species that occurs almost exclusively in the Lake Macquarie area, was becoming a difficult issue. Further delays were envisaged and these were of concern to members of Parliament and council. The local members of Parliament met and agreed that the time had come to reach a decision that if the Glendale site was not viable because of ongoing delays, another site should be chosen, otherwise a track would not be built in time for the Olympics. As with other regions, the Hunter region has made great efforts to attract visiting teams in the pre-Olympic period to use its facilities. For the benefit of the athletes we needed to do something.
It was agreed that the time had come to look at other sites. Councillor Brewster, the only Liberal councillor on Lake Macquarie City Council, introduced a red herring by suggesting that State Labor members were seeking to move sport and recreation money away from the region down to the Olympic site. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Glendale was not suitable, another site would be chosen to build a top-quality regional athletics facility. We renewed our commitment to building a track and Glendale was the preferred site because of its geographic location.
Today a meeting was held with the Lake Macquarie mayor and council officers, National Parks and Wildlife Service officers, the Premier’s department regional co-ordinator for the Hunter and five members of Parliament, including my colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing. The meeting was positive and time frames were given. Next Monday night a mayoral minute will be moved for council to respond to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has undertaken to respond in seven days. I look forward to the resolution of what should be the final delay to the project.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the
Premier on Hunter Development) [4.33 p.m.]: The contribution of the honourable member for Wallsend will finally conclude this four-year saga. Local Labor members of Parliament, not members of other political persuasions, decided that despite criticism they would pool money for the provision of regional facilities. Three weeks ago I forcefully said that though I was not attributing blame to the Lake Macquarie City Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, something had to be done, and the meeting today has proved that. If a conclusion is reached, it has all been worthwhile.
I wish to put on the record, following the outburst of the Hon. D. J. Gay in another place, that I never threatened anyone. All I said was that there needed to be alternative sites if the delays continued. It was not the scenario outlined by the Hon. D. J. Gay and it did not involve a threat. His scenario used the formula applied by some journalists who say, "Make it short, make it juicy and make it up." The facility needs to be built and I said that money will be removed from that site to another site so it can be built. If the worst scenario happens, the money will be returned and honourable members will be able to use those funds for their own electorate. Obviously poor old Duncan gets the dunce’s cap for using in Parliament today an article dated 26 September as just another red herring. The members want the track built. It is to the credit of the honourable member for Wallsend, because he has pursued this matter almost daily, and the mayor, Alderman Kilpatrick, who helped this matter reach its final conclusion. I hope the site will be used to the benefit of the people of the Hunter, and we can do without Duncan's help.
PORT MACQUARIE STREETREACH PROGRAM
Mr OAKESHOTT (Port Macquarie) [4.35 p.m.]: I wish to speak about an important local community service in Port Macquarie that plays a vital role in helping people in our community, particularly young people. I refer to the Streetreach service that does tremendous and tireless work throughout the Port Macquarie community. Streetreach is a program operated by volunteers from the Christian Outreach Centre at Port Macquarie. From its inception approximately four years ago Streetreach has grown to become an important part of the Port Macquarie community, and has helped many people in a multitude of ways during this time.
Streetreach primarily exists to provide assistance in whatever ways may be necessary to people on the streets of Port Macquarie at night. This help has been in the way of hot cups of tea, coffee and Milo, doughnuts, cakes, soup, transport home, overnight accommodation, a simple chat and even on-the-spot first aid. The Streetreach van is a welcome sight to those in need and has become very popular within the community. Streetreach is a voluntary organisation and does not ask for donations. Every service it provides is free of charge. Its concept is to provide a positive contribution to the welfare of the people of Port Macquarie. What makes their work much more remarkable is that they choose to do their work voluntarily on Friday and Saturday nights, which is not only a time when those running the program may like to relax, but also statistically the most dangerous time to be on the streets anywhere in New South Wales.
I should like to make special mention of a couple of local unsung heroes who run the Streetreach program. Bob and Sharon Waldron both give selflessly of their time. Whilst they say they do it because they enjoy it, they provide a listening ear to anyone who wants to talk, a shoulder to lean on for the lost and wayward, and guidance and direction for the young. They are true servants of the community and of their faith. Through the positive actions of Bob and Sharon, the Streetreach service has become a well-known and well-respected organisation in Port Macquarie and they can rest assured that they are making a difference.
