Tuesday 16 September 2003
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Joseph Aquilina)
took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
offered the Prayer.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Assent to the following bills reported:
Criminal Procedure Amendment (Sexual Offence Evidence) Bill
DEATH OF MR KEVIN BARRY MORGAN, LLB, A FORMER MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
I have to inform the House of the death on 6 September of Kevin Barry Morgan, LLB, a former member of the Legislative Assembly, who represented the electorate of Parramatta from 14 February 1953 until 6 February 1956. On behalf of the House I have extended to his family the sympathy of members of the Legislative Assembly in the loss sustained.
NEW SOUTH WALES ABORIGINAL LAND COUNCIL INVESTIGATION
(Marrickville—Deputy Premier, Minister for Education and Training, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [2.19 p.m.]: On 29 May I appointed Wayne Beauman of Bentleys MRI to investigate all of the affairs of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council [NSWALC], including its efficiency and effectiveness. I seek leave to table the investigator's report.
I appointed the investigator in response to concerns raised not only by me but also by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General. These issues included the level of support provided by NSWALC to local Aboriginal land councils, the increase in local Aboriginal land council debt, a failure to maintain an effective internal audit function and a lack of accountability for annual reports and record keeping. The investigator has made a number of recommendations, including the appointment of an administrator to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council for a period of 18 months. The report has been referred to the ICAC. I will not make any decision about the future of the land council until it has been given the opportunity to consider the report and respond accordingly. No doubt that response will include the work done in recent times by the land council in relation to its operations. I have asked the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to provide its response to the investigator's report within 28 days.
(Wakehurst) [2.20 p.m.]: Obviously, at this stage the Opposition has not had the opportunity to see the report. However, I remind the House that the Opposition called for an inquiry into the affairs of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council in December last year. We called for that inquiry because a substantial number of complaints were coming from individuals about an apparent lack of governance of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. As the Deputy Premier has observed, over the years a number of reports—to the Auditor-General, the ICAC, and so on—have indicated a number of problems about the management and governance of the land council. I note the Minister has indicated from time to time there would be various changes to the land council's operations, but the problems continue. The Opposition looks forward to hearing, at the expiry of 28 days, precisely what the Government proposes. However, it seems there is a real necessity for the governance and management procedures of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to be overhauled.
INSPECTOR OF THE POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION
announced, pursuant to section 103 of the Police Integrity Commission Act 1996, the receipt of the annual report for the year ended 30 June 2003.
Ordered to be printed.
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION
announced, pursuant to the resolution of the House of 21 November 2002, the receipt of the report entitled "Regulation of Secondary Employment for Members of the NSW Legislative Assembly—Report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly", dated September 2003.
Ordered to be printed.
Gaming Machine Tax
Petition supporting the increase in gaming machine taxes and welcoming the fact that all extra revenue will be spent on the health system, received from Ms Burton
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Petition requesting additional support for children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder in all educational settings in New South Wales government schools, received from Mr Maguire
Mount Austin High School
Petition requesting funding for the installation of airconditioning in all learning spaces at Mount Austin High School, received from Mr Maguire
Gaming Machine Tax
Petitions opposing the decision to increase poker machine tax, received from Mr Armstrong
, Ms Berejiklian
, Mr Collier
, Mr Draper
, Mrs Hopwood
and Mr O'Farrell
Petition requesting that urban planning designs be decided by local communities, received from Mrs Hopwood
White City Site Rezoning Proposal
Petition praying that any rezoning of the White City site be opposed, received from Ms Moore
Lane Cove Rotary Athletics Field
Petition opposing the use of the Lane Cove Rotary Athletics Field as a car park, received from Ms Berejiklian
Jingellic to Holbrook Road Upgrading
Petition requesting funding for the upgrading of the Jingellic to Holbrook road, received from Mr Maguire
Brunswick River Crossing Environmental Impact Statement
Petition requesting that an environmental impact statement for a crossing over the Brunswick River between Yelgun and Brunswick Heads be fast-tracked, received from Mr Page
The Spit Bridge Traffic Arrangements
Petition opposing the proposal to add a two-lane drawbridge next to The Spit Bridge, and calling for a responsible and holistic solution to the transport, traffic, and freight needs of the area, received from Mrs Skinner
Redfern and Surry Hills Bus Services
Petition requesting improved bus services in Redfern and Surry Hills, received from Ms Moore
Woodstock Police Station
Petition requesting that Woodstock Police Station be given a permanent operating classification, received from Mr R. W. Turner
Wagga Wagga Electorate Fruit Fly Control
Petition requesting funding for fruit fly control/eradication in Wagga Wagga, Lockhart, Holbrook and Tumbarumba, received from Mr Maguire
Petition praying that the House end the unnecessary suffering of wild animals and their use in circuses, received from Ms Moore
Sow Stall Ban
Petition requesting the total ban of sow stalls, received from Ms Moore
LEGISLATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
, as Chairman, tabled the report entitled the "Legislation Review Digest No 2 of 2003", dated 16 September 2003.
Ordered to be printed.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
CAMDEN AND CAMPBELLTOWN HOSPITALS EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS
I direct my question to the Premier. Does he think it is appropriate for a public official to label a person making allegations about the standard of health care in New South Wales hospitals as mentally ill in order to discredit that person?
The allegations made by the staff of the Campbelltown and Camden hospitals in 2002 are very serious indeed. The seriousness of their complaints led to the matter being referred to the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC] on 5 November 2002, the day on which they were brought to the attention of the former Minister for Health. Earlier this year concerns were raised about the initial investigation, and on 27 February I confirmed that because of those concerns a second inquiry would be conducted. On the Alan Jones program that day I said:
How do you get to the bottom of it? You have an inquiry and you make sure that inquiry is thoroughly independent.
On 14 March I restated the Government's commitment that any evidence would be properly investigated. On 14 March I again said on the Alan Jones program—
Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. I specifically asked the Premier whether he thought it was appropriate for a public official to label a person as mentally ill for seeking to make public complaints.
Order! The Premier has been responding for barely a minute. I fail to see how the Leader of the Opposition can take a point of order regarding relevance.
Any objective observer would understand that it is implicit in my answer that I would not regard the people making those allegations as mentally ill. Why would I have established an inquiry on the day the allegations were made if I thought those making them had been discredited? Why would I have set up a second inquiry when concerns were raised about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the first inquiry if I did not believe that the people making the allegations deserved to be taken seriously? On 14 March 2002, when concerns were raised about the initial investigation, I stated:
Our job is to see that those nurses get a hearing as they're entitled.
That was hardly the comment of someone who believed the nurses were a discredited source. As a result of that action by the Government the HCCC has finalised its draft report. In accordance with the commitment I made, I am advised that all the matters raised by the original complainants were thoroughly investigated and are covered in the draft report. As soon as the Minister for Health was briefed on the HCCC's initial findings, he directed the Department of Health to take immediate action. He assembled a team of experts to go into Camden and Campbelltown hospitals to review clinical practices. The team was led by Professor Bruce Barraclough, an eminent and highly respected doctor. He is the head of the Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care and the chairman of the New South Wales Institute for Clinical Excellence. I am advised that no-one in the country is in a better position to measure and improve the standard of care provided at the Campbelltown and Camden hospitals.
I assure the House that once the final report is complete swift and appropriate action will be taken regarding the treatment of the nurses who raised the allegations. The HCCC is in the process of seeking a response to its initial findings from those involved at an area level. That is the process, and it is in everyone's interests that it be respected. The draft report has been released and comments are now being sought. I am advised that the final report will be complete within eight weeks and I look forward to receiving it.
I ask a supplementary question. In view of the Premier's answer, will he now sack the chairman of the board of the South Western Sydney Area Health Service, Mr Graham Bush, who sought to discredit whistleblower nurses by ringing the honourable member for North Shore on 25 November last year and telling her that one of the whistleblowers had a psychiatric problem?
I am happy to answer the question. I am not aware that the chair of the area health service board made that statement.
let that pass. The whole issue is serious and demands to be debated in this Parliament with perhaps a modicum of dignity.
Point of order—
Order! Before I hear the point of order of the honourable member for North Shore, I should indicate that I have extended substantial latitude to the Leader of the Opposition by allowing him to ask a supplementary question. I do not question the fact that it was indeed a supplementary question. However, it tended to provide more information than it sought. I remind members that asking questions without notice is a way of seeking information; it is not a way of providing information to the Chamber. I intend to enforce a number of rulings by former Speakers in that regard much more strictly in the future than I have done in the past.
Point of order: If the Premier wants further information about this matter he should support the urgent motion.
Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for North Shore will resume her seat. I place her on two calls to order.
I am in a position to answer for the Minister for Health, the former Minister for Health and myself. None of us has discredited those nurses. I was not aware of the allegation that the chair of the area health service board had made this statement about one of the nurses involved. Indeed, he can answer for himself. I repeat the following matters to the House. First, as soon as the allegations were received, the previous health Minister made the reference to the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC]. Second, when I received complaints about the way the HCCC was handling the inquiry, I initiated, together with the former health Minister, a second inquiry. Third, the report in its draft form is now being handled seriously, as it ought to be.
The allegations are being taken seriously. The nurses who made the allegations will have their positions protected, as they must be, under the law of New South Wales. There can be no act of discrimination or retribution by anyone in management directed against them. The law is very clear on that. The allegations are for the person being accused to respond to. For the Government's part, the former Minister for Health, the current Minister for Health and I are proud of the fact that these allegations were responded to in a proper and dignified way.
CAMDEN AND CAMPBELLTOWN HOSPITALS CLINICAL MALPRACTICE ALLEGATIONS
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Health. What is the Government's response to community concerns about allegations of clinical malpractice at Campbelltown and Camden hospitals?
Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
As I have outlined in my comments over the last two days, and as the Premier has just outlined, the Government takes the allegations that have been made extremely seriously. In terms of our response, which will be issued when the final report is handed down—I am advised that it will be handed down around the middle of November—there will be a swift and appropriate response to that report. What has appeared over the weekend are some of the preliminary findings of a draft report. It is important that over the course of the next month and a half or two months the individuals who have had allegations made against them are given an opportunity to put their case.
What about the families?
I will come to that in a moment, and you might join me in my comments about that. It is important that the individuals who have had the allegations made against them are given an opportunity to respond; that is only fair and due process. It is important that the investigative process occur and that due process is adhered to. I repeat today my remarks of last Sunday and yesterday. The Government's response will be centred around two issues. First, should the final report confirm what is in the draft report, those who have to be held accountable will be held accountable.
Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Second, the recommendations with regard to the standard of care will be implemented. That is why the team that the Premier outlined earlier was sent in a couple of weeks ago to review all aspects of clinical practice and administration at the two hospitals. Led by Professor Barraclough that team will continue, and the process is running parallel with the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC] investigation. In conclusion, although we hardly ever agree I am sure the Opposition will join me in making the following comment. It is appropriate that we extend sympathy, compassion and understanding to the families and patients affected.
Order! I remind the honourable member for North Shore that she is already on two calls to order.
That is why the matters were referred to the HCCC in the first place; that is why the Government insisted that the HCCC visit these issues and investigate them properly; that is why we will await the appropriate investigative process to be completed; and that is why we will take swift, strong and appropriate action when the final report is handed down.
Order! The Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.
I am sure
the Opposition will join us in extending some sympathy and understanding to the families affected.
RAINWATER TANK INSTALLATION
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Energy and Utilities. What is the latest information on measures to encourage families to install rainwater tanks?
Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the innovative and effective initiatives that were commenced in energy and water conservation during the time the honourable member for Granville was Minister for Energy.
Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
Conserving our precious water supplies is a responsibility shared by the entire community. Our population is growing, and yet our rainfall is not. On the contrary, the record-breaking drought has ensured that water consciousness is at an all-time high throughout the community. Much has been said recently about what we should do to conserve water. The debate must now enter a new phase. Many initiatives are necessary to make Sydney a sustainable city, and we must address it at all levels, including consumers' contribution to the conservation of water, or alternatively, the harvesting of rainwater.
One of the ways in which residents can take the pressure off Sydney's water supplies is to install a rainwater tank. Every litre of water captured in a rainwater tank and used on a garden or in a laundry is a litre less taken from our dams. The New South Wales Government has taken a number of steps to encourage people to install rainwater tanks. In May 2002 the Government slashed red tape so that anyone who wanted to install a rainwater tank of up to 10,000-litre capacity was no longer required to obtain development consent, and some people took advantage of that. So far five metropolitan councils in Sydney and six in the country have taken up that initiative. That effort was reinforced with the introduction in October 2002 of Sydney's rainwater tank rebate scheme. That program provided financial incentives for Sydney Water customers to install rainwater tanks to reduce household water consumption.
If we talk about duds, we ought to look at the other side of the Chamber—what a bunch of duds! So far 1,148 rebates have been paid at a cost of about $400,000. I have said previously that the response to the rebate offer had been somewhat disappointing. The search for the reasons for this has turned up a familiar enemy. Once again, we find the strangling hand of administrative inertia. To date, New South Wales plumbing regulations have prevented people from cross-connecting their rainwater tanks to the mains water supply within their own houses.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
The effect of this rule has meant that a second set of pipes would be required, even if a resident only wanted to use the rainwater for the garden, or toilet flushing. We have taken steps to remove this expense and remove this disincentive to maximise the reuse of water.
Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order.
Members will be interested to know that yesterday the committee that sets the rules for plumbing in New South Wales met and reached an in-principle agreement to allow important changes to the regulations that govern rainwater tanks. These changes will allow residents in urban areas to cross-connect rainwater with their mains water supply. This brings New South Wales closer to the incoming Australian Standard and gives consumers the choice to cross-connect their rainwater tanks to their home systems, provided there are adequate safeguards to prevent backflow into the water mains.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia already apply the provisions of the incoming Australian Standard. So whenever they install a rainwater tank, New South Wales residents will now have a new choice: if residents do not want to drink rainwater it can be connected just for outdoor use, for flushing toilets or for washing clothes; if they do want to drink rainwater then rainwater can be connected for all purposes within their home. All that will be required will be an approved backflow device to prevent rainwater from entering the mains. Connecting a tank just for outdoor use and toilet flushing can lead to savings of 38 per cent in household use. Connecting rainwater just to the washing machine alone can lead to savings of 17 per cent in household water consumption.
These rules will empower consumers to make choices about their use of rainwater. Rainwater tanks have been a part of the Australian landscape for generations. The corrugated iron tank is an icon of the bush. As a young child growing up in Yenda, I remember that there were two tanks on our farm. I remember living off rainwater. Across rural and regional New South Wales, 127 councils provide water to residents in towns and cities the length and breadth of the State.
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order.
I would like to encourage these country water suppliers to follow Sydney Water's lead and to provide their customers with rebates for rainwater tanks. Having made it simpler for people to install rainwater tanks, I am now pleased to inform the House that Sydney Water has agreed to an extension to its rainwater tank rebate scheme.
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order for the second time.
Previously the rebate scheme was due to expire on 30 September this year; now it will continue until at least June 2005. The rebate will be reviewed in the context of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] 2005 pricing determination for Sydney Water, when all of its programs will be re-examined. Every resident has a role in saving water. Decisions that appear small have a big impact when spread across a population of four million people. Previously Sydney has relied on water from a few large catchments around Sydney; this is all about turning people's homes into hundreds and thousands of micro-catchments. If we can better capture the rain that falls on our roofs and in our backyards we will reduce the amount of water that we need to take from our dams. This is indeed a sound investment in our future.
COUNTRYLINK RAIL SERVICES
My question is directed to the Premier. Given recent comments by Dr Parry that there are large groups across the State, certainly rural people, who do not have access to transport at all, will the Premier rule out proposals to axe CountryLink rail services on the Murwillumbah, Armidale and Broken Hill lines?
It is interesting that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party has shot out of the Chamber. You would not need Sherlock Holmes to discover why Bruce Baird's adviser shoots out of the Chamber when a question is asked about cutting country rail services. It might have something to do with the fact that under the last Coalition Government in New South Wales Bruce Baird, who was being advised by the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Barry O'Farrell, axed the passenger rail service to Broken Hill. The passenger rail service to Griffith was axed—the honourable member for Upper Hunter says it was Vince Graham who did it. In other words, there is no responsibility in government, no Cabinet responsibility, but simply some overexcited bureaucrat running around doing this. The Coalition Government had nothing to do with it, so why blame the government!
The North Coast rail went, and a total of eight other country rail services were axed by the Coalition when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was a highly paid policy adviser to Bruce Baird. When the Parry report came out the Leader of the Opposition, trying to sound economically responsible and literate, said, "There are serious issues in this. It has got to be taken seriously. We think there is a lot of public money that could be better invested". That is what he said. That was directed at the economic commentators and the people in boardrooms who want some sign of fiscal responsibility from the Liberal Party.
Order! I am trying to hear the Premier's answer to the question. However, the Leader of the Opposition has had far more to say than the Premier in response to the question asked by the Leader of the National Party. I have allowed the Leader of the Opposition considerable latitude, but I will no longer tolerate his constant interjections. If he wants to say something, he should do so by using the proper forms of the House. His interjections show absolutely no leadership. I call him to order for the third time.
Then there was Darnick station near Broken Hill. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, when he was shadow Minister for Transport, made a statement attacking the Government for closing the station. It turned out that the station had actually been demolished when the Coalition was in government, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was the adviser to the Minister—and it was an accident! Where is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition?
Point of order: The point of order is in relation to relevance. This question is really quite simple. It is about what this Government intends to do to CountryLink services, not about what a past government has done.
Order! There is no point of order.
It is about economic management. It is about fiscal responsibility. On 9 February the Leader of the Opposition announced with much fanfare a $120 million rail safety injection over three years. But when the KPMG costings of the Opposition's election promises came out, why was it dropped? It did not appear in the costings. Was it an oversight? The Opposition found that it had promised too much, so it had to trim around the edges and fund it by abolishing 700 Department of Community Services [DOCS] jobs. Why did the Leader of the National Party not clear the question with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition before asking it? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had to flee the Chamber with embarrassment. As the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged, there are sound reasons for looking at continuing the move from CountryLink trains to coaches in some areas where patronage is very low and where coaches allow more frequency or stops.
Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order. I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order for the second time.
However, the Government would need to be convinced that the proposals in the final report of Professor Parry would provide an improvement in quality, in frequency and in reliability of public transport in country New South Wales. There will be a final report at the end of the year. As the Leader of the Opposition himself said, these matters deserve to be rigorously looked at. The Minister for Transport recently went to north-western New South Wales to talk these issues through, and we will continue to do that. We will need to be convinced that any coach alternative will provide more frequent, more reliable and generally better services.
MEDICAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Health. What is the Government's response to doctors' concerns about the Commonwealth's insurance levy on medical practitioners?
Since the United Medical Protection [UMP] crisis was first brought to public attention in 2001 the Commonwealth has been consistent in its approach—it has been totally inept. The latest so-called bail-out package is quite simply an insult to doctors. Recently letters have been sent to doctors outlining additional payments to cover the incurred but not reported [IBNR] claims. Many doctors are looking at between $120,000 and $200,000 payable over 10 years on top of their normal insurance premiums. These IBNR claims refer to treatment provided in the past that resulted in an adverse effect on the patient but where the patient has not yet made or reported a claim. This has also been referred to as the tail. This levy is a nightmare for doctors. For example, ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Josephine Motbey from Beecroft, a single mum of a six-year-old, stated:
The major factor in terms of costs is constituted by my medico-legal insurance subscriptions. I have had to close my ear nose and throat practice … as it was unviable. Now I have an IBNR bill of $130,045 over ten years or $100,784 if I pay before 1/11/03.
Dr George Kirsh, an orthopaedic surgeon at Bankstown, wrote to the Prime Minister as follows:
At present the HIC (Health Insurance Commission) has presented me with a letter asking me to pay nearly $24 000 per year in extra medical insurance premiums for the next 10 years. When you add this to the $110 000 I pay at present, this adds up to $134 000 per year … it is becoming less and less possible to practise as an orthopaedic surgeon or a surgeon of any type …
Senator Coonan, the Federal Assistant Treasurer, has attempted to portray its bail-out package as one that had been requested and endorsed by doctors. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Chairman of the Australian Medical Association's [AMA] Medical Professional Indemnity Task Force, Dr Andrew Pesce, has warned that the Commonwealth could start a whole new medical indemnity crisis throughout the country. He stated:
We warned against inflammatory short term fixes … (but) not one of these conditions has been met …
As a result, more doctors will leave the profession or cease providing important services and procedures. As a result, patients will pay more for their health care …
Doctors are telling the Commonwealth that they only have two options. First, they can leave the medical profession for a new career—an unrealistic choice for most, who have debts, mortgages and families; or, second, they can keep working, be sued and lose everything they have ever worked for. In New South Wales, United Medical Protection was the main provider of medical practice insurance. Around 90 per cent of medical practitioners were insured with UMP. In November 2001 UMP revealed that it had not made provision for up to $450 million of incurred but not reported claims. It then announced premium increases of up to 52 per cent.