On 22 August I had the pleasure of spending a night on the road with Bob and Sharon. They picked me up at about 9.00 p.m. and in the ensuing 4½ hours I saw many things. I saw a group of young adults having a party down at Flynns Beach. They had just had a seance and wandered the streets drinking. Unfortunately, one passed out, having drunk too much. I saw a group of young men wander onto the town green stoned, hang around for an hour without talking to each other and then get a lift home with Streetreach. I have been told they are regulars. I saw many people talk to the volunteers and they appreciated a doughnut and coffee away from the noise of a nightclub, and perhaps even away from the pressure of friends. I went out with Streetreach somewhat sceptical of the reception it would receive in the community at night. However, I went home convinced that it is a vital service for the protection of the social fabric of Port Macquarie.
The Streetreach van is in an awful condition - everything is rusted and old. With all due respect to Bob and Sharon, I do not know how that van is on the road today - it is running on nothing but good
spirit. Streetreach Port Macquarie desperately needs a new van and we will pursue a number of options to try to get a new van. First, we will solicit the backing of the Minister for Gaming and Racing to support an application to the Casino Community Benefit Fund in the hope that a Streetreach van falls within the funds guidelines for providing assistance. Secondly, I will send a copy of this speech to welfare groups, media outlets and business houses and ask for any support they can supply. Streetreach Port Macquarie has established itself as a well-known and well-respected community organisation. I have been on the road with it and I can vouch for its effectiveness and integrity. But it is in desperate need of a new van and I ask the Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Premier, welfare groups, media outlets and business houses to do anything in their power to provide one. In doing so, they will protect the service and allow it to flourish.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.40 p.m.]: I inform the honourable member for Port Macquarie that I am unable to support specific projects, which my predecessor the Hon. Anne Cohen chose to do. I changed that policy on coming to Government because I did not want political interference or pork-barrelling in these sorts of matters, such as we have seen in Victoria. I commend the honourable member for his concern and I suggest he apply to the Casino Community Benefit Fund for this worthwhile program. The fund trustees make the final decision. This week the trustees approved 15 new projects, most relating to the counselling and treatment of people addicted to gambling. For some time I have tried to get through to the Leader of the Opposition - he has difficulty comprehending - that the money in this fund is made available to many worthwhile projects, similar to the one that the honourable member described today. The Leader of the Opposition is out of step with people, such as the honourable member for Port Macquarie, who realise that there is a need for these projects. But the money will not remain there indefinitely for non-gambling related problems.
I will make the appropriate forms available to the honourable member. The trustees decide whether an application meets the objectives of the Casino Community Benefit Fund and each project is assessed against specific predetermined criteria. The projects are submitted to the 11 trustees for consideration and I sign off the recommendation. The projects are wide-ranging. Money has been made available to the 15 new organisations that counsel and treat gamblers, which is the major purpose of the fund. There will not be another round of funding for a while because new grants have just been announced. Though the trustees will make the final decision, based on what the honourable member has said, Streetreach Port Macquarie would probably meet the criteria. [Time expired.]
CABRAMATTA COMMUNITY INITIATIVES
Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta) [4.42 p.m.]: I congratulate the State Government and Fairfield City Council on the progress of the Cabramatta cares project. A few weeks ago the Minister for Local Government and the mayor of Fairfield City Council officially launched the Cabramatta cares project at Freedom Plaza, in the middle of Cabramatta’s shopping district. The project is jointly funded by local and State governments in a partnership that has prioritised the interests of our local community. It is one of several recent initiatives conducted by the State Government in partnership with the local community in a concerted effort to reclaim Cabramatta for its honest and hard-working residents.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Cabramatta was a thriving multicultural commercial centre. But over the past few years the public’s perception has changed because drug dealers and users have spoilt what was once a great place to live, shop and experience a diverse range of cultures. However, I am glad and proud to say that this scourge has been dealt a significant blow in recent months. Unlike its predecessors, this Government has delivered on its commitment and responsibility to the people of Cabramatta. Unlike its predecessors, it has not turned a blind eye to the heroin problem that blighted the streets of Cabramatta and turned a thriving suburb into a haven for illicit drugs and crime. Thanks to the commitment and co-operation of the Carr Labor Government and Fairfield City Council, the tide has finally turned against the heroin problem in Cabramatta. The streets and the train station are cleaner and safer - and this is just the beginning.
The success of Operation Puccini has sent a clear message to those who trade in illicit drugs: they are not welcome in Cabramatta. The recent appointment of the Cabramatta project co-ordinator, Helen Boyton, will mean that problems facing Cabramatta will be addressed effectively by co-ordinated action on the part of State Government departments in co-operation with Fairfield City Council. I commend the substantial commitment that Fairfield City Council is making to the restoration of Cabramatta. The council has appointed a full-time
co-ordinator, Brian Long, to work closely with the Government and oversee the council’s efforts in the Cabramatta cares project. In the past few months there has been a dramatic facelift on the streets of Cabramatta through the combined efforts of the police and council’s maintenance, waste management and cleaning staff.
As well as dramatic improvements in law enforcement, other recently announced State Government initiatives include the establishment of a $1.3 million specialist drug rehabilitation centre, a $100,000 area assistance scheme funded through the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, initiatives to address court delays at Fairfield Local Court, and a community clean up hotline to address pollution from used syringes. Through the South Western Sydney Area Health Service, the Government plays a major role with the Fairfield health forum, a partnership of community groups, residents and Fairfield City Council. As part of the Cabramatta cares project, the Fairfield health forum is organising the Cabramatta clean up day on Sunday, 19 October.
Modelled on the successful clean up Australia campaign, the day will incorporate a number of different activities and involve a broad cross-section of the community as well as businesses, community groups and government agencies with an interest in Cabramatta. It will be an opportunity for the Cabramatta community to come together to clean up the area, to celebrate its assets and to decide what needs to be set in place to ensure that the area remains safe and clean for residents, workers and visitors. The morning will be devoted to clean-up activities and the afternoon to information stalls and festival events. A detailed safety audit of the Cabramatta central business district will also be conducted and involve local residents in their own neighbourhood. The clean up day, Operation Puccini II, the station refurbishment and many other State Government initiatives and contributions indicate that the Carr Labor Government cares about Cabramatta.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.47 p.m.]: I congratulate the honourable member for Cabramatta on her continuing support of her electorate, especially during the past 12 months. She has had her share of problems. In a recent visit to Canley Vale in her electorate I could see the changes as a result of the facelift of Cabramatta and other locations within the Fairfield City Council area. The council, along with the police, has taken a variety of measures to make the area better for its residents. Immense problems have been thrust on that area over the past few years, and I wish the honourable member well in her endeavours on behalf of the community. It was obvious from my visit that she is extremely familiar with her electorate and is very much an on-the-ground member. I congratulate her on her efforts.
MURRAY ELECTORATE WATER ALLOCATIONS
Mr SMALL (Murray) [4.48 p.m.]: I refer to the Murray River water shortage and the serious effect it is having on my electorate. Irrigators throughout the electorate currently receive only a 72 per cent water allocation. The shortage of water this year will have an adverse effect on farmers and their livelihood. I had hoped the Minister for Land and Water Conservation would be present in the House to hear what I have to say and to investigate the matters I raise. The reduced allocation results from the release last year of approximately 1 million megalitres of water from the Hume Dam because of movement of the dam wall. That has caused a critical situation. If that water were still available irrigators would not be in such a bad position.
A water allocation of only 72 per cent means that millions of dollars will be lost to the area. My recommendation is that assistance be sought from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, which could release 300,000 megalitres of water currently held in storage. That water would generate electricity and it would also provide sufficient flows of water to the area. The provision of 300,000 megalitres of water would result in approximately $100 million in agricultural production. Releasing water for that purpose would probably be more useful than using it for power generation purposes, but it could work both ways. Within the State forests in my electorate, the red gum forests of the Milawa group, irrigators agreed to a 50,000 megalitre enhancement for irrigation water, to which they are entitled, to help flood the red gum forests in that region. When the water was released from the dam last year the Milawa and Barmah group of forests in Victoria received a good flooding. In addition there had been a prior flood.