The sticking point in the entire UMP controversy has been the cost of funding IBNR claims. As a result of recent world events, insurance premiums have risen dramatically. Action was needed at both Commonwealth and State levels. That is why the Carr Government took action to stabilise the situation in New South Wales by capping payouts, tightening the statute of limitations, introducing other extensive tort law reform, covering doctors for public work in the public system, covering rural doctors for private work in the public system, regulating the amount insurers can charge doctors practising obstetrics and neurosurgery, outlawing cherry picking in the industry, and meeting the IBNR tail of UMP and other medical defence organisations for public patient claims.
If the State Government had not introduced these measures our health system would have ground to a halt. Our approach to this crisis has been swift and comprehensive. In contrast, the Commonwealth has been slow to get off the ground. It introduced unnecessarily bureaucratic measures that were ultimately inadequate and unsustainable. Unlike New South Wales, the Commonwealth is seeking to claw back the outlay it makes to medical defence organisations for the IBNR tail. What a disgrace! The Commonwealth package has not had the desired effect of reducing general premiums to a sustainable point. The Commonwealth has also avoided fundamental issues relating to medical insurance. No wonder the Federal President of the AMA, Bill Glasson, said:
I've never seen the profession more angry in its whole life because what the profession is saying to the public out there, listen, we do have one of the best systems in the world, please come in and address the situation.
That is what he said to the Commonwealth. Doctors around the country have been receiving their bills from the Health Insurance Commission for coverage of their IBNR claims. These bills are an additional impost on an already short labour supply. We are all aware of the doctor shortage around this country, and, as a result of this levy, doctors are threatening to leave the profession and some are, in fact, leaving. If the Commonwealth does not address this crisis a number of communities across the State and the country will be left without adequate medical coverage. This shortage will be concentrated in areas such as obstetrics and anaesthetic procedures. Right across the country doctors are telling the Commonwealth Government that it must get its act together to try to address this crisis and save the medical work force, which is the backbone of our public health system.
NEW ENGLAND RAIL SERVICES
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. What is the Premier's response to community anger in the New England area about a plan by the Minister for Transport Services to close country rail lines?
First, it was not a plan by the Minister for Transport Services; it is part of the Parry report. It was legitimate to have Professor Parry of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal produce an overview of transport in this State, both urban and rural, and that report has now been released. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it is a report that demands public discussion. The Government will assess the report, as Professor Parry refines it towards production of a final report at the end of the year. Along with other questions it deals with whether there is a better way to use taxpayers' money to meet the transport needs of people living in rural New South Wales. It looks at the question of how the funds saved can be reinvested in improving community transport services within country towns. Everyone knows that country communities have expressed concern about the absence of community transport and they are open to the suggestion of better ways for their transport needs to be met.
As I said in answer to an earlier question, I am advised that last week the Minister for Transport Services visited New England, where I am sure the honourable member for Northern Tablelands saw that the Minister met all those in his community who do not want the passenger service cut or treated in the fashion that a previous government in this State treated country passenger rail services. I believe that the Minister for Transport Services was active in seeking the views of the community on what is an interim report. He said that the Government wants submissions to Professor Parry's inquiry, and I, too, would encourage the residents of Armidale and New England to write to Professor Parry with their suggestions for public transport improvements. However, I assure the honourable member for Northern Tablelands that the Minister has said he would need to be convinced that the final report's proposals would improve the quality, frequency, and reliability of public transport in New England and boost services in towns in the honourable member's electorate.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time.
I do not know what the honourable member for Wakehurst is shadow Minister for; neither do my colleagues. The honourable member should wait for an opportunity in the House to express his views in an appropriate way. Does anyone know what he is the shadow Minister for? It is a trivia question. The Minister for Transport Services said he would need to be convinced of the above before he would support any changes to the CountryLink services to Armidale.
EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS PLAGIARISM ALLEGATIONS
My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Training. What is the Government's response to community concern about recent reports of alleged plagiarism in some New South Wales educational institutions and related matters?
I thank the honourable member for Wallsend for his ongoing interest in education issues and his timely question. Plagiarism strikes at the core of our educational institutions: our universities, schools and TAFEs. The potential for plagiarism to cause serious damage is enormous and must be headed off. Our universities, schools and TAFEs need to be ever vigilant in their long-term commitment to identifying and punishing cheating wherever it occurs, for the sake of their own reputations and those of the overwhelming number of honest, hardworking students who do not stoop to cheating. Plagiarism and other examples of academic cheating are a common problem for educational institutions around the world. These issues are exacerbated by the sheer volume of stored information that is available on the Internet at the click of a mouse. Although it is a worldwide problem, we cannot sit back and wait for others to solve our problem.
Plagiarism in Australian universities must be stopped. Recently the University of Newcastle has been the subject of a New South Wales Ombudsman's protected disclosure investigation into an issue akin to plagiarism. The university is also currently the subject of an ICAC investigation into alleged plagiarism by 15 students studying in Malaysia. As a result of the Ombudsman's report, I have written to all New South Wales universities, drawing their attention to the recent Ombudsman's recommendations concerning the need for correct attribution of work, the need to formulate a policy to enforce this, and the need for accurate record keeping. I have also asked each university to inform me and the Ombudsman within three months of actions proposed in relation to the recommendations.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the second time.
In my letter to the universities I also asked that plagiarism and university processes for dealing with it be placed as a high priority on the agenda of the next meeting of the New South Wales Vice-Chancellors Committee. I have also asked for feedback from the committee on its discussions. Importantly, I have also sought assurance from the Vice-Chancellors Committee that New South Wales universities use appropriate arrangements to ensure that allegations of or complaints about plagiarism are handled honestly, thoroughly, and fairly, and—this is crucial—that people who make complaints or allegations are afforded appropriate protection.
I have also written to the chair of the Australian Universities Quality Agency seeking an assurance that university policies and practices on plagiarism receive appropriate attention during all university quality audits. It is in the interests of our students and our nation to tackle the plagiarism problem, to outsmart it, and to stay one step ahead. I believe that New South Wales universities are well aware of the importance of doing so, and are taking steps to ensure that their procedures are fair and rigorous. I look forward to further advice from the New South Wales vice-chancellors on this important matter.
We need to do work in our schools as well. The Government is committed to a public education system that is underpinned by quality and integrity, and we are taking action to combat plagiarism in our schools and TAFEs. Our students are taught about the need to acknowledge sources whenever they use another person's ideas, opinions or theories; when they use facts, statistics, graphs, drawings or any pieces of information that are not common knowledge; and when they quote another person's actual spoken or written words or paraphrase another person's spoken or written words. Students who are found to have plagiarised material in their assignments are counselled. If the problem continues the students are disciplined as part of the school's discipline policy. There are rigorous standards in place for Higher School Certificate [HSC] students.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
To assist schools, the Board of Studies has developed guidelines to manage plagiarism. I can inform the House that the board recently consulted with schools to assess the existing procedures in use for monitoring and managing plagiarism in student assessment tasks and submitted works. I am advised that, based on this consultation, the board is finalising the production of an updated policy document called "Advice on Developing and Evaluating a School's HSC Policies and Procedures". The document affirms the best practice currently followed in schools and ensures that our already strong procedures are made even more vigorous.
I can further inform the House that the new document will be distributed to schools in term four this year. The updated document will provide more detailed advice on the procedures for dealing with malpractice, such as plagiarism and cheating in examinations. These guidelines will give principals the option of recording a zero mark for a task when the judgment is made that there is evidence of serious malpractice. The board's current guidelines encourage schools to use a variety of different types of assessment tasks which also help to minimise the likelihood of plagiarism. Students' assessment marks may be determined through a combination of tasks that may include tests, exams and a trial HSC, essays and assignments, oral presentations to the class, and practical and performance works.
With assignments such as research projects and essays, it is common practice to have some part of the task done in lesson time, such as the preparation of a draft, so teachers can judge its authenticity. Students can also be asked to provide the sources of their information. In major written or practical works, schools may get students to submit work diaries. Teachers are able to monitor each student's work through the diaries, which prove that the final work is the student's own. Cheats have no place in our universities, schools and TAFEs, and we intend to do all we can do eliminate plagiarism in our educational institutions.
PORT KEMBLA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE
My question is directed to the Minister for Regional Development. What contact has the Minister or any of his staff had with the executive of the Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce and Industry Incorporated since revelations that two members of the chamber's executive responsible for employing Mr Gino Manderino with taxpayers' funds are now facing separate criminal charges?
Subsequent to questions that were raised in the estimates committee in the other place a fortnight ago, I wrote to the Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce and Industry Incorporated posing questions on behalf of one member of that committee. That is the extent of my communication with the Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce and Industry Incorporated.
ABORIGINAL PLACE PROGRAM
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for the Environment. What is the latest information on Aboriginal place declarations in New South Wales?
I acknowledge the honourable member's strong advocacy of the interests of Aboriginal people and their heritage. I am pleased to advise the House on the present state of the Aboriginal Place Program. The National Parks and Wildlife Service established the Aboriginal Place Program to give formal recognition and protection to significant sites in Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal places are a practical outcome for the process of reconciliation because they bring together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in towns where declarations are made.
Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order for the second time.
The program formally recognises the significance to local Aboriginal people of a site that could be of educational value for present and future generations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I am pleased to inform the House that 33 hectares of land near Taree have been declared an Aboriginal place under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The area is significant to local Biripi and Worimi elders because it is tied to the history of family fishing in the area and may also have been a place to escape to from control by missions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is also tied to the elders' sense of identity and independence and their desire to continue an interaction with the natural land and the sea.
The proposal has wide support, including that of the land's owner, Taree council. Farquhar Park is also culturally significant because of its cultural links to other places within the region such as the salt water area located five kilometres to the south of Farquhar Park, which was declared an Aboriginal place in 1986. Elders have also referred to important ceremonies within the park. Historically, Aboriginal people have camped and fished at Farquhar Park from long before European contact until the 1970s, when an access road was closed. Aboriginal places have been declared across the State. A particularly notable one is Hannibal Hamilton's graveside near Tumut. Another is the Dippo ceremonial ground near Balranald, where the Mutthi Mutthi people maintain particular cultural interests. It is with great appreciation that the Biripi and Worimi Aboriginal people are receiving this land. I thank them, the Taree council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service for the work they have done to ensure that the park is conserved for generations to come.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
University of Western Sydney Funding
(Mulgoa—Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration) [3.21 p.m.]: My motion is urgent because this House needs to debate the $14 million cut to the University of Western Sydney and the implications that that has for Western Sydney.
Order! I remind the honourable member for Murrumbidgee that he is on two calls to order, and that those calls to order stand when question time expires.
It is urgent because, in seeking to reduce the funding for the University of Western Sydney, the Federal Government will cut the number of nursing places for the university, which is the biggest supplier of nursing places within the State. It will not receive one additional nursing place under the proposed regime. My motion is urgent because the New South Wales hospital system needs some 1,600 nurses simply to meet demand. It is urgent that this House debate this motion, as a survey released today shows that the University of Western Sydney may be forced to cut 450 places next year. These cuts may force the university to reduce staffing levels, cut courses, or possibly close campuses. It is urgent that this House express to the Federal Government its dismay about the $14 million cut that the Federal Government is proposing for the University of Western Sydney.
CAMDEN AND CAMPBELLTOWN HOSPITALS EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS
(North Shore) [3.23 p.m.]: There is no doubt that my motion should be given urgency, because it relates to an extremely serious matter. I am sure the members of the Government who are still in the Chamber will understand how hideous it is that nurses who have had the courage to go public with their concerns about patient care should be vilified. I wish to inform the House through this motion that on 25 November last year I was personally telephoned by Mr Graham Bush, Chairman of the South Western Sydney Area Health Service. I then returned his phone call, and that conversation was basically about trying to get me to back off—to back off on my support for these nurses. Mr Bush said:
Under a protected disclosure law, five nurses have been on TV. I know of them and they have no credibility.
He went on to say to me:
They have psychiatric problems.
I was absolutely shocked that the chairman of the board appointed by the Minister at that time, the Hon. Craig Knowles, should do this. On reflection, I thought the way this Government operated was that the Premier would ring the Minister and say, "Kill this story, get it off the front page of the papers." The Minister would then ring the chairman of the board, and the chairman of the board would ring the shadow Minister and try to discredit these nurses. I have a record of this phone call. I have the accounts of this phone call, and I want the Minister to explain why he did not stop his health officials from vilifying these nurses and suggesting they have psychiatric problems.
The Minister thinks this is appropriate. The Minister for Juvenile Justice is protesting. She supports this whole idea that this senior public official, the chairman of the board, should tell the shadow Minister that these nurses have psychiatric problems to try to get them to shut up, to try to stop them from spilling the beans about how patients are not getting the treatment they deserved.
Order! I call the honourable member for East Hills to order.
They were successful, because I remind honourable members of this House, some of whom were not here at the time, that in February the ICAC was about to release its report. It had said publicly that it did not expect that any disciplinary action would be taken at the hospital, that there was nothing wrong with what was going on at the hospital, and that it was only when these courageous nurses again went public and said they had not even been interviewed by the ICAC that it held further hearings.
This weekend we heard about the interim report of its findings—something like 116 allegations, two-thirds of them substantiated, and 17 deaths. Do not smile about 17 people who have died! I am angry! Some of these people died as late as January this year. These allegations were made to the Minister for Health on 5 November last year. When did the Minister go public, when did the Minister send this off to ICAC? On 15 November, 10 days later—not the same day, as the Premier told this Chamber today.
Those nurses came to see me. They went to the press gallery. They had their solicitor talk to the press gallery on their behalf, and the Minister did not take them seriously. Instead, the chairman of his board had the nerve to ring the shadow Minister and suggest that these women, these courageous nurses, had mental health problems. I would like to know whether the honourable member for Liverpool, who always stands up, holier than thou, for the rights of people, will agree that this is absolutely unacceptable; that public officials under the charge of the Minister for Health, the Hon. Craig Knowles, should contact a politician and suggest that she back off and that these nurses had psychiatric problems.
Order! Honourable members will cease interjecting.
I find that absolutely unacceptable, as should every member of this House. They should wipe the smirks off their faces and support my motion. If they have any sensitivity, any sense of what is right, they will support my motion. This is a disgrace. The Government has been disgraced. Support my motion. [Time expired.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Mulgoa be proceeded with—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Question resolved in the affirmative.
|Mr Brown||Mr Debnam|
|Mr Carr||Mr Richardson|
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Urgent Motion: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Scully agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow an additional two Government members and two other members to speak to the motion for urgent consideration.
UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY FUNDING
(Mulgoa—Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration)) [3.36 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) supports the concerns of health professionals about the failure of the State's biggest trainer of nurses, the University of Western Sydney, to receive one new place under the Federal Government's plans for higher education;
(2) notes that the State Government needs to recruit at least 1,600 full-time registered nurses to meet its current need;
(3) further notes that the University of Western Sydney turned away 135 eligible applicants for nursing last year;
(4) calls on the Federal Government to immediately restore funding for the University of Western Sydney to the levels of other universities; and
(5) condemns Liberal Party attacks on the University of Western Sydney.
I move this motion today not only as the Minister for Western Sydney but also as a former member of the University of Western Sydney [UWS] Board of Governors and as a member of Parliament whose electorate contains the Kingswood campus of UWS. Most importantly, I move this motion as a resident of Western Sydney for the past 37 years.
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been blissfully quiet so far today. He shall remain so.
As a university student I had to travel to the centre of Sydney. I did not have the opportunity to study at a university in my area, because there was not one. I have moved this motion because I fear that the actions of the Federal Government will have us revert to that situation. Its actions will make it more difficult for the young people of Western Sydney to study at a university in their region. The Federal Government's proposed university funding package will strike at the very heart of the University of Western Sydney. It will strip $14 million over three years from an already lean institution, and it will strike in the areas where graduates are needed most.
I am proud to say that the University of Western Sydney provides 20 per cent of all nursing places in New South Wales. Approximately 25 per cent of permanently employed nurses currently work in Western Sydney. The State Government is trying to recruit 1,600 nurses to meet current demand. Professor John Dwyer, Chair of the National Public Hospitals Clinicians Task Force, has said that, as of today, New South Wales hospitals need an additional 1,800 nurses.
It is clear that the university should be training and equipping an increasing number of nurses each year. It should be providing the most number of trained nurses anywhere in Australia. However, the sad fact is that the University of Western Sydney is being forced to turn away more and more eligible students from its nursing courses. Last year 135 eligible nursing students were turned away from UWS—that is, students who achieved a higher than required university admission index score or equivalent qualifications. The university could not afford to find places for them. It would have liked to, but it could not afford to. A further 1,000 applicants wanted to study nursing at UWS. How many will miss out next year? The Federal Government's university funding program will not provide one new nurse training place at UWS. Not one new nursing place has been allocated to ease the desperate need for nurses in the hospitals of Western Sydney. In fact, the university could be forced to reduce the number of nursing places as a result of the Federal Government cuts.
Professor John Dwyer made it quite clear on radio yesterday when he spoke about the critical shortage of nurses that the first step should be to get more people into university and that that is the Commonwealth's responsibility. The Federal Government is now attacking the health system in Western Sydney on two fronts: first, it is destroying Medicare, and second, it is reducing real hospital funding. That is placing enormous strain on the hospitals of Western Sydney. This offensive funding cut to UWS will decrease our ability to provide qualified workers for hospitals. Rather than increasing funding so that UWS can train more nurses, the Federal Government has delivered a funding cut. There is no bigger loser from this new funding regime than UWS. It will have $14 million ripped out of its budget. A Sydney Morning Herald
survey published today estimates that UWS will be forced to cut 450 places next year. UWS Vice Chancellor, Janice Reid, says she expects to have to turn away 3,000 eligible students next year.
The university is also warning that it may have to close one of its campuses if the cuts go ahead. Which campus will be closed? The importance that UWS plays in Western Sydney cannot be underestimated. About 50 per cent of graduates are the first in their family to attend university. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate that only 3 per cent of the population of Western Sydney participates in higher education compared with 5.2 per cent of the population in greater Sydney. That gap has widened since the Howard Federal Government came to power in 1996. A recent Newspoll survey revealed that UWS facilities are used by 70 per cent of people in Western Sydney, and that 7 out of every 10 people in Western Sydney use its libraries, sporting, recreational, conference, exhibition and research facilities for community education. As the Federal Government fails UWS it also fails the people of Western Sydney.
How can the university cover this $14 million shortfall? Will it cut staff and courses or introduce full fee undergraduate courses? Even worse, it could be forced to close a campus. All of these options push university education further out of the reach of the young men and women of Western Sydney. Brendan Nelson's Federal Government funding proposal claims equity and access as key principles. This package will result in less equity and access to university education in Western Sydney. The Federal Government must stand condemned. The university is also under attack from those who should be supporting it—that is, those who represent the region. The Federal member for Lindsay has launched an unprecedented and astonishing attack on UWS and its hardworking staff. She has accused the university of maladministration and an inability to make decisions.
Is Jackie Kelly aware of the massive restructure undertaken by UWS that has cut $10 million from its operating costs? There is no fat left on the bone. Mrs Kelly recently described her own electorate as "pram city" and said that the men's greatest aspiration is to mow the lawn on the weekend. She has also abused UWS staff for daring to stand up for the institution. She accused UWS of constantly criticising the Federal Government about the lack of funding when all other universities expressed support for the proposed framework. I am sure that that claim is news to the University of Canberra, La Trobe University, Victoria University, the University of Tasmania and Adelaide University. All provided the Senate inquiry into higher education with submissions opposing the changes and saying that they would be worse off.
Mrs Kelly has been sent out to provide a smokescreen for Brendan Nelson's savage cuts and she has been a willing participant. She has supported cuts that will rob her constituents of a chance of a university education. She has told UWS to compare the way it operates with the way other universities operate. She wants it to compare its multi-campus arrangement, its regional charter and its students to the situation at Sydney University. That is a farce. Brendan Nelson believes a student in an established university should be funded at the same level as a student at a university such as UWS. UWS does not have decades of generous government and corporate investment, accumulated resources and alumni endowments. Under this formula, the four other universities in Sydney will get an extra $65 million over the first three years: $35 million extra for Sydney University, $16.8 million extra for the University of Technology Sydney and $13.6 million extra for Macquarie University.
What about UWS? It will receive $14 million less! The families of Western Sydney will miss out. The Federal Government has subsequently offered a paltry $4.7 million in transitional funding. Mrs Kelly says that that is enough. No, it is not enough! When a university stands to lose $14 million while others stand to get more, a token offer of one-third is not enough. The Federal Government must recognise that multiple campuses across a large region have substantially higher costs. Each campus needs supporting infrastructure, which involves unique costs for an institution such as UWS. Those additional costs are not accounted for in the new funding regime. I agree with just one comment made by Mrs Kelly. She said that we deserve a sandstone-type university in Western Sydney. I agree wholeheartedly. However, we will not get it if the Federal Government slashes $14 million from the UWS budget.
(North Shore) [3.46 p.m.]: The Coalition supports the concerns of health professionals, which is why I sought to move an urgency motion today on behalf of several nurses who have now left the health system. I find it ironic that the motion of the Minister for Western Sydney refers to the recruitment of nurses but fails to address anything relating to retention. The nurses to whom I will refer have 40 years of experience between them. However, they have been vilified and allowed to leave the system. I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after the word "House" with a view to inserting instead "calls on the Commonwealth and State governments to work co-operatively to improve nurse recruitment, education and retention across New South Wales hospitals."
The shortage of nurses in our hospitals is a very serious issue. My colleague the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai will refer to the thousands of nurses who are registered in New South Wales but who choose not to work in the public hospital system. I refer to the four or five nurses from the Camden and Campbelltown areas who had the courage to voice publicly their concerns about what has been happening in the hospitals over a number of years, not only in recent times. They felt that they could not keep silent while in their opinion patients were dying as a result of inappropriate practices. Those very serious allegations were made to the Minister for Health, who met with the nurses on 5 November. On 15 November—10 days later—the Director-General of the Department of Health issued a press release stating that the matters had been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
I spoke with the nurses on a number of occasions, and I saw some of the documentation that they had presented to the Minister. There is no question that these were very serious allegations that needed full review. That is why, on behalf of the Coalition, I called for an independent judicial inquiry into the matter and for the people who had been implicated in the allegations to be stood down while investigations were carried out—which is not an unusual practice when serious allegations are made, particularly involving the deaths of patients. The Minister did not respond to the Coalition's request. Indeed, as I informed the House earlier, instead I received a phone call from the chairman of the board of the area health service in which he effectively tried to pressure me to back off. He also suggested that the nurses were not people who were worth listening to, that there was no substance to them. He said that he knew them, and he then went on to suggest that they had psychiatric problems.
We talk about recruitment of nurses, but we need to be concerned about how we treat them. They are highly professional women. These were not nurses who had been there for six months or for a year or two or three; these were nurses who had between them 40 or 50 years experience. These were nurses who had got into management positions. Government members, in the most sanctimonious way possible, speak in this place about nurses as though they have a soft spot in their hearts for the nursing profession. Yet the Government has refused to support the nurses who have spoken out about hideous practices going on in our hospitals. It has refused to debate the matter I raised earlier, to show that it rejects entirely the idea of a senior public official trying to prevent me from speaking on behalf of the nurses and suggesting that they had psychiatric problems.
Over the eight years that I occupied the position of shadow Minister for Health I spoke at length about the need to retain nurses in public hospitals. A number of reviews were conducted in that regard. However, a review commissioned by the University of New South Wales in conjunction with the Department of Health highlighted a number of issues. For example, it highlighted the fact that the reasons for nurses leaving public hospitals were pay, conditions, hours of work, and a number of related matters. A survey of more than 10,000 nurses found that approximately 4,000 would be prepared to return to hospitals if the Government seriously addressed the issue. The Government should make a serious attempt to address these problems, instead of seeking to blame everyone but itself. The Commonwealth and State governments should be working together to address the problems of nurse recruitment and retention. They should also address recruitment and retention of teachers. The Commonwealth Government has acknowledged the importance of recruiting and training for teachers and nurses by reducing Higher Education Contribution Scheme fees for those courses.
It is extremely important for the future of the services in this State that are probably the most important to anyone—that is, providing health care in our hospitals, and education through the State's schools and TAFE colleges—that the Commonwealth and State governments work together in addressing these issues. Everyone knows, particularly following the publication of the Commonwealth department's paper on the impacts of ageing on the community, that we are heading for tough times. The average age of teachers is around 50 and the average age of nurses is around 50. Not only do we need to train and educate more nurses, but we also need to retain them in our hospitals. Not only do we need to educate more teachers, but we also need to ensure that they are satisfied so that they stay in the classroom. The Teachers Federation, in a briefing to my colleagues just a couple of weeks ago, shocked me when it said that the average length of stay for newly recruited teachers is only three years. No wonder we have a shortage of teachers in our classrooms.
Point of order: The debate and the amendment moved by the honourable member for North Shore relate to nurses, not schoolteachers.
Order! The honourable member for North Shore was using teachers as an example. I am sure she will now return to the substance of the amendment.
I am not surprised that the honourable member for East Hills is so sensitive about this issue. If we cannot find ways to keep nurses working in hospitals, we are heading for trouble. As I said, a survey of 10,000 nurses who were out of the hospital system found that approximately 4,000 would be prepared to return to the hospital system if issues such as pay and improved conditions were addressed. If those nurses were to return to the hospital system, it would just about solve the problem of the shortage of nurses in our hospitals. I am sure that the shadow Minister for Health will speak about why we need more nurses in our hospitals and about the impact on our public hospital system of nurses leaving in such droves. I commend the amendment to the House.
(Liverpool) [3.56 p.m.]: I support the motion. The University of Western Sydney was established in 1989. Its establishment was the culmination of a longstanding demand and campaign by the community of Western Sydney. There is a great interest in the university and its continued wellbeing throughout Western Sydney, particularly in my electorate of Liverpool. Its creation in 1989 was broadly welcomed, despite reservations at the small-mindedness of a partisan thug called Metherell, who refused to allow it to be called the Chifley university. The university has, and should, play a central role within the community of Western Sydney—not just in educating residents but also in playing an important broader role in the community. That is a central element of what the university sees as its function. To date the university has many achievements. Its student population has grown from 9,000 in 1989 to more than 37,000 this year. About three-quarters of the students starting courses at the university this year come from the Greater Western Sydney area.
More than 50 per cent of the students at the university are the first in their family to attend university. At an anecdotal level, I continue to come across people in my electorate who have never before had family members going to university but they had been able to get to the University of Western Sydney. In short, the University of Western Sydney is well down the path of doing what it ought to be doing. It is particularly important on equity grounds that it be allowed to keep doing this. Approximately 10.5 per cent of residents of Greater Western Sydney have a university degree. The figure for the rest of Sydney is 20.8 per cent. The higher education participation rate in Greater Western Sydney is 3 per cent; for the rest of Sydney it is 5.2 per cent. To change those inequitable trends, it is obviously critical for the University of Western Sydney to continue fulfilling its function. Those issues become even more important when one remembers that the growth in population will, in a proportional sense, be greater in Western Sydney than in any other part of Sydney.
Granted the importance of the University of Western Sydney, it is breathtaking to see the recent onslaught upon it by the Federal Government. It almost seems as though the Liberal Government and its local operatives, such as Jackie Kelly, believe that Western Sydney should not have the university. Their arrogant, elitist view is that Western Sydney does not count, it does not matter, it does not need a university. The first tranche of this Federal Government onslaught upon the University of Western Sydney occurred in May when it announced its funding package. The long and the short of that package is that $14 million in funding will be lost to the University of Western Sydney by 2007. So-called transitional funding was allowed by the Federal Government—a thoroughly inadequate $4.7 million. Cuts to this funding are cuts to base funding, which is based upon a belated and unwelcome return to a weighted formula for courses. That weighted formula was abandoned many years ago.
In the current funding proposal the University of Western Sydney will lose $14 million, Sydney University will get an extra $35.3 million and Macquarie University will get an extra $13.6 million. In regard to funding, no university has been treated as badly as the University of Western Sydney. Presumably the aim is to force the University of Western Sydney to increase Higher Education Contribution Scheme [HECS] fees and to dramatically increase full-fee courses. That may well be of use in educating the idiot sons and daughters of the ruling class, but it will do no good at all in educating the sons and daughters who live in Western Sydney. These proposals are fundamentally wrong and it is unfair to treat the University of Western Sydney in this way. It is not just punishing the University of Western Sydney, it is also punishing the residents of Western Sydney. In a broader sense and looking beyond Western Sydney, it is regarded as a bad thing in our society to make it hard for people in areas that have comparatively low higher education participation rates to get to universities.
The model that is being used to provide the basis for this funding is fundamentally illogical. Universities that have one campus are being treated in exactly the same way as the University of Western Sydney, which has six campuses. If a university has six campuses it needs six libraries—in fact, I believe the University of Western Sydney needs seven libraries. It is effectively half a dozen small universities but it is being treated as though it is simply one large university. That is illogical and insane. The situation is rendered worse by the quite extraordinary gyrations of Jackie Kelly. In August she was defending this extraordinary funding package by saying, "It is just about creating a level playing field. We are simply making it fairer so that everyone competes on the same basis." That is wrong. The funding package would have the exact opposite effect. This proposal creates a thoroughly unlevel playing field for the University of Western Sydney. I note that Ms Kelly is also quite keen to suggest that the University of Western Sydney can pursue other funding options. I presume that means that she wants the University of Western Sydney to start charging full fees to the students who come from Western Sydney. That is in direct opposition to the best interests of Western Sydney.
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [4.01 p.m.]: It gives me no pleasure to follow one of the idiot sons of the ruling class of the left wing of the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for Liverpool has come to this debate as though this Government has suddenly materialised out of nowhere and as though the Labor Party has no record when it comes to nurse education, recruitment or retention in New South Wales. The reality is that the so-called nurse shortage—I will come back to why I say "so-called nurse shortage"—has coincided with a shift from nurse education out of hospitals and into the university sector. That shift was largely presided over by a Federal Labor Party Government. In addition, those opposite will not admit that it was a Dawkins education Minister who brought Higher Education Contribution Scheme [HECS] fees into the university sector across Australia and who retreated from the former Labor position of free and universal tertiary education. The Labor Party is responsible for the reintroduction of fees into our universities, something they are not happy about.
If the Minister for Western Sydney is concerned about funding for nurse education in the University of Western Sydney, why does she not get her Treasurer to stop the University of Western Sydney from paying payroll tax to New South Wales? Over the past five years the Government has collected $5.5 billion in windfall profits out of unexpected revenue, yet it demands that the University of Western Sydney pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll tax each year. Payroll tax is a tax on employment and, in this case, a tax on the employment of those who want to train nurses in Western Sydney. I refer to the Government's hypocrisy. The Government can always find taxpayers' money to fund publicity campaigns when it suits it. For example, last week the Government spent $82,000 on full-page advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald
and the Daily Telegraph
. However, the Government can never find sufficient funding for nurse education, retention or pay rises in this State.
In addressing the amendment moved by the honourable member for North Shore, I make the point that the Government failed to deliver on repeated promises to recruit additional nurses to the New South Wales State hospital system well before any of these latest higher education debates took place and well before any change to the higher education system occurred. This failure is connected with the Government's desire, addiction and overplaying of its hand in relation to spending taxpayers' funds on publicity campaigns when it suits it, particularly in the lead-up to State election campaigns. This Government has failed to reduce the number of nurse vacancies across the State hospital system despite spending $2.1 million on high-profile public relations campaigns in the lead-up to the last State election campaign.
Contrary to the grand claims made by the former Minister for Health about the Nursing Reconnect campaign, the number of nursing vacancies across New South Wales has risen over the past 20 months. When the $1.8 million Nursing Reconnect campaign was launched by the then Minister for Health in January 2002 he owned up to 1,700 nursing vacancies across the State. As of September this year, 20 months later, those vacancies are now up to 1,768. So despite the State Government spending $2.1 million of taxpayers' money on a soft public relations campaign, nurse vacancies across New South Wales have gone up. Is the Government concerned about that? No. Why is it not concerned about that? Because that expenditure on television and newspaper advertisements coincided with the lead-up to the State election campaign, an election campaign in which it was determined to convince people that it was doing something about the recruitment of nurses in New South Wales—a fact that is disputed by its figures, which are available on the Health web site.
The Government needs to own up to its responsibilities. Last Friday the Government released a report in relation to the Prince of Wales Hospital emergency department. That report showed that the hospital system was so bad that those presenting for emergency treatment were not being triaged or assessed by medical professionals but by clerical staff. This was not because medical professionals were unavailable but because that is the way the system operated. The Government has fundamentally lost the plot when it comes to running hospitals. It puts increasing workloads on our nurses, it expects them to work in intolerable circumstances because of the systems—not the resources—available, but it will not own up to those responsibilities.
(Camden) [4.06 p.m.]: The University of Western Sydney is under threat because the Federal Government has ripped $14 million from its base funding. Courses and campuses are now in danger. It is important to place the University of Western Sydney, particularly its Campbelltown campus, in the context of the region it serves, a region that has traditionally faced higher education inequalities. The Campbelltown-Camden region is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia—as is Western Sydney, particularly at Penrith—and it will grow significantly over the next 20 years. A strong higher education presence in our region is essential. The establishment of the Campbelltown campus has done just that. For the first time a university degree has been placed within the reach of our families.
Like the honourable member for Liverpool, I receive anecdotal evidence from people that for the first time in the history of their families they have been able to send their children to university. It is a very important thing. Local residents have a strong identity with the Campbelltown campus of the University of Western Sydney. It is not considered to be an arm of a wider university but it is looked upon as our university. The campus has a broad academic profile, with colleges of law and business, a college of science, and a college of social and health sciences. No longer do kids in the region have to spend hours travelling each day to further their education. They can get a university degree in their own backyard. Our kids can now get law, accounting, nursing or medical science degrees locally. A diverse range of courses is offered at Campbelltown—from law to nursing; a range of courses fitting for a stand-alone university.
However, these courses, and possibly the campus, are now under threat. I was horrified to learn that one option to save money could be the closure of one of the campuses. These courses are under threat: the Federal Government has slashed funding to the university by approximately $14 million because of its failure to acknowledge the valuable role that the Campbelltown campus plays in the Macarthur area. The Federal Government fails to acknowledge that the Campbelltown campus is not an offshoot of a larger university but is, effectively, a stand-alone university with library and administration costs.
In its submission to the Senate inquiry into higher education the university acknowledged that to reclaim the $14 million cut from its base funding a number of options must be considered. These include closing campuses and cutting courses. Clearly, that would be unacceptable to my community. It is important to note that the closest comprehensive university campus to Campbelltown is 50 kilometres away. Any reduction in courses offered at Campbelltown will adversely affect the local area. Many of my constituents will be faced with two choices: either to travel to the city universities each day from Camden or Campbelltown or to leave the area. It is most likely that participation rates will plummet.
The university could introduce full-fee undergraduate courses, but again participation rates will plummet. Should the funding squeeze on the University of Western Sydney become so tight that the Campbelltown campus is forced to close, that would be the end of higher education for the area. But it is not too late to prevent that happening. I call on the Federal Government to immediately recognise the important role the Campbelltown campus plays in this growing region. It must immediately acknowledge Campbelltown campus as part of a unique university structure that spans six campuses and 2,000 square kilometres and that, by its nature, it is a structure that has higher administrative and infrastructure costs than other universities.
In the past the Federal Government has acknowledged that Campbelltown-Camden is a vital region. The University of Western Sydney has received two grants under the Sustainable Regions Program. However, the Government has failed to classify the area as regional for the purpose of education funding. Although the Roseworthy campus of Adelaide University, which is located 50 kilometres from the central business district of Adelaide, received 2.5 per cent regional loading and the University of Sydney received an extra $35.3 million in funding, the families of Western Sydney are faced with the prospect of course reductions and closing campuses. It is time the Federal Government accepted the unique standing and regional charter of the University of Western Sydney and protected the special and diverse needs of the region it serves. Given the assistance provided to regional universities, the same help should be provided to the University of Western Sydney.
(Penrith) [4.11 p.m.]: The Federal Government has had to work hard to find ways to ensure that there is no room for new trainee nursing positions at the University of Western Sydney. It has said that it will provide an additional 574 nursing places for regional universities and that it will offer a regional funding loading to more than 50 rural and regional campuses. However, the University of Western Sydney is missing out on both more nursing places and the regional funding loading. The Federal Government refuses to recognise the University of Western Sydney as a regional university, robbing it of vital funds and the offer of more nursing places.
Regional loading is supposed to be for campuses that face higher costs as a result of location, size and history and that generally have less potential to diversify resources and a smaller capacity to compete for fee-paying students. I can attest to the fact that that sounds very much like the University of Western Sydney because, as a local, I attended that university when it was the Nepean College of Advanced Education. I did not have to travel 50 kilometres to attend university; I was able to undertake my education at a local facility. In the last seven years I was also a visiting lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, a vibrant university that provides education and jobs for the local community.
Any changes that affect the University of Western Sydney will also affect the local community. These changes will affect people in the Campbelltown, Camden, Penrith, Mulgoa and Parramatta areas and beyond. Even the Federal Government's Aged Care Nursing Scholarship Scheme classifies the Hawkesbury campus of the University of Western Sydney as rural. However, the regional loading only applies to a campus located outside a mainland capital city and within a population centre of less than 250,000. Because of Western Sydney's increasing population and its increased need for health services and nurses, the University of Western Sydney misses out. The Federal Government refuses to acknowledge the University of Western Sydney as a regional university, yet it is clear, according to its legislative charter, that the university was established "to provide university standard education and research … having particular regard to the needs and aspirations of Greater Western Sydney". The great irony of the Federal Government's inaction is that, without doubt, Western Sydney is the growth centre, the engine room, of metropolitan Sydney. However, on 17 June the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Nelson, stated:
… when the chippies and the boilermakers and the mechanics down the road in Penrith are paying for three-quarters of the education of those who go to university under this package.
It is clear that Dr Nelson has formed the opinion that people who live within the catchment areas surrounding the University of Western Sydney are the chippies, boilermakers and mechanics down the road. It is a shame that the Federal Minister is not taking into account the growth, vitality and dynamics of Western Sydney. Each year approximately 30,000 people choose to move to Western Sydney, with its attendant transport, hospital and other essential needs. Despite the view of Dr Nelson, Gladys Reed, the Chief Executive Officer of the Penrith Valley Chamber of Commerce, defended the University of Western Sydney against the stinging criticism of the Federal member for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly. Ms Reed, whose daughter and daughter-in-law studied at the University of Western Sydney, said that she had never heard criticism of the university's standards from students. She said:
Among all the students I have come in contact with I have never heard any criticism of the university … the university served local businesses well.
It's a major stakeholder and major employer in our community.
It's skilling up people for our local job market. It brings enormous economic benefits to our region.
I commend those words to the House. [Time expired
(Drummoyne) [4.16 p.m.]: Last year the University of Western Sydney turned away 135 fully qualified nursing applicants. As a representative of the New South Wales Nurses Association, I have seen the nursing recruitment crisis building from the inside and it is heartbreaking to see those graduates being knocked back. Put in simple nursing terms, the Federal Government does not have its finger on the pulse when it comes to assisting the nursing profession with recruitment. It is hard to imagine that the situation could get worse or that a government could choose to make it worse. But that is what the Federal Government has done. New South Wales is bleeding from a deficit of 1,600 to 1,800 nurses.
That is no exaggeration: we are at crisis point. In Sydney's west there are insufficient undergraduate students to fill available clinical places. Approximately 25 per cent of the permanently employed nursing work force currently works in the greater west. The University of Western Sydney has been unable to provide sufficient numbers of undergraduate students to take up the available clinical placements in hospitals within Western Sydney.
The Western Sydney Area Health Service has had to form alliances with the University of Technology, Sydney, and the University of Newcastle to get sufficient numbers of both undergraduate and postgraduate students to fill these gaps. It is imperative for students to undertake clinical placements as these students are the future of the nursing work force in Western Sydney. The sad story is found in the current registered nurse vacancies. In July 2003 Liverpool Hospital, Westmead Hospital and Nepean Hospital were actively recruiting 260 full-time equivalent registered nurses. That figure is larger than the total number of 210 additional undergraduate places that the Commonwealth is offering for the whole of Australia in 2004.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! There is too much interjection.
The failure of the University of Western Sydney to receive one new place under the Federal Government's plans for higher education is a total abrogation of duty to our nurses, to the people of Western Sydney and to the people of New South Wales. I note the comments of the honourable member for North Shore on retention, because that is an important point. The honourable member refuses to acknowledge that unless we are able to recruit more nurses our current nurses will continue to be overworked, which means that they are more likely to leave the industry because they can no longer work double and triple shifts and they can no longer go without annual leave.