As ideally these forests need be flooded only every second year, I suggest that if the Minister and the water authority could agree to divert that 50,000 megalitres of water for irrigation this year it would be a bonus for agricultural food production. Rice is currently being planted, and it has to be in by late October to early November. Farmers are efficient
and have extra land ready to plant should improved water allocations be made. It is critical that the allocation be increased, preferably to 100 per cent. Cereal crops also need extra water, as does pasture growth for stock requirements. It is absolutely essential that landowners and those in local communities and towns have security of employment, food and clothing. I ask the Minister for Land and Water Conservation and the Minister for Energy to consider the points I have raised in an endeavour to assist irrigators. My requests are fair and would help to keep irrigation farmers viable, help to maintain employment, and produce extra food and fibre for our nation.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.53 p.m.]: The provision of water is paramount in the electorate of the honourable member. I will refer the matters he has raised to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation.
Mr IEMMA (Hurstville) [4.54 p.m.]: Once again I bring to the attention of the House a serious matter relating to two police officers about whom I have made four other speeches in this House: Detective Sergeant John Edlund and Detective Mat Casey. Further to the remarks I made on 29 May this year I wish to add details of the most recent developments against Detective Edlund. Sergeant Edlund has raised further allegations of victimisation of him by senior officers of the New South Wales Police Service. The latest allegation relates to the possibility that a senior officer at the Goulburn Police Academy - part of the team entrusted to train the best officers in this State - may well have been involved in an attempt to pervert the course of justice in regard to matters against Sergeant Edlund.
The basis of Sergeant Edlund’s allegation of an attempt to pervert the course of justice is a tape of a conversation between Sergeant Edlund and the senior officer on 21 May this year, and a transcript of that tape. Sergeant Edlund alleges that there has been a continuing campaign of victimisation and harassment against him, stemming from a number of allegations he made in regard to the management of the Goulburn Police Academy and managerial issues and efficiencies relating to the Goulburn Police Station. As I said on 22 May, Sergeant Edlund was suspended from duty for, firstly, unauthorised entries into the police computer and, secondly, in respect of an allegation that he made an implied threat to a senior officer relating to the investigation into the unauthorised entry into the police computer. An investigation has cleared him of making unauthorised entries into the police computer. However, his suspension since 22 May in respect of the allegation of an implied threat against the senior officer continues to hang over him despite numerous attempts by him to obtain information regarding the nature of the implied threat that he is alleged to have made.
Despite three written requests and one verbal request Sergeant Edlund has not been able to obtain any information as to the precise nature of the allegation against him. He has not had an opportunity to clear his name. Frustrated at the delay and the lack of activity on the part of the Police Service, he approached Assistant Commissioner Christine Nixon in the middle of July and provided her with the tape and transcript of the tape which form the basis of the allegation of an attempt to pervert the course of justice. The matter was referred to the Police Integrity Commission for assessment and investigation. Since the middle of July there has been no word from the PIC on whether the matters can be taken further or his name can be cleared. Sergeant Edlund has raised these matters with me because he has not been able to obtain any justice from various sections of the Police Service. On 20 September Assistant Commissioner Nixon wrote to him and informed him he was no longer on suspension and that the management of the Goulburn Police Academy was to facilitate his return to work.
The principal at the Goulburn Police Academy, Chief Superintendent Reg Mahoney, was to facilitate his return to work. However, a number of excuses were given as to why he could not return to duties at Goulburn and in frustration he has told Chief Superintendent Mahoney that he will be on sick leave and will seek retirement from the Police Service on medical grounds. This man has become frustrated by, and tired of, the inaction of the Police Service and its failure to properly investigate a most serious allegation or to examine information and evidence that he has provided to the service. This man, who has raised allegations of mismanagement and an attempt to pervert the course of justice, should not have been treated in this fashion. [Time expired.]
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.59 p.m.]: The honourable member has raised this matter on numerous occasions. I will refer this new material to the Minister for Police.
SHOALHAVEN LIMOUSINE SERVICE
Mr ELLIS (South Coast) [5.00 p.m.]: I draw the attention of the House to a problem affecting the Shoalhaven Limousine Service. The Government has often spoken about cutting red tape and assisting small business, but the case that I wish to bring to the attention of the House suggests that there is an entrenched philosophy that continues to frustrate small business. This case, which involves a business hiring out a stretch limousine service, goes back to mid-1985. The service is operated by the owner, Mr Trevor Plant, who is getting on in years and who is not in the best of health following his encounter with the Department of Transport over this issue. Mr Plant has a history of protracted discussions with the Department of Transport as to the appropriate cost of his licence so that he can operate his business for a profit. The Department of Transport has in place a policy regulating the hire of limousines based on a formula relating to taxis. Without entering into the particulars of this formula, Mr Plant was faced with an annual fee of $10,900. His limousine hire service caters predominantly for weekend functions such as weddings and student parties. It is not a big money spinner and the Nowra market is fairly limited.