To assist recruitment and retention, the State Government has launched a $1.2 million study into nurse-patient ratios. Registered nurses in New South Wales say that nurse-patient ratios are important. As an officer of the New South Wales Nurses Association I note that we have the highest paid nurses in Australia—and so they should be—and the other States should match those conditions. Only last year nurses in New South Wales received a 10 per cent increase, which was part of a 22 per cent increase over four years. Some allowances increased by 50 per cent to 100 per cent. The nurses are grateful for that acknowledgement.
We have launched the Nurses Reconnect Program to try to draw some of our nurses back to the industry. I note also that many nurses who have left the industry or retired have maintained their registration, which accounts for some of the figures to which the honourable member for North Shore referred. The challenge is for the Federal Government to keep up with the community in Western Sydney, to give due respect to our nurses in New South Wales and to assist the Government to assist in the recruitment of more nurses by providing placements.
(Mulgoa—Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration)) [4.21 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable members representing the electorates of Liverpool, Camden, Penrith and Drummoyne for their contributions to this debate. I shall highlight some of the reasons that this is, indeed, a motion for urgent consideration. Fifty per cent of university students at the University of Western Sydney are first-time family university goers; and 10 per cent of people in Western Sydney have a degree, compared to 20 per cent of the whole of greater Western Sydney. So there are inequities. What do we get from our Federal counterparts? We are called pram pushers, chippies, boilermakers or mechanics who aspire to mow lawns. That is what we get from our Federal representatives.
When our Federal representatives talk about tertiary degrees they do not want those degrees for the people of Penrith, Drummoyne, Parramatta, Camden or Hawkesbury. Where is the honourable member for Hawkesbury in all of this? Why is he not defending his campus? Where is he in this debate? Let us think about it. There is some 3.2 per cent of university participation in Western Sydney compared to more than 5 per cent for greater Western Sydney. We are regional and we are multicampus. That puts the University of Western Sydney in a different ballpark to other universities. For example, all the universities in Tasmania are considered to be regional. Why? Because they are too far away from Melbourne. The University of Western Sydney is far away from Melbourne, so we can be included in that category. If Tasmania is included, the University of Western Sydney should also be included. It is appalling.
The honourable member for North Shore is right about Wollongong. The University of Wollongong put up a fight, as did the University of Western Sydney. We do not want cuts made to our funding base. We want funding to achieve the mission of the University of Western Sydney. We want to be funded so that we can run not four or five but six large campuses throughout the greater Western Sydney area. We want to be funded to keep the rate of growth that Western Sydney has experienced. We must remember that $40 million of funding will be cut from all courses at the university if the Federal Government proceeds with its plans. If Brendan Nelson does that, $40 million will be cut from the University of Western Sydney. That will be a real shame for all courses.
The loss of 135 nurses becomes a disgrace. We want funding to keep pace with growth. In the next 15 years we expect 25 per cent growth in Western Sydney, and we want funding that is representative of our unique student profile: first-time university goers. In some cases it will be the first time that a family member has achieved a university degree. It is an absolute disgrace that the Federal Government could dare to not acknowledge the particular circumstances of the University of Western Sydney: it is a regional multicampus university. "Multicampus" means that it needs more libraries, information technology facilities and laboratories across campus. It needs student support services and academic staff for all its campuses.
The Federal Government's plan is an attempt to deprive the people of Western Sydney of that resource. It is an attempt to go back to the days when it was all right to be a boilermaker or a chippy and all one could dare to aspire to—and I quote Jackie Kelly again—was to push a pram or a lawnmower. However, we will not be pushed around on this anymore. The university is rightly outraged. It is time the Federal Government showed its commitment to higher education in Western Sydney. We are not asking for extra treatment. We are asking for a fair share for Western Sydney. I commend this motion to the House. I call on the Federal Government to restore equitable, accessible university education for Western Sydney, to give our people a chance so they can aspire to attend the University of Western Sydney. I call on the Federal Government to reverse the funding cuts cruelly imposed on the university. I implore it to reconsider its decision.
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
|Ms Allan||Mr Brogden|
|Mr Carr||Mr Debnam|
|Mr Stewart||Mr Richardson|
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
|Ms Allan||Mr Brogden|
|Mr Carr||Mr Debnam|
|Mr Stewart||Mr Richardson|
SMALL BUSINESS SEPTEMBER
Matter of Public Importance
(Keira—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Illawarra, and Minister for Small Business) [4.44 p.m.]: I ask the House to note as a matter of public importance the special month of events—known this year as Small Business September—which is being held by the Government in recognition of the small business owners of New South Wales. This month-long calendar of activity, which includes more than 440 seminars, workshops, conferences, and trade and award shows, is being held throughout New South Wales for the benefit of owners of small firms. Small Business September began on 1 September with a special family business seminar being broadcast by satellite to more than 40 locations throughout the State. More than 1,200 people gathered at venues throughout the State to hear good advice from family business experts.
Family business is a particularly relevant topic for Small Business September, as more than 60 per cent of small businesses are connected in some way to a family. Family businesses make a significant contribution to the economy; they provide more than half of Australia's gross domestic product and employ half of the private sector work force. The events marking Small Business September are many and varied. Among those I have attended was the gathering of 150 hairdressers in Sydney to network and develop their business skills. Some came from the Hunter and Illawarra regions, and they were keen to take advantage of this valuable networking opportunity. Other events that have been held included the Parramatta conference, which showed business people how to gain work on major infrastructure projects; the Central West Business Development Conference in Orange; and cash flow management seminars in Tweed Heads, Dubbo, Tenterfield and Glen Innes.
During this week alone, events have been held all over the State, from Yamba to the Central Coast, from Jindabyne to Blacktown, and from Penrith to Lightning Ridge, covering a wide variety of topics, such as home-based businesses, help for inventors, and marketing indigenous artwork. Later today a family business seminar will be held in Sydney. Such events show the range of activities on offer during this special month. The goals of Small Business September are to raise awareness of the achievements and contributions of small business and to involve small business owners in activities that will increase their networks, promote skills, and build links to the many support organisations that promote small business success.
Many of the events being held this month have been organised through the extensive network of small business advisory services throughout the State, which are funded by the New South Wales Government. Many events are free or low cost, and they address issues such as business growth, innovation and technology, marketing, finance, and exporting. It is expected that more than 40,000 small business owners and operators will participate in Small Business September. Honourable members should note that Small Business September is unique in Australia. New South Wales is the only State to hold such a substantial and significant celebration of small business. The Carr Labor Government supports small business. We are the only State in Australia that holds a month of events focusing on small business.
With the support of corporate sponsors we have been able to distribute 80,000 printed calendars and create a website that lists available events by region and date. Through this promotion we expect that many small business owners, who do not always hear about opportunities to increase their links in the business community due to the hectic pace of a career in business ownership, will participate in an event. Promotions such as Small Business September give all of us the opportunity to acknowledge the entrepreneurial spirit of small business operators, a spirit that has a direct and positive impact on our communities, and to acknowledge that small business is a major driver of economic growth.
New South Wales is home to 372,500 small businesses that employ more than one million people. There are now more small businesses in New South Wales employing more people than there were at any time under a New South Wales Coalition Government. According to the latest figures available, small business numbers in New South Wales grew by 21.3 per cent between 1994-95 and 2000-01. That is three percentage points above the increase for the rest of Australia. The support shown by the Carr Government for small business is in sharp contrast to that shown by the Coalition. In an article in the Weekend Australian
of 2 August 2003, in a rare moment of candour the National Party's director, Mr Andrew Hall, said:
The Liberal Party struggles to relate to the challenges of the average small business.
That is a direct admission from the most senior organisational figure in the National Party that the Liberals have nothing to offer small business. In fact, he makes it clear that the Liberal Party only thinks about the big end of town. What does the honourable member for Burrinjuck, the shadow Minister for Small Business, think about this attitude in the Coalition? Very little, judging by her total inaction on small business. She is loath to acknowledge the valuable contribution of our small business people in New South Wales. She prefers to criticise the business enterprise centres and smear the dedicated workers who help small business people.
The honourable member for Burrinjuck is labouring under a difficult burden: she is the member of the political party that brought in the GST and the new tax system, which have imposed the most onerous demands on small business. Small business owners all over Australia constantly lament the heavy burden of paperwork attached to the new tax, and rightly resent the inordinate amount of valuable time gobbled up in excessive record keeping. This matter was raised by my Western Australian colleague at the recent meeting of Small Business Ministers in Melbourne. The Ministers discussed recent surveys, including one conducted by CPA Australia which showed that complying with the demands of the GST was placing a terrible burden on small business. Indeed, the National Federation of Independent Business has calculated the cost of GST compliance at $60 per $10,000 turnover.
The Australian Taxation Office has stated that small businesses struggling with record keeping are likely to come under scrutiny. Small businesses are at risk of failing audits because they simply cannot keep up with the paperwork demands while running their business. That means that small firms still struggling with the complexity of the business activity statement system are now vulnerable to being hit with penalties. A Queensland University of Technology study found that the GST is continuing to discourage small business growth. The meeting of Small Business Ministers agreed that there is a need to reduce the cost of compliance. The Coalition's approach is in stark contrast to the views of the New South Wales Government. We value our small businesses and ensure that they have access to a wide range of assistance in their start-up and expansion phases.
Small Business September is very important because it is a public acknowledgment of the hard work done by our small business operators. I thank everyone involved in organising the events, and I urge all small business operators to attend as many activities as possible. The events will provide them with the opportunity to work on their businesses as well as in their businesses, to strengthen their businesses, and perhaps to grow a little and create employment. It will also be an opportunity to strengthen economies, particularly regional economies, throughout the State. Some small business operators might attend the Sydney seminar on how to become an employer, the one-day Wollongong seminar on the journey from an idea to profit, the Parramatta workshop on Internet marketing, or the interactive workshop in Tweed Heads called "Stop counting paperclips: Financial freedom for your business". There is something for everyone.
I take great pleasure in commending this event as an opportunity for small business operators to work on their business as well as in their business and to understand that although the GST will cause them difficulties, with proper training they will be able to overcome some of them. That training will be available at the events to be held during Small Business September. This is a New South Wales Labor Government initiative aimed at highlighting the contribution that small business makes to the State's economy and particularly to regional economies and communities. It is a very important sector of our economy and it is important that we focus on it and positively acknowledge the contribution it makes. We must encourage people to establish small businesses and to continue to trade and expand them into medium-size enterprises that offer employment, training and skills to people throughout the State. As the Minister for Small Business, it is an honour and privilege to speak on this matter of public importance, to have the opportunity to travel throughout New South Wales, and to encourage small business operators to take part in the activities of Small Business September.
(Burrinjuck) [4.54 p.m.]: The business sector of this State has an old adage about how one gets a small business under a Labor Government: start with a big business. I have never heard such a politically arrogant speech about a crucial sector of our economy—small business. He purports to be a Minister but he just proved he is a Labor thug. If he were to spend as much time looking after small business as he does indulging in politicking around the Wollongong area he would be a reasonable representative. The Government should reinstate the former Minister; at least she cared about small business. Small Business September will involve more than 100 organisations from different sectors of the State's economy—government, councils, chambers of commerce, industry associations, the community and the private sector—highlighting the achievements of small businesses in New South Wales.
This State has almost 400,000 small businesses. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate that New South Wales is home to about one-third of all small businesses in Australia and that small businesses represent 97 per cent of all businesses in New South Wales. About half of the people who work in businesses in New South Wales are employed by small businesses. Almost every industry sector—construction, transport, education, retail, agriculture, manufacturing and so on—has an element of small business. Small businesses are the engine room of the New South Wales economy. I have had extensive retail industry experience as a partner in a retail organisation for 14 years, so I know only too well the plight that small businesses face daily. Operators work seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The Minister made a politically motivated speech about Small Business September during a supposedly positive month for small businesses. I am disgusted by his arrogance, and many small business operators feel the same way. They have already expressed extreme disappointment about the Minister's performance, and he has just reinforced their opinion. As a small business owner I felt great being my own boss. Although there are significant risks, the rewards for a successful small businessperson are great. The New South Wales Government has a significant role to play in small businesses. Although there will always be a need for regulation in occupational health and safety and consumer protection, the best thing this Government could do would be to ensure that small businesses are not handicapped by excessive red tape and bureaucracy.
I speak to many small business operators across the State who consistently complain about the amount of red tape they are confronted with. On the last sitting day in this place I sought to move an urgency motion relating to WorkCover. Though the Minister is aware of the importance of that issue, he voted in favour of giving precedence to a motion about the singing of Waltzing Matilda
. Business proprietors to whom I have spoken in the past week are disgusted with him and this Government's slack attitude to WorkCover. An airconditioning installer I met last week told me that he is often called in to rectify shonky installations and has often tried to report dangerous situations to WorkCover, but to no avail. In fact, he relayed to me several disturbing stories about WorkCover and the Department of Fair Trading not accepting reports of dangerous situations and breaches of licensing conditions because he was telephoning from his office and not the worksite in question.
I have also received many complaints from small business operators who are worried and annoyed about the lack of clear advice from WorkCover about how to implement the new occupational health and safety regulations. Small business operators have had to make their own decisions about what is safe based on broad WorkCover guidelines, but if their decisions do not accord with those of WorkCover inspectors, they are fined. During the last sitting week I referred to the concerns expressed by Robert Butcher, the owner of Mitre 10 and IGA in Gundagai. His staff attended a WorkCover information session and came back more confused than before they went. John Tod, a sowing and fertiliser contractor in Goulburn, was unable to get advice from his local WorkCover office and had to come to me to get his questions answered. Small businesswoman Kim Gann from Carpet Court in Goulburn could not get advice from the local WorkCover office about how the new regulations relate to contractors. Frank Burgess, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Automotive Mechanical Engineers, told me that the new regulations are a key issue of concern for the automotive repair industry, which largely comprises small businesses.
The Minister talked about business enterprise centres [BECs]. The 48 BECs across the State provide important services to small businesses. The managers of several BECs have told me they are frustrated and angry about the Minister's penny-pinching attitude. Each BEC receives only $75,000 a year for running costs and to employ two staff members. Instead of being able to concentrate on helping start-up businesses, most BEC officers must spend time chasing other sources of income. That is terrible.
As the honourable member for Lismore said, State taxes and charges are a great concern to the small business sector. New South Wales remains the highest taxing State in Australia. What has the Minister done about the small business sector's desperate need for relief from the excessive payroll tax rates? Has he spoken to the Treasurer? Did he tell the Illawarra Business Chamber before the election that he would not help small businesses fight tax increases? Surely, as the responsible Minister, he now realises that small businesses across New South Wales would benefit greatly from lower taxes and charges. Both Queensland and Victoria have lower payroll tax rates than New South Wales—they pay 4.75 per cent and 5.35 per cent. Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory both have significantly higher tax thresholds.
In fact, with a payroll tax threshold of $1.25 million, it is highly unlikely that any small businesses in the Australian Capital Territory are slugged with a payroll tax bill. No wonder so many businesses are packing up and heading out of this State.
Several Small Business September functions will be held in my electorate. Gilli Williams from the Southern Tablelands and Highlands BEC will host a business breakfast, and next Monday I will host a function for small business operators. Last week I worked with "Greengrocer on Clifford" as part of the Pollies for Small Business Week run by the State Chamber of Commerce. It was a fantastic day and I commend the chamber for organising it. Although more than 300 functions will be held across the State, many small businesses are crying out for Government action to address home warranty insurance, which is a serious issue.
The Minister must be aware that there are some 80,000 small businesses in the construction sector. My office is bombarded daily with builders who have been waiting five, six, seven months, and longer, for the Government-mandated home warranty insurance cover so they can work. The Carr Labor Government has presided over the creation of a virtual monopoly in home warranty insurance, but small business operators, including builders, are unable to get sufficient coverage and have been forced to lay off workers and staff. Housing Development Australia, a small company in the Hunter, has been forced to lay off 13 contractors and is now doing less than half the work it did four years ago. Redera Construction and Management has had to lay off all apprentices because of the lack of work, caused by insufficient insurance coverage. In fact, the personal assistant, who has been with the company for about 12 or 14 years, has had her hours cut back by 40 per cent. Yet the Government's response has simply been: "Let's hold another inquiry." The interim report of the Grellman inquiry states:
The majority of stakeholders and service providers are critical of a variety of aspects of the current scheme.
A theme emerged of a desire for a scheme that possesses the hallmarks of Accessibility, Affordability, Fairness and Efficiency.
If Mr Grellman felt it necessary to make that statement, obviously the current scheme is inaccessible, unaffordable, unfair and inefficient. What a damning indictment of how the Minister and the Government have failed small businesses across the State. Another impost on small businesses across New South Wales is the discredited fire service levy, which imposes significant, unfair costs on small businesses that choose to insure themselves. If they have no insurance, they do not have to pay the levy. If they make provision to protect their business, the Government slaps a 30 per cent levy on their insurance premiums. Is that fair?
New South Wales has the disgraceful humiliation of paying the third-highest taxes and charges on insurance premiums in the world. We pay higher taxes on insurance premiums than South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Singapore. What a record! As I said earlier, small businesses are the backbone of the New South Wales economy, but the Government constantly fails to grasp the opportunity to reverse its high taxing of small business, as evidenced again in this year's budget. Instead the Treasurer chose to increase the burden on employers hiring trainees, by now making them pay workers compensation premiums for new trainees as if they are formal employees. In the past the Government met the workers compensation premiums for new trainees. It should be the policy of the Carr Labor Government to lower taxes in order to encourage increased growth in this sector.
If the Minister does not like me representing small businesses, he should start doing so himself. Obviously, he is not prepared to raise the issues that are now facing small businesses, because he is heckling me and ridiculing what I am saying. These are very serious issues, and the Minister should address them seriously. Unfortunately, it has been proven again and again that despite pressure from the Opposition and business interest groups, the Carr Government is unable to get out of its high-taxing habit. Earlier this year the Treasurer admitted that stamp duty would surpass $3 billion this financial year. [Time expired.
(Bathurst) [5.04 p.m.]: I am delighted to support the Minister's matter of public importance. As has been said, small business is the lifeblood and the engine room of the New South Wales economy. Small businesses make up 97 per cent of all the State's businesses, and provide almost half the jobs in the private sector. The New South Wales Government fully recognises the importance of small business to the people and economy of this State. We also recognise that while there are many rewards in operating a business, it also requires a great deal of hard work. This month is Small Business September, a demonstration of the Government's appreciation of the efforts of small business owners and operators, and the contribution they make to the wellbeing of the people of New South Wales.
Small Business September also provides small business people with myriad opportunities to build on their management, industry and technical skills, and to access support from each other and from organisations in both the public and private sectors. During Small Business September, more than 440 events are being held throughout New South Wales. I am particularly pleased that more than half the events are being held in regional areas of the State. This is highly appropriate, as almost half of all self-employed people are based outside Sydney. People are much more likely to meet people who work for themselves in regional areas than people who work for themselves in the metropolitan area. On the other hand, fewer regional self-employed people employ others. Business owners and operators in regional areas often find it difficult to access events that meet their needs. That should not be a problem this month. In my region of the Central West, about 20 events have been scheduled. I take this opportunity to commend the Minister for his regular visits to the Central West.
Everyone—except the carping National Party members—knows about the Minister's regular visits to the Central West. The events scheduled for the Central West cover a range of topics, including cash flow management, exporting, family businesses, marketing, occupational health and safety, and women in business.
Point of order: I ask you to direct the honourable member for Bathurst to return to the subject matter of the motion—
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! The remarks of the honourable member for Bathurst are relevant to the motion.
Point of order—
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! I have already ruled on the point of order. The honourable member for Bathurst has the call.
Central West events organised as part of Small Business September are being delivered by organisations as varied as business enterprise centres, the Australian Institute of Export, WorkCover, and the Asian Agribusiness Research Centre.
We have just seen another demonstration of how out of touch the National Party is. On 8 September the Minister for Small Business opened the Central West Business Development Conference, which brought together a host of agencies and organisations to assist small business people in the region to grow their businesses and create jobs.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! The honourable member for Myall Lakes and the honourable member for Lismore will cease interjecting.
The involvement of the New South Wales Government in the conference is another example of our commitment to maximising the potential of rural and regional New South Wales, especially at a time when the drought is continuing to cause problems for businesspeople and their customers.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! I call the honourable member for Lismore to order.
On 9 September the Bathurst Business Enterprise Centre held a Women in Business dinner. Almost one-third of all small business operators in New South Wales are women, and that number is growing. The New South Wales Government supports women in business with a range of programs offered in regional and metropolitan areas of the State. These programs include business skills workshops and mentoring programs. The Women in Business dinner provided businesswomen in the Central West with an opportunity to network and share with each other their experiences as operators of small firms—the demands, the joys, the challenges, and the successes. Cash flow management is crucial for the success of any business. Tomorrow, 17 September, Lithgow Enterprise Development Agency will present a cash flow management workshop. This practical workshop identifies cash flow issues and equips owners and operators of small and medium enterprises with the skills to deal with them effectively.
As the founding chairman of the business enterprise centre at Lithgow, I am well aware that the business enterprise centres in my electorate, particularly those in Bathurst and Lithgow, welcome the efforts of the Minister. They are very positive organisations. They are in not into the carping, whingeing, and criticism that the National Party engages in. They recognise what the Government is doing, and that is why they have embraced Small Business September. The Minister is, in a sense, almost part of the family in my electorate. It is always a delight to have him there, because he always has something positive to say. Small businesses are listening, they are responding, and Small Business September is a typical example of that. The Minister and his department deserve congratulations, not carping and criticism. [Time expired.
(Keira—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Illawarra, and Minister for Small Business) [5.09 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Bathurst for his contribution. In some respects I am a little embarrassed about what he had to say. It is always a pleasure to work with him and the organisations in his electorate. Despite her attempts to be negative, I acknowledge that the shadow Minister had a couple of positive things to say about small businesses in the State. Two weeks ago I was delighted to launch Pollies for Small Business, an initiative of the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce. I spent an hour working in a mixed business in Croydon. Last week I worked in a newsagency in Woonona, in my electorate of Keira. Pollies for Small Business is a great initiative and a great way to highlight the contribution of small business in local communities.
Business enterprise centres [BECs] also make a significant contribution to small businesses throughout the State, and provide great assistance to people who want to establish a small business. A few weeks ago I visited Goulburn and spent an hour with the manager of the Goulburn Business Enterprise Centre. Such was that woman's response to what I had to say about BECs that she asked me to write a message indicating my support for BECs, which she would take to the cluster of BECs in her area. BECs are playing a significant role in events for Small Business September. Yesterday I was with the Macarthur BEC in Campbelltown, launching the Macarthur Business Week and the Macarthur Business Awards as part of Small Business September. Last week I spoke at a conference in Orange that was organised by the Orange BEC. The list goes on as to the involvement of BECs and the contributions that they make to Small Business September. I have visited the Bathurst BEC and the Lithgow BEC, both of which were mentioned by the honourable member for Bathurst.
I refer to the nonsense we heard from the Opposition in regard to taxes. The shadow Minister repeated some of the information that I gave in my earlier address, so she might like to listen to this and actually learn something. It is important that people understand that 94 per cent of all businesses in New South Wales pay no payroll tax. Payroll tax is not an issue in that regard. The Government has cut payroll tax. When the Coalition was last in office payroll tax hit a high of 8 per cent. Under this Government it has been reduced to 6 per cent. The Opposition should not come into this Chamber pontificating about payroll tax because it does not have a feather to fly with in that regard.
Point of order: My point of order is relevance. The Minister is stating that payroll tax is not a problem to businesses in this State. It is a major problem. If the Minister would like to travel around the State and tell members when he is doing so they will take him to businesses where payroll tax is an issue.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! The honourable member for Lismore has contradicted himself in his remarks. There is no point of order.
I made this point earlier, but I will repeat it because it is obvious that the honourable member for Lismore and other Opposition members did not hear it: 94 per cent of businesses in New South Wales pay no payroll tax. Indeed, in its first term the Labor Government provided significant business tax concessions, it abolished the tax on loan refinancing—a move hailed by the State Chamber of Commerce—it indexed the tax-free threshold for land tax, it halved share transfer duty, it cut effective rates applying to both TAB and on-course racing,and the list goes on. This debate is not about tax; it is about small business, the contribution it makes to the State and a celebration of that through Small Business September.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
TOMAREE REAL FUTURES PROGRAM
(Port Stephens) [5.15 p.m.]: I speak today about a program that has been established on the Tomaree peninsula, the Real Futures Program. Last Tuesday I signed a charter at a charter signing ceremony. That charter is about linking business and education to shape our children's future. Many years ago in my inaugural speech I spoke about the problems of alienated young men in our community, unemployment, and anger expressed by graffiti, vandalism, antisocial behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse. Our goal is to try to keep students learning and involved in ongoing education. At the ceremony year 10 students signed a charter in front of many distinguished visitors. The charter said that by 31 March next year they will be back at school, doing a TAFE course, doing a further education course or working.
The people who came to the charter signing said that, for their part, they would endeavour to ensure that people leaving school would go into a small business or into a job. The community made a commitment to get young people in year 10 to commit themselves to a future that did not involve the dole. This program is the initiative of the Beacon Foundation. Tomaree High School is one of approximately 10 schools in Australia now being funded, I believe to the tune of $20,000, to ensure that the things the community is promising come together. The project is co-hosted by the Tomaree High School, the Beacon Foundation, the Port Stephens Council and the Tomaree Work Placement Committee. These groups have come together to say to the kids, "We want you to change the culture. Do not look at the dole as a way of living your life in the future because it is not going to give you the income and it is not going to create the wealth that will give you a good standard of living. We want you to commit yourself and be involved in further education or work."
A number of distinguished guests attended the signing ceremony, including Mr Scott Harris, Chief Executive Officer of the Beacon Foundation, Councillor Nell, Mayor of Port Stephens, Councillor Peter Gesling, General Manager of Port Stephens, the district superintendent, the police commander from the Lower Hunter, the base commander from the RAAF base, Rotary, Lions and Apex. Approximately 500 people were present in the hall, including the students. It was a successful day. The children signed the charter in front of the assembly, the idea being that the community then signed the charter to give that commitment. I am chair of the Tomaree Work Placement Committee, which tries to get students into jobs throughout Tomaree peninsula. The committee is comprised of educators from the two local high schools and business people from manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, metalworking and construction. The committee convenes every two or three months.
Next year more than 280 students will go into work placement positions. These people are integral in fulfilling the commitment made by the community to year 10 children. These people will be supplying the jobs, encouraging the kids receiving further training or encouraging them to go back to school. We are trying to put in place a cultural change, where the kids are looking at their futures now. That is why it is called the Real Futures Program. I thank the Beacon Foundation for trying to address this cultural change. The Beacon Foundation's statement is as follows:
The Beacon philosophy is that while government can provide stimulus to youth unemployment, the Corporate world can play a very important role in providing a bright future for the next generation of Australians through partnering schools.
The coordinators, Dyan Thais and Narelle McBean from Tomaree High School, have done an excellent job in launching the program. It would behove every member of the House to keep an eye on this program because it could be the way of the future.
(Keira—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Illawarra, and Minister for Small Business) [5.20 p.m.]: The honourable member for Port Stephens has brought to the Chamber a localised issue. It is obvious that he has a great deal of interest in, and gives a great deal of support to, this program. Clearly, the Real Futures Program will have an impact on young people in the Port Stephens area. I congratulate the honourable member on ensuring that the House is aware of the program and the contribution it will make to young people in the Port Stephens area.
TRIBUTE TO LAUREN JACKSON
(Albury) [5.21 p.m.]: It is not often that a regional city has the opportunity to claim as one of its own a world champion, a superstar, but that is the case today in Albury. Lauren Jackson's name is known to most in the sports world for her phenomenal achievements in basketball. She has just been named the most valuable player [MVP] by the Women's National Basketball Association [WNBA] in the United States of America. She is the first foreigner to become the holder of this title. She is the youngest player to receive this accolade and, at 22 years of age, she has the potential to dominate the best basketball league in the world for many years. The impact of her achievement is emphasised by the winning margin: she received 406 points from a national panel of United States of America sports writers and broadcasters—the next nearest contender received 242 points. She became the first player to be awarded the MVP without participating in the play-offs because her team, the Seattle Storm, just failed to make it. She dominated the courts and was consistently the best all season.
Lauren Jackson is returning to Australia on Friday and she hopes to be home with her family and friends that night. She was born and raised in Albury and comes home whenever she can, although the visits are shorter and less frequent than she would like. Lauren is our hometown hero and our region will give her a champion's welcome home. She is an inspiration to us all but, in particular, to young sportspeople. Lauren inherited her father's athleticism—Gary, her father, played basketball for Australia—and she inherited her mother's determination to succeed. Her mother, Maree, was born in Albury, played basketball for Australia as centre and, like her daughter, is a member of the Albury-Wodonga Festival of Sport Hall of Fame.
Lauren attended Thurgoona Public School along with my children and was already admired by her peers for her ability and quiet determination to succeed. As a junior she was coached by Grant Ball, who identified her talent and built on the ability already developed by Maree. Lauren studied at Murray High School before going off to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra at the age of 14. However, I will forever have a personal memory of this world champion walking along the road near our house, bouncing a basketball, on her way to training at the Albury Sports Stadium some five or six kilometres away. I stopped to offer Lauren a lift with our children but she said that she was training on the way there, walking and controlling the ball. The sheer dedication and singlemindedness of this wonderful young sports star was evident even then.
Lauren has achieved recognition as the most valuable player in the Women's National Basketball Association [WNBA]; she is the first non-American woman to win most valuable player; she was three times WNBA All Star between 2001 and 2003; she is the Seattle Storm all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocks; she is the 2003 WNBA leading scorer with 698 points; she was named WNBA Player of the Week three times; she scored a career high 34 points against Los Angeles on 6 August; she scored her 1,000th career point against Phoenix on 7 June, becoming the youngest player in WNBA history to attain the milestone; she was the fourth player in WNBA history to record a 20 point-20 rebound performance, with 23 points, and a team record and career high 20 rebounds against the Charlotte Sting on 31 July; she scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive matches from 17 July to 31 July; and in 1997 she was the Women's National Basketball League Rookie of the Year.
Lauren Jackson was the Albury-Wodonga Young Achiever of the Year in 1998 at the Festival of Sport Awards night. She is now the patron of the Albury-Wodonga Bandits basketball team, having succeeded former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, in this capacity. She gives the juniors in my electorate and throughout regional Australia the right and the will to say, "She can do it and so can I." We cannot all be the best in the world but we can try. Lauren, you make us proud to know you and, even better, we know you love Australia. We are ready to welcome you home to your town of Albury.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Tourism and Sport and Recreation, and Minister for Women) [5.26 p.m.]: I join with the honourable member for Albury in congratulating Lauren Jackson on her awards and her distinguished career as a sportswoman in the United States of America. Her achievements are terrific and, given the profile of basketball in America, it is an accolade for an Australian to have won. It is wonderful news. I thank the honourable member for Albury for taking the time and trouble to acknowledge one of his own and to congratulate Albury, which must have played some part in her great career. I am sure she will receive the hero's welcome.
CHINESE MOON FESTIVAL CELEBRATIONS
(Strathfield) [5.27 p.m.]: Today I draw to the attention of the House Chinese Moon Festival celebrations organised by Elderly Australian Chinese Homes on Saturday 6 September at the Senior Citizens Centre, corner of Bent and Wellbank streets, Concord. I had the great pleasure of being invited to attend these celebrations. The origin of the festival is unclear but many say that it celebrates the end of the harvest. Many areas in China celebrate the festival with a public holiday and families coming together. Moon cakes are the traditional food associated with the festival. During the Yuan dynasty—AD 1289 to 1368—China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Some were unhappy at that time about submitting to foreign rule and decided to stage a rebellion. The leaders of the rebellion had information about their attack baked in special moon cakes so that they could communicate their plans. On the night of the Moon Festival rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. Today moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.
Several legends are associated with the festival. One is the story of Chang E, who drank the elixir of life to save the people from her husband's tyrannical rule and floated to the moon. Another is the story of the restless Wu Kang, who cut down a magical Cassia tree in the moon palace as punishment for his restlessness. Another legend tells of the jade rabbit, which was sent to the moon by three fairy sages after he offered himself to them as food. In the past people have paid respect to Chang E and the jade rabbit. This custom is no longer celebrated but moon cakes are still an important part of the festivities.
Elderly Australian Chinese Homes has a wonderful hostel in Brady Street, Croydon, and a home care service. In total the organisation provides wonderful care for around 100 elderly people. It was established in 1987. The director, Dr Celia Fong, organised Cantonese opera and a magical show, which was great fun. In fact, I was called onto the stage to take part in the magical show. There was also a raffle and a hot lunch as part of the Moon Festival celebrations. I understand that the event is much anticipated by the Chinese community and more than 200 people attended, from the Elderly Australian Chinese Homes and family and friends from the wider community. More than 40 volunteers assisted on the day.
Also in attendance to celebrate this significant event were a number of dignitaries, including the Federal member for Lowe, hardworking John Murphy; Councillor Ernest Wong, Mayor of Burwood; Councillor Angelo Tsirekas, Mayor of Canada Bay; and the State member for Drummoyne, Angela D'Amore. Celebrating events of cultural significance is one of the pleasures of living in a multicultural society. Such events help to bring communities together and provide considerable pleasure and enjoyment. I express sincere thanks to Dr Celia Fong, her fantastic staff, the volunteers and all those who participated to make this a successful day. I wish them all the best for the future.
COFFS HARBOUR HELICOPTER SERVICE
(Coffs Harbour) [5.32 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House an incident that occurred on the weekend at Coramba Sportsground, which is close to my electorate. The grand final of the group two rugby league was being played between Macksville and the Orara Valley Axemen. There were approximately 6,500 to 7,000 spectators at the ground. Early in the second half of the match a young man from my electorate, Adam Cody, was injured following a tackle. The immediate reaction was that he had no feeling from the neck down and play was halted. Dr Chris Knight, who attended the game, assessed him and stabilised him. He was then placed on a stretcher but, because of the nature of the injury, he could not be moved. The rescue helicopter was called because no ambulance was present at the ground—a matter of considerable concern. Although group two rugby league took the gate takings of the day—which were in excess of $23,000—it did not provide an ambulance and the club could not afford the $1,000 required for one to be in attendance.
I have written to the Minister because I believe that an ambulance should be in attendance at all times during such matches. It took approximately 1½ hours for the Westpac helicopter to arrive from Lismore. During that time there was a melee on the ground in which an elderly lady in her eighties suffered a broken leg. She was not involved in the incident but she was injured as a consequence of it. I again raise this matter because in 1999 a delegation of local people, Westpac officials and I met with the then Minister for Health, Craig Knowles, to request that a second Westpac helicopter be located at Coffs Harbour.
Indeed, for a number of years the honourable member for Lismore was on the board of directors of the Northern Region Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service. An earlier study found that a black spot on the North Coast could be filled if a helicopter were located in Coffs Harbour. Subsequently the hospital was built with a helipad. For a number of months we have been trying to raise $500,000 to provide that service to the people of Coffs Harbour. That amount is required every year to provide the service. Kerry Reagan is the local fundraising co-ordinator.
Westpac is willing to locate the extra helicopter at Coffs Harbour. Perry Wells, who has been a great tower of strength with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Association for many years, is supportive of that. We are receiving calls from the public to have the helicopter located at Coffs Harbour. If the helicopter had been available in Coffs Harbour it could have arrived at the field in 10 to 15 minutes. Instead, we had a delay of 1½ hours while the injured person, Adam—he was transferred to Sydney and he is doing a lot better than he was; he is getting some movement back—had to lay on the cold ground waiting for the helicopter.
The problems that we experienced would have been alleviated if the helicopter were located at Coffs Harbour. Council has offered land at the airport for location of the extra helicopter at Coffs Harbour. Our fundraising committee is going great guns; all we need is 5,000 people to give $2 a week from their pay and we would have the money to run the helicopter service. All we need is the Minister's permission to locate the extra helicopter at Coffs Harbour. I implore the Minister for Health to give his authority now. The fatigue zones are moving further and further up the coast. On numerous occasions we have had major car accidents, for which the helicopter is needed. Each time we have a delay with the helicopter coming from Lismore. Not only would locating the helicopter at Coffs Harbour help the people in the immediate Coffs Harbour area, but it would cover the people from Grafton who travel to Kempsey and Port Macquarie. The service provided to people who are injured would be much faster.
You have the facilities.
The honourable member for Lismore rightly says that Coffs Harbour hospital has the facilities. It is a brand new hospital with trauma facilities, where patients can be stabilised. The hospital also has a helipad. It is commonsense that the report released in the early 1990s be adopted, and that the Minister gives approval for the helicopter to be located at Coffs Harbour and tasks it so that it can cover its costs. The community and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service are behind this. I implore the Minister to authorise this as a matter of urgency.
CANTERBURY ELECTORATE EDUCATION WEEK ACTIVITIES
(Canterbury) [5.37 p.m.]: This private member's statement is a reaffirmation of our public education system and the people who work within it. Over the past week I suspect that most members of this House have visited schools during Education Week. The leadership, parental involvement and pride that I saw at three schools in the Canterbury electorate last week made me feel proud as the member for Canterbury. The schools preach and do things to bring about knowledge in relation to tolerance, cultural diversity and bullying in the schools in Canterbury—three important points. I visited three schools in the Canterbury electorate. The first school, Ashbury Public School, was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary on the Sunday before last. Ashbury Public School is one of the older schools in the electorate and it is under the great leadership of its principal, Thea Isles.
My role on the day was something I had never done before: to judge pickles. There was a cooking competition with a difference. It was a cooking competition with recipes from a 75-year-old cookbook from the Ashbury area. When the competition was first held the first prize was a large amount of Bushell's tea. The Bushell's tea company was contacted and it recreated the prize to go along with the old-fashioned cooking that was judged on the day. A well-known family in the area, the Trevenor family, was represented at the reunion. The school was built on land originally owned by the Trevenor family. The school was built in 1928, and there were people at the reunion who attended the school in 1928. Indeed, people at the reunion represented every decade of the school's history. The Mayor of Canterbury, Kaye Griffen, cut the seventy-fifth anniversary cake. It was a special occasion. The huge effort by parents in celebrating the school's seventy-fifth anniversary and their love for the school were obvious.
On the Monday of Education Week I attended learning for life in our multicultural community, which was a celebration undertaken by Canterbury Public School. Canterbury Public School is under the wonderful leadership of Cathy Deacon. On the day the Canterbury RSL club pledged to provide three flagpoles to the school, one for the Australian flag, one for the New South Wales flag and one for the Koori flag, which is fantastic. An indigenous welcome was performed by Fay Carroll, who is one of the senior Aboriginal elders in the area. Ian Flowers, who is a magnificent and active parents and citizens president, said something that struck me deeply. He said that every day is international day at Canterbury Public School, and that is true. The president of Campsie Rotary club, Mr Seeto, provided a $200 cheque for the library. He also said something that I thought was very simple but true. He said that good education equals a good country. There were performances from all the children at Canterbury Public School and participation from Canterbury Boys High School, the Koori dance group and the Canterbury girls Polynesian dance group. Hurlstone Community Child Care Centre also participated.
My three favourite performances on the day included the first grade dinosaur dance. I was touched by the outfits and the enthusiasm of the students. A special thing happened: a year 6 girl at the school, Shavera Gunasekera, had trained the kids in the class for special needs to perform as well. My favourite was old man Windradyne. Windradyne was a great Aboriginal hero of the Wiradjiri nation who is buried at Bathurst. Dale Murphy, one of the Koori kids at the school, led the performance. There was then a wonderful feast of food from around the world. The final school I attended was Earlwood Public School, which had an international food fair. Kevin Weeks is the principal of that school. The school counsellors, led by Peter Stathis and his wife, did most of the work for the food festival. There were fantastic performances. Unbelievably, a year four group did the polka to MC Hammer, which is something that must be seen to be believed. It was a wonderful week. [Time expired
WAGGA WAGGA BASE HOSPITAL ORTHOPAEDIC SURGERY
(Wagga Wagga) [5.42 p.m.]: I raise in the House an unacceptable situation regarding Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. Some aspects of elective surgery will cease, particularly orthopaedic surgery that requires overnight stays. I understand that orthopaedic surgery requiring an overnight stay will cease because of proposed renovations to the bathrooms in Robinson House, which everyone knows are in a deplorable state and desperately need renovating. I am told that surgery at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital will cease for four months. One must ask the question: Why is this taking so long? What is being built that it will take four months to complete the renovations? In the meantime patients from Robinson House will be allocated beds in Wagga Wagga Base Hospital.
I am told that up to 18 acute beds will be used to accommodate these patients, who normally access the rehabilitation unit known as Robinson House. This has caused enormous concern and upset in our community. The public demands, and deserves, an explanation. I ask this question: Can construction be carried out over the traditional break? I understand that executives from the Greater Murray Area Health Service have said that the building company cannot cater to its demands. That is one question to which the people deserve an answer. The second is: Why will it take four months to build a new toilet block and bathroom facilities? One can build three-quarters of a house in four months, so I believe we deserve an explanation as to why it will take so long.