Mr Plant was eventually successful in reducing his annual fee to $1,000 after he campaigned vigorously for a reduction. This was based on clear discrepancies in uniformity with a competitor operating out of Culburra, some 20 minutes from Nowra, being charged an annual fee of $1,000. In weekly terms, Mr Plant had to find $200 per week to operate his business while his competitor had to find only $20. I believe that there is an operator in Bateman’s Bay, which is further down the coast, who is charged only $500 a year. Mr Plant’s negotiations to reduce this annual fee to a more realistic amount took many months and has caused a lot of stress and anxiety. I was party to these negotiations and I can confirm the exasperation that Mr Plant must have felt in dealing with the Department of Transport over a subject he said not many people knew much about. After the new rate of $1,000 was struck Mr Plant simply wanted to get out of the business. He had had enough. He put his business up for sale and had an inquiry from an interested party. However the deal fell through when it was revealed that the Department of Transport would impose an annual fee of $10,900 on the new owner.
This imposition cuts the bottom line and makes it unprofitable when maintenance and running costs have to be factored in on top of the licence fee. In addition, the Department of Transport insists that no vehicle over 10 years old can be used, despite the integrity of the unit. Why the department insists on an age criteria as opposed to an operational integrity criteria is beyond me. This virtually excludes vintage cars which have been maintained to an impeccable standard. How can this policy justify the acceptance of a five-year-old run-down vehicle rather than, say, a 15-year old meticulously maintained vehicle which is okay? I cannot see how the two can be reconciled. All Mr Plant wants to do is sell his business, even though on his estimate he will still be $30,000 out of pocket because of his battle with the Department of Transport over its policy. Mr Plant asserts that the department mishandled section 47 of the Motor Transport Act and it continues to do so despite the fact that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Ombudsman.
The right of appeal by the intending buyers has apparently been denied by a policy revision and Mr Plant rightly asks how departmental policy can override legislation. This case demonstrates the excessive intrusion of the Government into small business where bottom line costs are artificially and unreasonably inflated by a bureaucratic process and no other apparent reason. This is red tape at its worst. I call on the Minister to intervene to quickly clarify the policy position relating to this issue. I also ask the Minister to direct that the present annual fee of $1,000 be the fee applied for all purposes so that Mr Plant can finally sell his business and put this whole mess behind him.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [5.04 p.m.]: I will convey the honourable member’s concerns about the Shoalhaven Limousine Service to the Minister responsible for the Roads and Traffic Authority. I have had some experience with small business, though I do not know the details regarding this matter. Often people offering this sort of service want the rules to be tailored to suit their business requirements and they do not take into account public safety factors or other competitors. As I have no knowledge about this case I will refer it to the relevant Minister.
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [5.05 p.m.]: Last Monday I attended the launch by the Minister for Fisheries, the Hon. Bob Martin, of the fish habitat plan No. 2 on seagrasses. The launch function was held in Brighton-Le-Sands, which is in my electorate. The issue of fish habitat and
particularly seagrass is important to many people in my electorate of Rockdale and to many others who have an affinity with Botany Bay. Seagrasses play a crucial role in coastal ecosystems not only in Australia but around the world. They are essential for the sustainability of both commercial and recreational fisheries. In fact, seagrasses are commonly referred to as the nurseries of the sea. One of the most important factors in the conservation of fish and fisheries is the maintenance of environments where juvenile fish and crustaceans are guaranteed shelter, sediment stability, good water quality and food. The seagrasses provide all these important elements.
Because of the problems I have seen developing in Botany Bay over my lifetime I was particularly pleased that the Minister launched the seagrasses plan at Brighton-Le-Sands on the shores of Botany Bay. It is regrettable that white settlement seagrasses and the whole ecology of Botany Bay have suffered greatly from urban and industrial development. Originally Botany Bay was named Stingray Bay. Captain Cook renamed it Botany Bay in acknowledgment of the variety of plant specimens collected in the area by the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Unfortunately, the aquatic botany of the bay, with its diversity of seagrasses, was never specifically described. That has been a common factor throughout our history where aquatic plants were ignored and were not seen as having any value. As I said earlier, I have seen dramatic changes in the bay over my lifetime which have done great damage to its ecology and to the environment.