Will the builder reassess the situation? Will the Minister intervene to ensure that more beds are opened at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital to accommodate those who will be removed from Robinson House and, importantly, free up some of the beds that have been closed over the almost nine years that the Carr Government has been in office? The excuse has been given that there are not enough beds, limiting operations requiring overnight stays. That excuse is not enough. I remember when the beds were closed. I say to the Minister: Get the key to that padlock, reopen the wards that were closed and reopen those beds so that orthopaedic surgeons can continue their work. I have an article from today's Wagga Daily Advertiser
Dulcie Martin, 74, was to have her partial knee replacement operation carried out at Wagga Base Hospital in October, but upon calling the hospital recently she was told the surgery would be put off until at least May next year.
Angry … Mrs Martin said she had already waited seven months for the operation before being told it would be rescheduled.
"Its like banging your head up against a brick wall," Mrs Martin said.
[She said] "I tried last June to get it (the operation) done, but they kept fobbing me off."
I understand the pressures that the health system works under. I understand the work the dedicated staff do and the enormous requirements placed on them by the ministry and the Department of Health. However, the situation needs rectifying. I note the words of the general manager of the hospital. He says that to the best of his knowledge there will be no impact on day surgery, but there will be some impact on overnight stays. What impact will this have on the orthopaedic surgeons—as many as six of them in Wagga Wagga—who will not be able to practise or carry out orthopaedic operations in the Greater Murray area for up to four months? The situation is intolerable and must be addressed.
If the proposed complete redevelopment of Wagga Wagga Base Hospital is carried out on-site, what can we expect when the plans are signed off and the builders have to work around an operating hospital? If these are the kinds of solutions that are being put forward, I fear for the health outcomes for those in our region. Wagga Wagga Base Hospital is a major teaching hospital; it is a referral hospital. The surgeons who operate there must be able to carry out operations daily; they must be able to carry out operations that require overnight care. The Minister and the Carr Government must intervene immediately, reopen beds and take action to give the people of Wagga Wagga and district the service they deserve.
LAKE MACQUARIE ELECTORATE EDUCATION WEEK ACTIVITIES
(Lake Macquarie) [5.47 p.m.]: As most honourable members know, Education Week was celebrated across the State last week. The theme for this year's Education Week was "Learning for Life". Education Week gave us an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding educational outcomes that have been achieved in New South Wales public schools. As was noted by the Director-General of Education and Training, Jan McClelland, the results being achieved in our public schools reflect the expertise, commitment and professionalism of our teaching service. Education Week also gave us an opportunity to reflect on the great contributions that support staff, parents and community members make to helping our teachers educate the young people in our schools. For more than 150 years New South Wales public schools have promoted strong personal values that lead to good citizenship and foster social harmony and cohesion. Our public schools lay the foundation for future learning and preparation for adult life.
I was pleased to be able to attend a number of functions in the Lake Macquarie electorate to celebrate Education Week. The first function that I was scheduled to attend was at Fennell Bay Public School. Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to attend but I was represented by my electorate officer, Helen Bristow. The principal of Fennell Bay Public School, Nielsine Oxenford, welcomed Helen, who appeared on my behalf and participated in the presentation of Education Week awards to students from each of the classes, a total of 13 students, for their achievements in continually striving to attain their personal best.
A few weeks earlier the Minister for Education and Training had the opportunity to visit Fennell Bay Public School. He was impressed by the great work being done there by the teachers, the staff and the community. He was particularly impressed by the support for the Aboriginal community and the Aboriginal students attending the school. The Minister enjoyed a musical presentation by the senior choir and joined the kindergarten for some hands-on maths. It was interesting to see the Minister on the floor working with the students. He also studied the development of a highly successful maths program for Aboriginal students and a demonstration of class-based activities. He also met with staff and members of the parents and citizens association for discussions about the work in the school. For this year's Education Week the Minister put out a statement which reads:
Our schools have much to celebrate.
The work going on in our classrooms is recognised around the world, with NSW now an international leader in education standards.
We can be proud of the quality, innovation and diversity that our public schools provide.
The Government is working hard to deliver a series of major commitments including reduced class sizes, support for more professional development for teachers and ensuring the safety and security of our schools.
I am determined to ensure a greater effort is made to lift the literacy and numeracy results of our children, especially Aboriginal students who lag behind the broader student community.
The Carr Government is committed to maintaining a strong public education system that is of world class standard.
Education Week gives us the opportunity to showcase the fine work taking place in our schools across NSW, and highlight how students are "Learning for Life".
Later in the week, on the evening of Wednesday 10 September, I was pleased to attend the Lake Macquarie District Education Week Awards presentation held at Glendale Technology High School in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Wallsend. Also present on the night were the honourable member for Swansea, Milton Orkopoulos, and the honourable member for Wallsend, John Mills. We participated in presenting certificates of appreciation to nominated members of the Lake Macquarie education district and school community representatives.
Following that, on Thursday morning, I attended Speers Point Public School for a showcase of the school's activities. I was invited by Judy Harrison, the principal, along with a number of other community representatives. I congratulate Judy and the staff at Speers Point Public School on the great work they are doing. I also congratulate the students on the fine performances and exhibitions they gave to the community representatives. Completing the week, on Sunday afternoon I went along to the Adventist Primary School at Toronto to assist in the opening of the Leo Rose Memorial School Hall. During that excellent event the school showcased its great achievements in education. I congratulate all the schools in my electorate—the teachers, the staff and the community—on their fine achievements.
DEATH OF MR RONALD ALFRED ST CLAIR BREWER, A FORMER MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
(Lachlan) [5.52 p.m.]: Tonight I speak by way of eulogy about the late Ronald Alfred Brewer. He was a member of this House from 1 May 1965 through to 1981, except for a short period of about four months during the forty-fourth Parliament when he resigned to contest a Federal seat. He was unsuccessful and came back during the same Parliament to complete his parliamentary term. A couple of weeks ago the honourable member for Burrinjuck spoke about his death. However, I was unaware of it at the time, and it is only right and proper that I also place on the record some of the outstanding features of a man who served this Parliament so proudly and so well. I refer particularly to some of his achievements not only for those in his electorate of Goulburn but also for the State of New South Wales.
I understand that if a former member dies within 15 years of serving in this place, mention is made of the death by the Speaker before question time. However, if a member dies more than 15 years after having left this place, no mention is made of it. I believe it would be appropriate to take one minute of our time to mention former members. In my view we should reinstate the protocol that was in place many years ago: the death of every member who served in this place was mentioned.
Ronald Alfred St Clair Brewer was an extraordinary character. After World War II he was a soldier settler on a property known as Green Hills at Marulan. He was tough, resolute and purposeful. He was his own man. He was proud of representing his electorate and of his lovely family. He and his wife were the ideal couple. They worked hard and had extraordinary talents. Ronald Brewer had hands that would do credit to a railway worker. They were cracked, gnarled, corned and slightly arthritic. Yet he was world famous for winning international competitions for hand spinning superfine wool. He and the then governor of Tasmania were hand spinners of fine wool par excellence. When you saw Ronald Brewer's gnarled old bushman's hands, your realised what an extraordinary achievement that was.
Ronald Brewer was dedicated in his wartime service. He enlisted in the Army on 7 May 1939 and was discharged on 30 June 1940 as medically unfit. Not to be outdone, he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 16 July 1940, to be yet again discharged on 22 July 1940 for the same reason. Off he went and enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force on 29 July 1940, serving until 9 March 1942, when he was again discharged as medically unfit. Once again he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 17 March 1942 and served with that service until finally being discharged on 27 June 1946. How did he do it? He enlisted as Ron Brewer or Ronald Arthur Brewer or R. A. St Clair Brewer. Every time he re-enlisted he made a slight differentiation to his name and his enlistment was accepted. That shows the character of the man. He served with great credit in New Guinea and Borneo with the 11 Australian Small Ships Company, the 7 Australian Water Transport Company and the 7 Australian Light Horse Regiment, Militia. He was finally discharged with the rank of Warrant Officer Class One. As I said in my opening remarks, Ron Brewer was a resolute man. His wartime service shows just how resolute he was.
I shall note a couple of his achievements in this place as the member for Goulburn. In his maiden speech, as it was called in those days, he said that he wanted to secure pensions for the widows of railwaymen. He achieved that goal, and we must give him credit for doing so. Ron was chairman of the Select Committee Upon the Meat Industry. Another of his achievements was the report his committee brought down in this House, which is still recognised as perhaps the best report by a parliamentary committee on the meat industry in this country. Ronald Arthur St Clair Brewer, or the man with a derivation of that name, has an outstanding record of achievement in the meat industry and for securing pensions for the widows of railwaymen. The Act that provides those pensions, which he was responsible for, is still in force and has brought enormous comfort and solace to the families of railway workers in this State. I pay tribute to Ronald Arthur Brewer and extend my sympathy to his family.
SEVERE ACUTE RESPIRATORY SYNDROME
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.57 p.m.]: I refer to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] across the world and, in particular, concerns that have been raised with me by health professionals and other constituents in my electorate. As honourable members know, the SARS outbreak across the world earlier this year resulted in 7,500 reported cases and almost 920 deaths. I note with regret that last week Singapore reported a probable new case of SARS in that country. The issue I want to address this evening is the world's response in attempting to deal with this infectious disease.
The principal health organisation in the world is the World Health Organisation [WHO], which is a United Nations specialist agency for health established on 7 April 1948. The objective of the WHO, as set out in its constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. The WHO is governed by 192 member States through the World Health Assembly, which is composed of representatives of member States of the WHO. I want to raise concerns about the attitude of some member States of WHO which has been highlighted by the latest outbreak of infectious disease around the world. Politics and not the attainment of improved health is affecting the way the World Health Assembly, and therefore the WHO, is represented.
Although the Republic of China, Taiwan, has been affected by the SARS virus, it has consistently been denied membership status by the World Health Assembly for no reason other than the concern of other member countries about the offence or slight that the People's Republic of China may take at Taiwan joining the organisation. Over the past 31 years Australia has managed to maintain a good relationship with both the Republic of China, Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China. I argue that if this country can do so, why can a health body that is committed, by its own charter, to the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible levels of health not do the same? I stress the words "all peoples", not only those that are politically acceptable.
When I look at the list of countries that are members of the WHO, I am less than impressed with the commitment of a number of them, such as Cuba, to either the principles of democracy or the principles of human rights, such as Zimbabwe, the Syrian Arab Republic, Libya, Iran and Iraq. Indeed, Iraq, under the former regime, was deemed to be an acceptable member of the WHO. The Republic of China, Taiwan, was not. My argument is that politics should play no part in the responsibilities and programs of the WHO, particularly in the face of the aggressive and vicious SARS virus. I am disappointed that, despite efforts to become a member of the WHO, Taiwan has been unsuccessful. The World Health Assembly considered the matter on 19 May but, in accordance with its practice since 1997, the General Committee, which manages the business of the assembly, decided against including an item on Taiwan's observer status on the agenda, while allowing two countries each to speak for and against the proposal. The matter did not go to a vote.
This matter is beyond a joke. It is apparent that it is politically incorrect to allow the Republic of China, Taiwan, to be a member of the WHO. Taiwan cannot even be listed on the World Health Assembly agenda for fear of offending the People's Republic of China. I place on record my regret that in relation to the SARS virus the People's Republic of China cannot hold its head proud. Human Rights Watch, which is not an organisation I would generally endorse in this place, has noted:
The recent SARS epidemic has shown … Beijing's dark side … exemplified by its knee-jerk resort to draconian measures, including threats to execute "intentional transmitters" of SARS, arrests of those who send text messages "spreading rumours" about the epidemic, and the jailing of a doctor who accidentally infected his family with the virus. These measures have no place in a public health emergency, no matter how grave.
I make a plea to the Australian Government and to all those governments that are members of the World Health Assembly, in the interests of public health throughout the world and in the face of this epidemic, to put politics and political correctness aside and allow countries such as the Republic of China, Taiwan, to participate. Taiwan coped with its own SARS epidemic in an exemplary and admirable way and followed the WHO guidelines. It ought to be a member and it is a disgrace that it is not.
COLOMBIA TRADE UNION REPRESSION
(Liverpool) [6.02 p.m.]: I wish to report to the House on the repression of trade unions in Colombia and the international campaign launched on 22 July against Coca-Cola and its bottlers. I have been asked to raise this issue by constituents of mine. This is a live issue for many people in Liverpool, including the Latin American community and human rights and trade union activists. This year two constituents of mine and I travelled to Colombia. Whilst there we met with three members of the union that is most directly affected by Coca-Cola and its bottlers. They are members of Sinaltrainal, which is the national union of food industry workers. A delegation of Colombian human rights activists, including Jesus Gonzalez and Pedro Mahecha, had visited Australia in October 2001 and met with me and other members of Parliament.
Colombia is generally known as a violent place. It is the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade union activist. In 2000, three of every five trade unionists killed throughout the world were killed in Colombia. By mid-year this year more than 150 unionists had been killed. Most of these murders are carried out by right-wing paramilitaries who regard unionists as guerrilla sympathisers. The paramilitaries seem to be encouraged and requested by employers. They are also called right-wing narco-terrorists and have their origin in the cocaine cartels.
That brings me to Coca-Cola, which is one of the world's most powerful and profitable companies. In 2002 it was reported to have made nearly $4 billion profit, and its chairman received $105 million. However, these profits seem to derive in part from highly undesirable tactics, such as the company's industrial tactics in Guatemala in the 1980s. It is now accused of allowing the militarisation of industrial relations at its bottlers' plants in Colombia. Since 1994 a number of workers and unionist activists at such plants in Colombia have been murdered by paramilitaries. For example, Jose Eleazar Manco and Luis Enrique Gomez were killed in 1994 at Carepa in northern Colombia.
The most notorious incident occurred on 5 December 1996 at a Coca-Cola bottler's plant run by Beludes Y Alimentos in Carepa. Paramilitaries shot and killed Isidro Segundo Gil at the plant. He was the union's chief negotiator. The union had pleaded to prevent this happening for two months. Ariosto Milan Mosquera was the plant manager. He had publicly said that he had asked the paramilitaries to destroy the union. He socialised with the paramilitaries and provided them with Coke products for their fiestas. Shortly after murdering Isidro Segundo Gil, the paramilitaries returned and gave the workers three options: leave the union, leave the town or be killed. All workers were forced to resign from the union. The company then replaced experienced workers who had earned $US380 to $US450 a month with new employees earning $US130 a month. There was a direct financial benefit for the company from this terrorism. Isidro Segundo Gil's wife contributed to the ongoing campaign against these outrages. As a result, she was also murdered in 2000 by paramilitaries.
Another case occurred last year in Bucaramanga. A Colombian union leader involved in contract negotiations, Oscar Dario Soto Polo, was also killed on 21 June in Monteria. Sinaltrainal revealed last year that the number of unionised workers at Coca-Cola plants had fallen from 1,300 to only 450. That is precisely the result of the militarisation of industrial relations: it is wage negotiation by death squad. Fourteen organisers have now been killed. At another bottling plant run by Coca-Cola's subcontractor Panamco at Barrancarbermeja, management sided openly with the paramilitaries. In August 2002 another unionist, Adolfo De Jesus Munera, had his case against Coca-Cola accepted by Colombia's Constitutional Court and he was then murdered at his mother's doorstep.
There is no recourse effectively to be had in Colombia for the unions. In fact, Coca-Cola is reported to be trying to prosecute union activists for being activists. Accordingly, Sinaltrainal has adopted other strategies. One is to pursue legal proceedings in the United States of America pursuant to the Alien Torts Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act. The United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund have brought the claim on behalf of Sinaltrainal, the estate of Isidro Segundo Gil and five other unionists who had been threatened, kidnapped or tortured. It was filed in a United States District Court in Florida on 20 July this year, and has not as yet concluded. It is being pursued against Coca-Cola, its Colombian subsidiary and its business affiliates.
Another strategy is to pursue an international campaign against Coca-Cola. I met three Sinaltrainal officials in Bogota in July: Gonzalo Quijano and Rafael Esquivel from the national office and Efrain Goerrero from Bucaramanga. From what I have said, it is clear that it takes no small degree of personal courage on their part to meet with foreign delegates. As well as discussing these issues with me, they provided me with some of their campaign material, which includes posters and postcards with slogans such as "Because I love life, I don't drink Coca-Cola", "I don't drink Coca-Cola because its financing the war" and "I don't drink Coca-Cola. I don't finance death. Eight workers like Isidro Segundo Gil have been murdered in Colombia." Coca-Cola needs to prohibit these practices at its bottlers' plants, and it should stop making profits over the dead bodies of Colombian workers.
ARMIDALE RAIL SERVICE
(Northern Tablelands) [6.07 p.m.]: It is with a sense of deja vu that I speak about the plan of the Minister for Transport Services, Michael Costa, to cut the CountryLink rail service between Tamworth and Armidale. My community is angry because it has faced this scenario before: the same service was cut in 1989 and restored by the Coalition Government in 1993. The script is the same as it was in 1989, as are the production values; only the cast has changed. I challenge the Minister to identify these remarks:
I believe that the changes which we have made to the State's rail services must be viewed within the context of the State Rail Authority's huge operating losses, and the consequent need for significant improvements in efficiency and productivity to enable the State Rail Authority to survive and compete with road coaches …
During our time in office, we have had to make a number of hard decisions such as cutting rail services in order to cut the massive $46 billion debt incurred by the previous administration …
I am confident, however, that in the long run, our policies will achieve a marked improvement in the State's economy and thereby generate better facilities and more efficient service for the people of New South Wales.
They are direct quotes from a letter written by the then Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development and Public Works, the Hon. Wal Murray, addressed to Mr Jeff Watson of Lynland Park, Armidale in March 1990. The people of Armidale and the region waited for those better facilities and more efficient alternative services, but they did not arrive. We are still waiting. This statement was made on 10 October 1993:
… there is going to be a train to Armidale. Is that not marvellous? Is the Government not great? Is Bruce Baird not wonderful for providing a train to Armidale? No. He should not have taken it away in the first place.
The speaker was Brian Langton, the Labor Member for Kogarah and the shadow Minister at that time.
The rhetoric being used by the Minister for Transport Services to justify the recommendations of the Parry report is identical to that used by the Hon. Wal Murray in 1990. He should be charged with plagiarism; he should have acknowledged the Hon. Wal Murray's words. My community agrees with Brian Langton's analysis that the services should not have been removed in the first place.
Members of the Northern Tablelands community, particularly the New England Local Government Group, have made many representations to me regarding the state of the rail infrastructure on the Armidale to Tamworth link. They point out with some justification that there has been little maintenance and few efficiencies and that the level of service has declined. Many people who depend on this rail service now strongly believe that the Government has indulged in a deliberate tactic to justify the cuts proposed in the Parry report and previously.
A meeting I called in Armidale this week was attended by many community leaders, including my colleague the honourable member for Tamworth, the mayors of Armidale Dumaresq and Walcha and representatives of Friends of the Northern Railway and New England Rail. Matthew Tierney, a member of Friends of the Northern Railway and a veteran of the previous battle to restore the local train service, told us that in the 14 years since the first rail closure the cost of the CountryLink service had declined from $206.6 million a year to $149 million a year. However, the passenger fare contribution has increased from 19 per cent to 32 per cent in the same period. That is a good result compared to the CityRail result.
In that period the costs incurred by CityRail services have been an unmitigated disaster. They have soared from $498 million in 1989 to an unbelievable $1,347 million this year. The passenger contribution through fares at the same time dropped from 33 per cent to 31 per cent. Anyone looking at these comparative figures would have to assume that in economic terms, which seem to be the only criteria being used by the Minister for Transport Services, CountryLink's performance has been far superior. Country people in my region and beyond justifiably believe that the cuts signalled in the Parry report have been proposed because of the hopelessly inept management of the CityRail service. People are angry that cuts have been made to a popular means of public transport at a time when, because of lack of competition, prices for regional air services are ridiculously high and the highways are clogged with more and more road transport. Replacing the Armidale rail link with buses is not an option. The people of the Northern Tablelands reject that proposition. They call on the Government to reverse its decision and to look after the people of country New South Wales.
MANILLA ROAD, TAMWORTH, UPGRADE
(Tamworth) [6.12 p.m.]: I take this opportunity to inform the House about the unacceptable state of Manilla Road, which is one of the major roads in the electorate of Tamworth. As the people who live in and around Tamworth know all too well, Manilla Road has been a political football for many years. Despite ongoing representations, little work has been done to improve it. My constituents are now strongly voicing their opinion that it is time for the Government to commit to an ongoing program that will ensure that Manilla Road is improved to the standard required of a major route through a large regional centre. There is no question but that Manilla Road poses a real risk to the safety of motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, and local residents.
This has been a hotly debated topic in my electorate of Tamworth for close to a decade, and the campaign of residents and businesses who use the road has once more ignited. Zone 8 of the Neighbourhood Watch in Tamworth is the driving force behind the latest push, and its members have been very clear in their representations and made their feelings known. In early June I organised a public meeting that was attended by more than 70 people. They included local residents, some of whom have lived there for more than half a century, the parents of children who get on and off the bus along Manilla Road every morning and afternoon, and many business owners who struggle to get their work vehicles and trucks onto the road every day. During just seven days of the campaign, my office received around 300 submissions from concerned residents, including a petition signed by more than 200 people. I wish to read a few of the comments I received. Mr and Mrs Maslen of Attunga, which is 10 minutes from Tamworth along the Manilla Road, wrote:
Travelling along Manilla Road during school and work hours, morning and night, is like peak hour in Sydney causing congestion and impatience, resulting in a number of car accidents. We have only lived out at Attunga since July 2002.
Joan Crosking of Tamworth wrote:
As I walk at 7am every morning there are hundreds of trucks using this road. It is a disgrace. This is a main road into Tamworth.
Mr and Mrs Manser of Oxley Vale wrote:
We travel to Newcastle several times a year and the worst part of the journey is the road between Oxley Vale and Tamworth—the Manilla Road.
Shane Hunt summed it up succinctly when he wrote, "Fix it properly!" This is just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the level of concern within my community. A report to Tamworth City Council in 1996 found a number of serious faults, including poor sight distance and a bumpy pavement in poor condition. That is not to say that the concerns of the electorate have been ignored. In recent years close to $1 million has been spent to install a new roundabout and to redesign two major intersections. I congratulate the New South Wales Government and Tamworth City Council on the improvements that have been completed, but a lot more work needs to be done. The Tamworth electorate now needs a new commitment that Manilla Road will finally be completely upgraded.
Manilla Road serves one of the fastest-growing areas in my electorate. New housing subdivisions are being built on either side of the road, and there are plans for the further expansion of suburbs north-west of Tamworth. But despite an increase in population and a great deal more traffic using the road, there appears to be little effort to cater for the increase in traffic. Manilla Road is a major route for traffic travelling to and from Queensland. Each January, during the Country Music Festival, local residents are embarrassed as they watch thousands of vehicles and caravans trying to negotiate the bumps on their way into town. Manilla Road is a major tourism route, as it forms the start of the Fossicker's Way tourism track.
The mounting concern is already producing results. Recently I had the pleasure of accompanying the Minister for Roads, Carl Scully, on an on-site inspection of the road. I place on record my thanks to the Minister for taking the time to listen to the concerns of the people of my electorate. After years of little movement on this issue, there is a real sense in the community that finally we may be close to getting something done. Residents and local businesses will continue to push for the upgrade of Manilla Road, and I, on their behalf, will continue to push for the project to be made a funding priority. Recently I presented the Minister for Roads with a formal submission for the upgrade of Manilla Road. I eagerly await the response of the Minister and the Government. The electorate is holding its breath that it will get the news it has waited so many years to hear. I hope we will not be disappointed.
Private members' statements noted.
[Madam Acting-Speaker (Ms Andrews) left the chair at 6.17 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
Sporting Venues (Pitch Invasions) Bill.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY BILL
Debate resumed from 5 September.
(Epping) [7.32 p.m.]: The Coalition does not oppose this bill, the purpose of which is to re-enact substantially the provisions of part 16 of the Conveyancing Act and to make a number of amendments, I believe 12. It is important to note that we have consulted widely on the bill. I have approached the Law Society, the Trustee Corporations Association, and a former public trustee. None of them has any difficulties with the bill. In general terms the bill is designed to bring the legislation covering powers of attorney into a current format. There are important public policy principles for doing so, not the least of which is that the need for powers of attorney is becoming more common.
For example, many people who spend long periods overseas may want to keep their assets in Australia under some sort of delegated control. People are living longer, often in physical difficulty, and that can lead to legal problems either of a long-term or short-term intermittent nature. Powers of attorney provide for such situations. Regrettably, the necessity for this procedure will become more common in the future. Therefore it is important that the exercise of powers of attorney is made as contemporary as possible.
Without going through all of the 12 major changes, I draw attention to the specific provision that an attorney must be made aware that he or she has been appointed and to give him or her an opportunity to refuse to act. I am surprised that such a provision is required, but the fact that the provision is stated in those terms reflects the fundamental importance of attorneys being told about their proposed appointment. Their duties can be onerous and involve a great deal of time and responsibility. This provision will give people the opportunity to decline. I hope that these important changes will assist people when exercising powers of attorney. In the future more people will be called upon to carry out duties under this Act, and it is important that the procedure is made as contemporary and easy as possible.
(East Hills) [7.36 p.m.]: I thank the Opposition for its support. Some time ago I had the privilege of serving on the Public Bodies Review Committee, which examined the enduring powers of attorney as they apply in New South Wales. There was some debate in this State about the operation of powers of attorney. Some members of this House will remember the press coverage this issue received at the time. One of the provisions of the bill is the recognition of enduring powers of attorney made in another State or Territory. This measure is welcomed, as the lack of interstate recognition has caused problems for legal practitioners.
One of the aims of continuing discussion between State and Federal governments should be to bring State and Territory legislation into line with Commonwealth legislation. Clearly that is not always possible, but it should occur when it is. This bill is a welcome step in that direction. An "enduring power of attorney" does not terminate when the principal, that is the person who makes it, loses his or her mental capacity. An unfortunate by-product of the Federal system of government in Australia is that each State and Territory has different requirements governing the formalities of making enduring powers of attorney. For example, an enduring power of attorney made in New South Wales is different from a power of attorney made in South Australia, the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory. A power of attorney that complies with the formal requirements in another State will now be recognised as valid in New South Wales.
As more people move from one State to another—people may retire from Victoria to glorious New South Wales or from New South Wales to the less glorious but sunny Queensland—they will find there are different requirements. In New South Wales an enduring power of attorney must contain a certificate by a prescribed witness stating that the prescribed witness has explained to the principal the effect of his accepting an enduring power of attorney. In Queensland a certificate is not required. This anomaly needs to be corrected. Nowadays it is not uncommon for a person to live in one State and own property in another. If a Queensland resident who owns property in New South Wales has made an enduring power of attorney in Queensland that complies with the Queensland formal requirements, it previously could not be used in New South Wales because it does not contain a certificate from a prescribed witness.
That is a simple example of anomalies in legislation across our borders and within Australia more than 102 years after we became a Federation. The situation is bad enough if an attorney tries to use the power of attorney in New South Wales and the problem is discovered before the principal loses mental capacity. However, in many cases the problem is not discovered until after the principal loses mental capacity and the principal then must undergo the inconvenience of having to apply for a second enduring power of attorney that will comply with New South Wales requirements.
This can be a lengthy process and the principal can continue to lose his or her mental faculties during this time and may not be able to make another enduring power of attorney because he or she no longer has the mental capacity to do so. This can result in double jeopardy because people who do not have the mental capacity to reappoint a power of attorney are caught in no man's land. The only way the attorney can sell or deal with New South Wales property is to apply to the New South Wales Supreme Court or the Guardianship Tribunal for the appointment of a manager, which means extra cost and delay. The cost of such proceedings would be borne by the principal and would reduce the amount available for the care of the principal. The Public Bodies Review Committee made recommendations about powers of attorney, the Guardianship Tribunal, and the role of the Supreme Court in these matters.
The bill will overcome that problem by providing that an enduring power of attorney validly made in another State or Territory according to the requirements of that State or Territory will be recognised as valid in New South Wales. An attorney will be able to act under its authority in New South Wales even if it does not comply with New South Wales' requirements. Several other States, including Queensland, have similar provisions. The move towards mutual recognition has been endorsed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General and I am sure it will be welcomed in practice. I support the bill and once again thank the Opposition for its support.
(Liverpool) [7.42 p.m.]: I support the Powers of Attorney Bill. The bill seems to have had a reasonably lengthy gestation and has followed lengthy consultation, which is probably all to the good. Inter alia, the bill will put the current provisions of the Conveyancing Act dealing with powers of attorney into a new Powers of Attorney Act. It is useful to have a separate, stand-alone bill. Omnibus bills have their virtues, but at a practical level they can be complex, and a separate bill is a positive measure.
Under the bill "protected powers of attorney" will become "enduring powers of attorney", which brings New South Wales into line with the other States. That consistency has its virtues. Protected powers of attorney seem to have been adopted in 1983, the aim being that if the person who wanted to execute a power of attorney became mentally incapable, that power of attorney would disappear at the time of the mental incapacity. The 1983 Act introduced changes that allowed them to continue and called them protected powers of attorney. This bill changes that terminology to "enduring powers of attorney". As well as consistency, the term "enduring" is more sensible and is more directly descriptive of its aim.
Other interesting changes with regard to enduring powers of attorney are that an attorney must accept a power before it becomes effective, and that acceptance must be in writing. That is to avoid what could be the otherwise inconvenient situation of someone being given a power of attorney without having agreed to that. Currently, procedures are in place for certificates to be signed after the donee has had the consequences and the significance of the power of attorney explained to them. This bill expands the category of people who can sign that certificate and, therefore, makes it easier to execute a power of attorney. Another practical provision in the bill will overcome some difficulties I experienced when I was in practice some years ago. Powers of attorney made in other States will now be recognised in this State. With the increasing movement of people from State to State, that is a sensible and commonsense addition to the law in this State and will overcome practical problems that existed in the past.
In addition to clarifying aspects of the law relating to powers of attorney, the bill also provides a new jurisdiction for the Guardianship Tribunal, so that both the Supreme Court and the Guardianship Tribunal have jurisdiction in relation to the review of powers of attorney. Until now only the Supreme Court had jurisdiction over matters relating to powers of attorney. One practical problem was the expense and time involved in having matters dealt with by the Supreme Court. It is desirable to have a cheap, flexible and more accessible forum in which to achieve a satisfactory resolution of disputes. Also, rights and responsibilities with respect to powers of attorney can be more cheaply and more quickly adjudicated by a tribunal.
The bill provides the Guardianship Tribunal with that role, although the Supreme Court will retain some exclusive jurisdiction in relation to some aspects of powers of attorney. At present, when dealing with a principal whose best interest requires intervention by the Guardianship Tribunal, the only available option for the tribunal is to make a financial management order under the Protected Estates Act. That can sometimes be a very unwieldy tool, as I am sure many honourable members would know from experience with their constituents. Obviously it is desirable to have in place other more informal, but equally effective ways of managing a person's estate on their behalf.
The bill proposes that either the Guardianship Tribunal or the Supreme Court review the making or operation and effect of an existing enduring power of attorney, and make orders that determine whether the principal had the mental capacity to make a valid power of attorney and, where it finds that they did not, declare it invalid. The tribunal will also be able to make orders that vary the term of a power conferred by the power of attorney, appoint a substitute attorney, reinstate a power of attorney that has lapsed in certain circumstances, direct or require the attorney to make available to the tribunal details of the financial management of the principal's estate, including the power to require that those records or accounts be audited and that the auditor report their findings to the tribunal, revoke all or part of a power of attorney, and determine the mental capacity of the principal to act in relation to a power of attorney.
These powers will enable the tribunal to interfere where it is apparent that an attorney is not managing the principal's affairs under the power of attorney in the best interests of the principal, without proceeding to the making of a financial management order, although this remedy remains available where it is appropriate. The bill extends the classes of people entitled to make applications for a review of enduring powers of attorney. As well as the attorney, the principal, and a person who is a guardian of the principal, or an enduring guardian pursuant to the Guardianship Act, it is proposed that any person who has a proper interest in the proceedings or a genuine concern for the welfare of the principal may make an application. That is an interesting formulation of words; it is perhaps a little wider than what we generally see in legislation and may be something to watch with interest.
The bill also conforms with recent laws relating to the review of guardianship and protected persons so that decisions made by the Guardianship Tribunal may be appealed to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. Thus, the work of the Guardianship Tribunal in relation to powers of attorney will be subject to independent review in a forum that promotes cheap, flexible, accessible and consistent decision making. I am particularly delighted about the jurisdiction of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, which is one of the great unsung heroes of our legal system in this State. It is anticipated that this alternative to review of Guardianship Tribunal decisions by the Supreme Court, which the bill also allows for, will be accessed by people with less complex matters and relatively small estates, and that the Supreme Court will be appropriate for complex matters and where the estate is large. That is a commonsense way of distinguishing those categories. I commend the bill to the House.
(Miranda) [7.48 p.m.]: I am pleased to support this bill, which amends the law relating to powers of attorney. That law can touch the lives of many citizens in this State, such as the relatives of a person requiring a power of attorney, people who manage financial affairs while others travel overseas or interstate, or people who may be unable to manage their own affairs. The provisions of the bill relating to enduring powers of attorney will provide an increasingly important tool in the management of estates of those who will lose capacity as a consequence of age-related dementia or mental incapacity.
All members of the community should give serious thought to executing a power of attorney. The great advantage of these kinds of arrangements is that they give an individual the ability to specifically nominate a husband or wife, trusted friend, relative or associate to manage their affairs on their behalf. In the absence of a working power of attorney, it may well be necessary to obtain an order from the Guardianship Tribunal appointing the Office of the Protective Commissioner to manage a person's affairs once they lose capacity. The Office of the Protective Commissioner and the Public Trustee do an excellent job in managing financial affairs on behalf of others. These bodies encourage the execution of powers of attorney wherever possible when individuals wish to choose someone they know to manage their affairs.
I shall now give a brief overview of the provisions of the bill. Currently, the provisions dealing with powers of attorney are contained in part 16 of the Conveyancing Act 1919. This bill takes the existing provisions concerning powers of attorney out of the Conveyancing Act and highlights them in this stand-alone bill, which means that people can access these laws more readily. This is a major step forward. People will find it much easier to locate these measures in this legislation than in the complex and ageing sections of the Conveyancing Act. The bill amends some of the existing provisions relating to powers of attorney and makes some new provisions aimed at remedying problems that have been identified in practice. It also substantially re-enacts other existing sections, either unchanged because no problems were identified with them or with slight modifications to modernise the wording.
The bill provides for the replacement of the present statutory short form of power of attorney with a "prescribed power of attorney" that can be amended by regulation; clarifies the extent to which an attorney under a prescribed power of attorney may take a benefit, confer a benefit on a third party or make a gift under the power of attorney; renames "protected power of attorney", which has effect despite the subsequent mental incapacity of the person giving the power, the principal, as "enduring power of attorney"; enacts a requirement that an enduring power of attorney does not operate to confer any authority on a proposed attorney under the power until the attorney accepts an appointment by signing the instrument which creates the power; enacts provisions to protect an interest of a beneficiary under the will of a principal under an enduring power of attorney when a proposed gift of property to the beneficiary under the will has been disposed of by the attorney before the principal's death; and enacts provisions to protect an interest of a spouse of an intestate deceased principal in a shared home that was sold or otherwise disposed of by an attorney under an enduring power of attorney.
The bill also provides for expansion of the jurisdiction of the Guardianship Tribunal, with a right of appeal to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, to deal with enduring powers of attorney and issues of incapacity relating to powers of attorney—the Supreme Court's jurisdiction is also expanded and clarified; enacts provisions to recognise and give effect in this State to enduring powers of attorney made in other States and Territories; restates the common law rule that an attorney under a power of attorney cannot delegate his authority to a third party unless the instrument creating the power expressly provides for it; extends the concept of "incommunicate" principals to persons who are unable to receive communications about their property or affairs because they cannot be located or contacted so the Supreme Court can review powers of attorney made by such persons; and enacts provisions that make it clear that if more than one attorney is appointed under a power of attorney a vacancy in the office of one of the attorneys will not terminate the power of attorney as the attorney was appointed severally, or jointly and severally, but will terminate the power if the attorney was appointed jointly but not severally.
That sounds rather complicated, but I am sure my friends in the legal profession will understand what I am saying. The Attorney General said in his second reading speech that the Government will develop and deliver an education program for the general public and, indeed, the legal profession. I welcome that because powers of attorney are an important instrument by which one can at least designate the management of one's own affairs in the case of mental incapacity or other changes in circumstances to a person whom one trusts. It is clear that this bill will increase accessibility to the law relating to powers of attorney and stimulate the making of considered decisions about the appointment and powers to be given by principals to attorneys. I commend the bill to the House.
(Strathfield) [7.54 p.m.]: I express my wholehearted support for this important bill. Simply by creating a bill specifically identifiable as the Powers of Attorney Bill, the Government has taken an important step forward in increasing access to the law for ordinary people—people like you and me. Instead of perpetuating a situation in which the statutory provisions relating to powers of attorney are tucked away in the Conveyancing Act, the Government has produced a bill that, by its very name, allows not just members of the legal profession and those in the know but all citizens to find the statute law relating to powers of attorney. The Government and the Minister must be commended for taking this important step. Recently my family had a matter before the Guardianship Tribunal and I know how difficult that was. This sort of law will ease family situations in that respect. Not only will the law in this area be more accessible but the bill, by replacing the existing form of power of attorney with a new, more comprehensive form, will facilitate the making of informed choices for those wishing to plan for their future.
While the form can still be used to make an ordinary power of attorney, it will come into its own when people wish to appoint a person to act on their behalf in the event that they lose mental capacity. Indeed, this is what happened to my uncle, who unfortunately has dementia. In giving expression to provisions in the bill, the form will require the person, known as the principal, wishing to appoint someone as their attorney to turn their mind to the nature of the powers they are giving their attorney with more detail than previously. As well as needing to consider whether they wish their attorney to continue to act in the event that they lack mental capacity, the principal will also need to turn their mind to the nature of any gifts they wish the attorney to be able to give on their behalf, and whether they wish the attorney to be able to give either themselves or others money in order to support their reasonable living and medical expenses.
I anticipate that having to contemplate how they wish their financial resources to be used in the event that they lack mental capacity will focus the minds of many people on how they wish to plan not only their own support but also the support of those they are close to and for whom they wish to continue to provide in the event of their being unable to do so themselves. Such contemplation will also serve to highlight the need to have discussions with the attorney and others with whom the principal has close relationships about some of these issues at a time when they are still able to make their wishes known. An open discussion of these issues will also assist attorneys, who are faced with the onerous responsibility of acting for a principal who has lost capacity in a way which they know the principal would have wanted without exposing themselves to disputes with others, including—sadly, all too often—disgruntled family members.
The form as required by the bill also facilitates this open communication by requiring the attorney to accept their appointment. This requirement will ensure that the principal may be confident that the attorney is ready, willing and able to take on the responsibility of managing their financial resources in the event that they may sadly lose mental capacity. Enduring powers of attorney, like wills, and enduring guardianship appointments are important means by which all members of the community can organise their personal affairs in a way that ensures that their wishes are taken into account in the event that they are sadly no longer able to make decisions for themselves. As more and more people live to a ripe old age in our community it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that they have all the tools they require to plan for their own futures. The Powers of Attorney Bill provides one such means for doing so in a simple and accessible way. I commend the bill to the House.
(Blue Mountains—Attorney General, and Minister for the Environment) [7.59 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members representing the electorates of Epping, Liverpool, Miranda and Strathfield for their contributions to debate on the Powers of Attorney Bill. This sort of legislative reform attracts bipartisan support within the Parliament and provides members with a degree of satisfaction that they are able to bring palpable and important benefits to the community. The second reading speech and those that followed in the debate sufficiently explain the provisions of the bill, which will create a new Act, the Powers of Attorney Act. I emphasise that prior to the drafting of the bill a green paper, which identified problem areas and discussed options for reform, was prepared and circulated widely for comment within the community. The green paper was published in 1999.
The bill has been drafted in consultation with the Land and Property Information Office, the Public Trustee, the Guardianship Tribunal and the Attorney General's Department. It has been commented on by just about every organisation that could be seen to be relevant in the circumstances—the Law Society of New South Wales, trustee companies, the Law Consumers Association, the Australian Consumers Association, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of New South Wales, the Department of Ageing and Disability, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, the Alzheimer's Association, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and New South Wales Health. This bill has had just about as comprehensive a level of consensus as it is possible to achieve. I therefore have no difficulty in commending the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
COMMONWEALTH POWERS (DE FACTO RELATIONSHIPS) BILL
Debate resumed from 5 September.
(Epping) [8.02 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Bill, the purpose of which is to refer certain financial matters arising from the breakdown of de facto relationships to the Commonwealth Parliament in accordance with the Commonwealth Constitution. The bill is consistent with some decisions that have been made by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General and is consistent with a national direction to provide Commonwealth jurisdiction in this area, especially in light of the importance of the commencement of the new Commonwealth superannuation-splitting regime contained in family law legislation.