The establishment of the oil refinery at Kurnell was one of the big early developments that compromised the health of the bay. The current proposal for a cogenerational plant at Kurnell may also prove to be damaging. It will require dredging and result in the discharge of hot chlorinated water which will almost certainly impact adversely own seagrasses in the bay. Other major developments include the massive dredging and land reclamation associated with Port Botany and its related facilities. The second and third runways which were constructed into Botany Bay also required massive dredging. Further dredging of the entrance to the bay was undertaken to allow the passage of larger container ships and oil tankers. These activities have resulted in substantial changes to the wave action, erosion and loss of seagrasses, particularly in the area of Towra Point Aquatic Reserve and Lady Robertson’s Beach.
Overall, the losses have been huge. For example, the construction of a third runway in recent years resulted in the direct loss of 30 hectares of seagrasses, including one of the most productive seagrass beds for fish in New South Wales waters. The loss of seagrass beds directly contributes to reductions in the abundance and diversity of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The fortunes of both the commercial and recreational fisheries in and around Botany Bay have suffered badly through the huge industrial incursions into the bay that have been made over the years. The new fish habitat protection plan for seagrasses is good news for everyone concerned about doing something to rein in and limit the damage being done and I hope it will give greater protection to those seagrass beds that still remain. In Botany Bay, which is the area of paramount interest to me, the office of conservation of the Department of Fisheries is currently researching two special projects on seagrasses.
The first project involves investigating the success of a number of methods for transplanting seagrasses in the bay. The second project will involve aerial photography and fieldwork to map the distribution and health of this important fish habitat. It will allow a comparison with seagrass distribution as it was more than 15 year ago. The comparison of past and present distribution will enable more effective management of those areas. I was delighted that the Minister and his department chose Brighton-Le-Sands as the venue for launching the seagrass plan. The Brighton-le-Sands beachfront and Botany Bay have been prominent in my life and in the lives of many thousands of local people and visitors. Unless we make greater efforts to protect the environment and the ecology of our waterways we are in danger of leaving future generations with a dreadful legacy. The Minister and the Government are to be applauded for this initiative, which is but one part of an overall approach to addressing a most fundamental and urgent problem.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [5.10 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Rockdale for raising this matter. The honourable member supports the protection of Botany Bay and the marine environment. I was horrified to read a press release of the Hon. Eric Ellis - although I do not know whether he is too honourable - which states:
I am sure boat owners would be aghast to learn that if their boat breaks free of its mooring and runs aground on a seagrass bed, the owner has to get a marine vegetation permit to retrieve it.
That just goes to show what a drongo he is. In addition, in today’s Newcastle Herald the honourable member for Maitland and the honourable member
for Myall Lakes indicated the disadvantages of the plan. This is contrary to the views of the entire fishing fraternity. We must protect the remaining 15 per cent of seagrass beds. The fish habitat protection plan no. 2 applies to the collection or trimming of live seagrass, collection of dead seagrass from oceanic or estuarine beaches, dredging, reclamation, construction of groynes and breakwaters, construction of jetties, wharves, bridges, ramps and pontoons, moorings, boating and anchoring, fishing, construction and operation of aquiculture facilities, bait digging and collecting, and point source pollution. It is important that these areas are protected.
The honourable member for Rockdale must be congratulated for being part of the launch and promotion of the plan. The plan is an important part of the office of conservation of my administration and relates to sensible conservation of the remaining seagrass beds of our State. The honourable member for Rockdale continues to fight for that in Botany Bay. The State relies on these intertidal zones for the recovery and improvement of our fisheries in New South Wales, and they must be protected.
LEGAL AID COMMISSION REPRESENTATION OF DAMON COOPER
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [5.12 p.m.]: Damon Cooper was convicted on 6 May and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with a further six years for manslaughter. Subsequently his co-accused, Dean Waters, was charged with the same offence and was tried and acquitted in August. That acquittal aroused a good deal of media publicity. Mr Cooper has lodged an appeal against his conviction. I will not traverse any issues in respect of the appeal because it awaits determination. However, I will refer to the manner in which his trial was handled by the Legal Aid Commission. Mr Cooper has made strong assertions about the conduct of the commission quite apart from the issue of his guilt or innocence.
Through his wife, Mr Cooper advised me that no fewer than five separate legal aid solicitors handled his case. The first two lawyers handled it at Gosford, and then it was handled by three separate legal aid lawyers. The first two lawyers at Gosford carried out the administrative work and represented him at the court mentions. The case was then handed to a third lawyer who, Mr Cooper was told, would appear at the committal and conduct the case right through to trial. However, she never contacted him again. When he made inquiries he was informed that she had become a magistrate. His case was then handed on to a fourth solicitor who informed him that she would take over the carriage of his defence, and she conducted his defence for some time. Then he was informed that she would no longer be able to handle his case because she had become pregnant.
After the involvement of five legal aid lawyers, Mr Cooper sought to have a private firm of solicitors handle the case. The transfer to the private firm was effected on the Friday before the trial was due to begin on the Monday. A massive murder trial, with hundreds of pages of depositions, evidence and medical reports to be digested, was handed over two days before the trial date. The trial proceeded on the Monday despite the extremely inadequate time for preparation given to the private firm of lawyers. Mr Cooper had been requesting representation by a private firm of lawyers for months. He got the advice that they would be assigned to him barely two days before the trial began. At a preliminary hearing before Justice Newman, at which the issue of psychiatric reports for each side was to be determined, the judge was extremely critical of the failure of the Legal Aid Commission to have its psychiatric evidence prepared and ready.
Mr Cooper informed me that while his psychiatric state was one of the crucial issues at the trial, only one psychiatrist was eventually engaged in his case. Mr Waters, who was represented by a private firm of solicitors the whole time, had the support of three psychiatrists. A further point, and an extremely serious one, is the casual attitude which Mr Cooper says the legal aid office took towards him. At one meeting which he and his wife came to Sydney for, they were taken to a city hotel to discuss the case with two lawyers. This serious matter, a murder trial, which was of enormous consequence to Mr and Mrs Cooper, was discussed with legal aid staff at a city hotel.
Mr Cooper also raised with me certain advice that had been tendered to him. I do not intend to traverse that because it may become an issue before the Court of Criminal Appeal. I have requested the Attorney General, and Mr Cooper joins in the request, to appoint an independent officer to review the way the legal aid office handled his matter. It is simply not good enough that a central coast citizen facing an extremely serious charge, a person of inadequate means and entitled to legal aid, is handed along a conveyor belt from one solicitor to another, a total of five solicitors. His major case was handed over to a private firm only two days before the trial began, a major conference was held with his legal aid lawyers in a city hotel, and he believes his matter was inadequately dealt with and that he was not comprehensively kept up to date with what was happening. [Time expired.]
CONSTITUTION AND PARLIAMENTARY ELECTORATES AND ELECTIONS AMENDMENT BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
COMMISSIONED POLICE OFFICER INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION
Mr WHELAN: Earlier today the honourable member for Eastwood asked me a question.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. A motion is still before the Chair; the question has not been put.
Mr WHELAN: On the point of order. Once the motion before the Chair is put, no further business can ensue. The Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries will reply to your private member’s statement when this present matter is disposed of.
Mr Hartcher: The question is that private members’ statements be noted. Are you making a private member’s statement?
Mr WHELAN: No.
Mr Hartcher: Then there is no power for you to be heard.
Mr WHELAN: Private members' statements were interrupted to receive the bill so that the second reading may proceed.
Mr Hartcher: Standing orders do not allow for interruption of private members’ statements.
Mr WHELAN: We did.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. Mr Acting-Speaker, there is no power for the Chair to hear the honourable member; a matter is already before the Chair.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills): Order! I rule against the point of order. I took advice prior to proceeding. The House will return to private members’ statements at the conclusion of the supplementary answer by the Minister for Police.
Mr WHELAN: I have been advised by the Commissioner of Police as follows. An inquiry has been undertaken by the commander of internal affairs, the matter has been notified to the Police Integrity Commission and is being oversighted by the Ombudsman.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS
LEGAL AID COMMISSION REPRESENTATION OF DAMON COOPER
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [5.19 p.m.]: The honourable member for Gosford has raised some serious matters this afternoon. I give my solemn undertaking that I will refer the matter to the Attorney General for further investigation.
Private members’ statements noted.
House adjourned at 5.19 p.m.