There are basically two aspects of this bill. First, there is the aspect relating to people in de facto relationships who are of the opposite sex. In relation to that, the referral of power is accepted by the Commonwealth. Second, there is a referral of power relating to people who are same-sex partners in de facto relationships. That is a power which, although referred to the Commonwealth, is not at this time being accepted by the Commonwealth. That may change at some point in the future, but the current law of New South Wales relating to same-sex de facto couples continues but with a question mark over superannuation splitting. In any event, the referral is consistent with what is going on around the country—that is to say, in relation to the power that is being referred and accepted. The Opposition does not oppose the bill.
(Miranda) [8.05 p.m.]: The object of the Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Bill is to refer certain financial matters arising out of the breakdown of de facto relationships to the Parliament of the Commonwealth in accordance with section 51 (xxxvii) of the Constitution. That section enables the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws in relation to matters referred to it by the Parliament of the State. The bill represents an agreement between the Attorneys General of all States, except Western Australia, to refer power to the Commonwealth in relation to property on the breakdown of a de facto relationship. De facto children's issues are now dealt with by courts exercising jurisdiction under the Commonwealth Family Law Act. Most importantly, the bill allows the Commonwealth to legislate so that persons who have been in a de facto relationship are covered by the Commonwealth superannuation-splitting scheme that was introduced in December 2002.
The bill refers to the Commonwealth power to legislate regarding financial matters relating to de facto partners arising out of the breakdown, other than by reason of death, of de facto relationships between persons of different sexes and of de facto relationships between persons of the same sex. I commend the Government for bringing forward this legislation. Many couples in New South Wales live in de facto relationships. Unfortunately, many of those relationships break down. Such times are never easy. While the Government cannot lessen the emotional turmoil that many de facto couples will go through, it can play a role in ensuring that the division of resources on the breakdown of a relationship is as equitable as possible. That is one of the primary purposes of this bill—helping to create a legal regime whereby de facto couples have access to the means and mechanisms to suitably finalise financial matters between them.
De facto relationships often involve children. When a de facto relationship breaks down, issues concerning children have to be decided. When a court is called upon to decide issues relating to children, it would be an obvious benefit if the same court could decide all issues arising out of the breakdown of the relationship, including those relating to the finances and property as well as those relating to children. Having to approach separate courts for the determination of these issues only adds to the stress felt by the couples—and indeed the children—at a time when the breakdown of the relationship is an obvious source of distress for all concerned. I commend the agreement between the States and the Commonwealth to refer power in relation to the division of property on the breakdown of a de facto relationship. With superannuation becoming increasingly important to the lives of retiring Australians, the ability to take into account a division of property on the breakdown of a de facto relationship is an important step forward. As Chair of the Legislation Review Committee, I indicate that the committee considered this bill. I commend the report on this bill to all members of the House. In so doing, I commend the bill to the House.
(Bligh) [8.08 p.m.]: The Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Bill refers to the Commonwealth authority over financial and property matters in the breakdown of a de facto relationship, defined as a marriage-like relationship between two persons whether or not any other marriage or de facto relationship exists. The transfer of authority in the bill covers maintenance, distribution of property and other financial resources, including superannuation entitlements. It includes both de facto heterosexual and de facto gay and lesbian relationships. The bill also enables the Government, through proclamation by the New South Wales Governor, to terminate this referral of authority at any time. Section 51 of the Australian Constitution permits States to refer matters to the Commonwealth to legislate. Under this provision, the Family Court has authority over marriages and, except in Western Australia, where children are involved in a de facto relationship. State courts deal with property matters in de facto relationships. In New South Wales, government policy has provided same-sex couples with equality with heterosexual de facto couples.
I understand that the Commonwealth has refused to give authority over superannuation to State Governments to permit this issue to be dealt with equitably under New South Wales Government policy to recognise same-sex relationships. This issue has become more important since Commonwealth legislation last December permitted superannuation splitting, along with other assets, following a marriage breakdown. Given the Commonwealth position, a practical approach for superannuation to be considered following a de facto relationship breakdown is for the Commonwealth to be given authority to deal with this matter. The alternative whereby States enact and maintain uniform legislation is cumbersome.
I understand that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General has discussed the issue for some time. While all States' Attorneys have agreed to refer authority to the Federal Government, New South Wales is the first State to introduce legislation. This New South Wales legislation refers authority over both heterosexual and same-sex de facto relationships, but I understand that the Federal Government has indicated it will not accept the referral for same-sex de facto relationships. The Attorney General's office has informed me that if the Commonwealth maintains its position, the legal situation will not change for same-sex couples in New South Wales. This will effectively undermine recently achieved equality for same-sex relationships in this State.
However, I understand that the New South Wales Government's position is that it would not pass over possible benefit for heterosexual couples and is seeking to push the Federal Government and maintain equality for same-sex de facto couples. The Attorney General in his second reading speech has supported equal treatment for same-sex relationships and condemned the Federal position as discriminatory. I support the Attorney General's position. The Federal Government has not yet introduced legislation indicating how it will use this reference of authority. The Attorney General's office has indicated that if the New South Wales Government is not happy with the Commonwealth's response it will use the power to terminate the reference.
In principle, it is positive that a single court deals with all relationship breakdown issues to simplify procedures and cost. It is also positive that the law apply uniformly across Australia. The Law Society and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby support the legislation on these grounds. In principle, it is also valuable for superannuation to be properly considered during property settlements in relationship breakdowns. Currently, the State courts' ability to consider the value of one partner's superannuation is limited, and the current situation can be seriously discriminatory for the weaker economic partner in a relationship, such as a stay-at-home parent or a partner in part-time employment.
These potential benefits need to be balanced against the fact that the authority is being transferred to a Commonwealth Government that has not made an explicit policy statement on this issue or introduced legislation for public consideration. It is unacceptable that the Commonwealth treat same-sex relationships in a discriminatory manner, and the problem is compounded where children are involved. The likely outcome is that gay men and lesbians will need to deal with the Family Court in relation to children, but with the State court for property settlement. I am concerned that this bill may be premature because of the uncertainties and undesirable consequences, depending on what regime the Federal Government puts in place and the uncertainty as to whether New South Wales residents—gay, lesbian and heterosexual—will be better or worse off.
The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby supports in principle this referral of authority because of the potential benefits provided by the Family Court, which has greater expertise, is cheaper, is less time-consuming, has broader principles to consider for making a decision and provides access to superannuation. In comparison, the Property (Relationships) Act provisions are time-consuming and expensive. However, the lobby is concerned that the likely exclusion of same-sex relationships will entrench inequality. A particular concern is that following this referral to the Commonwealth, the New South Wales Property (Relationships) Act will effectively apply only to same-sex relationships. Will the New South Wales Government retain its commitment to the current regime, including the work being undertaken by the Law Reform Commission to update the Act and bring it more in line with the operation of family law?
Given these considerations, I have two major concerns. Firstly, it is difficult to assume that the Commonwealth will do the right thing when the current Coalition Government has explicitly and continually prioritised marriages as more important than de facto relationships and heterosexual relationships as more important than same-sex relationships. What kind of uniform regime will the Commonwealth implement across Australia and how might it reduce existing rights in New South Wales? Will the Federal Government use the proposed provision of rights for heterosexual couples as a mechanism to further implement a "uniqueness of marriage" agenda and force reduction in rights for same-sex couples? Secondly, while the State Government has the legal power to terminate this reference at any time, can we afford to assume that there will be the political will at some later date to do this if the Federal Government does not do the right thing?
I ask the Attorney General to address these concerns and respond in detail to the following questions. Will the New South Wales Government immediately confirm that there will be no change and certainly no loss of rights or entitlements under the New South Wales legislation for same-sex couples as a result of this legislation? On what criteria will the New South Wales Government assess the as-yet-unannounced Commonwealth response to this reference to determine whether or not it is adequate? Will the New South Wales Government give a clear commitment to ensuring that any Commonwealth arrangements will be rejected if they risk reducing rights for same-sex couples, particularly as the arrangement will almost certainly destroy recently improved equality?
What mechanism will be used to provide public and parliamentary scrutiny of the adequacy of the Federal response to ensure that there is full accountability and transparency for the changes? What action will the New South Wales Government take, particularly in conjunction with other States that also have legal recognition of same-sex relationships, to get uniform treatment of same-sex and heterosexual relationships to end the entrenched and systemic discrimination and achieve full equality before the law? What commitment will the New South Wales Government make to continue the operation and improvement of the Property (Relationships) Act to ensure that same-sex relationships receive the fullest equality possible under State law, particularly in the absence of equality under Federal law?
(Strathfield) [8.15 p.m.]: I speak in support of the Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Bill. Any referral of power to the Commonwealth is a significant matter, and the Government, under the excellent leadership of Minister Debus, has given detailed consideration to the rights and entitlements of people in de facto relationships. This matter has been discussed by the Commonwealth, States and Territories for some time. In 1998 the Australian Capital Territory raised the matter at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General following proposals put by the Law Council of Australia. The Law Council's preferred approach was to have all States refer power in relation to de facto relationship property matters to the Commonwealth. In the interim, the Law Council suggested model legislation be enacted by each State and Territory, retaining flexibility to adopt a different approach in particular areas, such as application to same-sex relationships.
A working party formed of interested jurisdictions—the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Queensland and the Commonwealth—determined a preference for references in general terms, as opposed to references of the text of a specific bill which may then be enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament. However, some States were also keen to maintain flexibility to permit individual approaches. At the March 2001 Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meeting the Commonwealth Attorney-General sought other Ministers' views on dealing with de facto property rights. He asked that Ministers re-examine the question of State references. At the July 2001 meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in Darwin the Ministers agreed that those jurisdictions wishing to refer power should notify the Commonwealth of their intention to do so, the Commonwealth would prepare and circulate a discussion paper concerning the proposed reference, and the Parliamentary Counsels Committee should be asked to draft a possible reference bill in consultation with the Special Committee of Solicitors-General. Drafting instructions for a model reference bill were referred to the Parliamentary Counsels Committee in December 2001.
A bill was prepared in accordance with those instructions, which did not cover the reference of power for same-sex couples. The Ministers further agreed in July 2002 to ask the Parliamentary Counsels Committee to prepare a draft reference bill that extended to same-sex couples. At the July 2002 Ministers' meeting the State and Territory Ministers also requested that the Commonwealth Attorney-General inform them of the Commonwealth's position about allowing State courts to make enforceable orders affecting the superannuation entitlements of heterosexual and same-sex couples once the new Commonwealth superannuation splitting regime came into effect. It has been argued that it would be possible for a State to legislate along the lines of the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Superannuation) Act 2001 and the regulations made thereunder in relation to de facto couples.
However, in the absence of provisions in the Commonwealth Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, or regulations extending to superannuation interests held by de facto couples, it is unlikely that States could require superannuation trustees to act in ways contrary to the standards or regulations made under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act. This is because the Commonwealth Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulatory Scheme would prevail and prevent inconsistent State law from having any valid effect. Thus while a State could make its own legislation in relation to superannuation for de facto couples, it would be necessary for the Commonwealth to amend the regulatory regime that governs superannuation to ensure that any orders made under the State legislation would be subject to the same facilitative regime as payment split orders made under the Family Law Act.
The same considerations would obviously apply to other State legislation relevant to the regulation of superannuation for de facto couples. In addition, for State legislation to cover superannuation interests in the public sector fund established under Commonwealth or other State legislation, it would be necessary to amend other State and Commonwealth legislation. Amendment of other superannuation legislation governing Commonwealth superannuation schemes would be necessary to enable any State law to operate effectively for members of such schemes. That would clearly be a complex exercise involving a degree of co-ordination not required for other options, and doing so would give rise to unnecessary risk. As a result of these considerations, the only effective means of ensuring that de facto couples can access the superannuation splitting regime is to refer powers to the Commonwealth in respect of the division of property on the breakdown of a relationship. I commend the bill to the House.
(East Hills) [8.21 p.m.]: I support the bill and thank the Opposition for its support. The legislation will refer power to the Commonwealth in respect of certain financial matters arising out of the breakdown of de facto relationships. Both the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments agree that this reference is a good idea and that it will benefit de facto couples whose relationships end. The governments do not agree about the extent to which the reference should be taken up by the Commonwealth, as evidenced by the Commonwealth's indication that it does not intend to legislate for same-sex de facto couples, but they do agree about the benefits. The New South Wales Government recognised some time ago that in the event of a relationship breakdown leading to a division of property same-sex couples should be given the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. I appreciate and take up the comments made by the honourable member for Bligh.
One of the benefits of this legislation will be access for de facto couples to the new Commonwealth superannuation splitting scheme. The regime came into effect on 28 December last year and, in effect, added a new part to the existing property settlement regime provided for in the Commonwealth Family Law Act. It is important to understand that in the past superannuation was generally not taken into account in the division of property on the breakdown of a marriage. It could be, but it was not necessarily considered. That may not have been a concern many years ago, but it has become more important as employees and employers place more and more money in superannuation funds.
All governments have now legislated to provide that a great deal money must be invested in superannuation. Contributions started at 3 per cent and are now 9 per cent and climbing towards as much as 15 per cent. Therefore, during a long-term relationship partners can build up large superannuation assets that must be divided in the event of the relationship breaking down. In recent years the size of superannuation assets as a proportion of total household wealth has been increasing steadily. The Commonwealth's move to legislate to ensure that superannuation interests are taken into account on the breakdown of marriage is a step in the right direction. The new superannuation splitting regime is part of the existing property settlement regime established under the Commonwealth Family Law Act. However, it provides in part that all superannuation is to be taken into account regardless of when it was acquired, that there will be no automatic 50:50 division of superannuation interests, and that the courts have a broad discretion to make just and equitable orders.
The relating of personal experiences is not usually well received in this House, but I will digress. My wife left long-term employment and took all of her superannuation. She placed her faith in me and invested the superannuation in a new house we built. She now has no superannuation and has started a new career. It would be completely unfair not to take account of the fact that that large sum was all hers; it would not be fair of me so say that I want half of her superannuation. We must recognise that an automatic 50:50 division of superannuation would be inappropriate. Obviously a large amount could be accumulated by one partner but not the other. Other methods can be used to work out the fair distribution of assets after the breakdown of a relationship. The courts also have a broad discretion to make just and equitable orders based on the evidence presented.
Without a reference of power from New South Wales, de facto couples in this State would not have access to those arrangements. That would make it more difficult for them to divide their assets equitably on the breakdown of a relationship. It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth does not intend to legislate for all de facto couples. However, providing access to the superannuation splitting regime to heterosexual de facto couples in New South Wales is a move in the right direction. I commend the Federal Government for the role it has played in that regard. I thank the Opposition for its support and commend the bill to the House.
(Liverpool) [8.26 p.m.]: This is an interesting piece of legislation, given the provisions of our Constitution. This Parliament does not often decide to divest itself of the power to pass laws and ask the Commonwealth to do so on the State's behalf. One of the great historical contests in Australia has been between the State trying to maintain its jurisdiction over various areas and keeping the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Parliament from encroaching on the State's powers. Occasions on which the State has handed the Commonwealth power to legislate in an area over which it does not have jurisdiction under the Constitution are rare. This legislation refers the State's capacity to make laws concerning financial matters following the breakdown of de facto relationships to the Commonwealth Parliament.
The reference is done under placitum xxxvii of section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which allows the State to refer its powers over a particular area to the Commonwealth. In this case, doing that has the virtue that arguments about property following the breakdown of de facto relationships can be determined by specialist tribunals and courts. At the moment in New South Wales they are determined by tribunals that are not specialists in that field. Having these issues determined by specialist tribunals is obviously an advantage. The Family Court tends to be quicker and more efficient, and it is a better forum than the State courts in which to ventilate these issues.
It is worth noting that jurisdiction over issues relating to children arising out of de facto relationships was referred to the Family Court some time ago. It was generally believed that that was a sensible move. At the moment, issues relating to children are determined in the Family Court and property issues are determined in State courts. It is clearly mad to have those closely related issues determined in different courts; it is of no benefit to anyone. The financial matters referred to include maintenance and distribution of property and other financial resources, including, in particular, superannuation. It is worth noting that this legislation flows from an agreement of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General involving all the States and Territories except Western Australia. The legislation contains a provision that allows the referral to be revoked by the Governor giving three months notice, and that is useful.
My only concern relates not to what the State is doing but the way in which the Federal Government is likely to react in respect of same-sex de facto relationships and the danger of discrimination. It appears that the Commonwealth legislation will not cover those relationships. That is fundamentally wrong in this day and age. I understand—and I invite the Attorney General to confirm that I am correct—that if the Federal Parliament does not legislate to cover issues such as superannuation arising out of the breakdown of same-sex de facto relationships, the current New South Wales law in relation to property arrangements will continue to apply. That is not ideal, but if it does, people in that situation will not have their situation worsened by this legislation. However, the position of heterosexual de facto couples whose relationships break down is considerably improved by having the issues determined by specialist tribunals under the Federal jurisdiction. Subject to that confirmation, I commend the bill to the House.
(Canterbury) [8.29 p.m.]: I acknowledge the Opposition's support for the bill. The reality of today's society is that many couples, both heterosexual and same-sex, live in de facto relationships. De facto relationships are now regarded by society as conventional marriages. People in de facto relationships have made a choice not to marry ever—or not yet. I have never waltzed down the aisle in a big white dress, but I certainly consider myself married in every sense of the word. "Jumping the broomstick" is how we describe it. However, a de facto relationship involves building a life together, buying or renting a home and gathering assets together, perhaps having and raising a family, sharing a debt, sharing love, arguing, sharing death, and, unfortunately, sometimes sharing a breakdown of the relationship. In every sense, in today's society a de facto relationship is very much regarded in the same way as a conventional marriage would have been regarded some time ago.
In many ways this bill has a pragmatic basis: it is about a recognition of rights. The main purpose of the bill is to refer legislative power to the Commonwealth in relation to certain financial matters on the breakdown of a de facto relationship. As that matter has been addressed extensively, I will not go into further detail. The bill is the result of discussions before the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General [SCAG] concerning de facto relationship property matters. Members of this House would understand, of course, that the SCAG is the Ministerial Council process for Attorneys General.
Issues affecting the children of de facto relationships are now dealt with under the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975. However, issues relating to property currently remain outside the Commonwealth jurisdiction. At present, de facto couples with disputes about children and property have not been able to have both these issues resolved in Federal courts. The ability to have both children and property issues dealt with by a single court will minimise the obvious stresses that accompany the breakdown of any relationship. Many of us would have had the experience of a relationship breakdown, and many of us would also have had the experience of trying to deal with legal issues of a family nature and many other matters.
At the time of a relationship breakdown there is a great deal of stress and upset, and it is usually a difficult time personally. Court processes at any time are extremely stressful. They are often confusing, and they are extraordinarily expensive. Bringing the two processes together will assist many people. Recently the Commonwealth amended the Family Law Act to enable Commonwealth courts to make orders to split superannuation entitlements on marital breakdown. The honourable member for East Hills addressed the matter at some length, so once again I will not refer to it in detail. However, the new Commonwealth family law and superannuation legislation regime for the division of superannuation interests covers only married people, and the State courts lack this power in relation to de facto relationships.
The matter I am about to refer to is the pragmatic element of the legislation. The only effective and practical way for people in de facto relationships to participate in the new regime is for the State to refer the power in relation to de facto relationships to the Commonwealth. The bill refers power over all de facto relationships, both heterosexual and same-sex, to enable them to take advantage of the new Commonwealth arrangements. However, as previous speakers have said, the Commonwealth has advised that it will only exercise power in relation to heterosexual de facto relationships and will not extend the new regime to same-sex de facto couples using State legislation. I find that extraordinarily disappointing and regressive. There is no doubt that in a couple of years time, when the Federal Government has caught up with the rest of the country and with modern thinking about these issues, we will find ourselves drafting new legislation.
Once the referral is made, the Commonwealth proposes to legislate to extend the benefit of the family law property provisions to the many heterosexual de facto couples in New South Wales, who will otherwise be denied access to the new superannuation splitting arrangements. Heterosexual de facto couples will then be able to use Federal courts to resolve issues relating to both children and property, including superannuation interests. Property legislation will thus apply consistently and nationally to both married and heterosexual de facto couples. If the Commonwealth refuses to legislate in relation to same-sex partners, they will continue to be covered under the New South Wales Property (Relationships) Act but will be unable to take advantage of the superannuation splitting provisions. Once again I stress that this is a regressive stand and that at some time in the future the Federal Government will have to catch up with the rest of modern Australia. I commend the bill to the House.
(Blue Mountains—Attorney General, and Minister for the Environment) [8.36 p.m.], in reply: I thank members representing the electorates of Epping, Bligh, East Hills, Miranda, Liverpool and Canterbury for their contributions to this debate. Since the contribution of the honourable member for Canterbury is freshest in my mind, I take this opportunity to support her sentiments. The Commonwealth Powers (De Facto Relationships) Bill is an important initiative in ensuring that the division of property on the breakdown of a de facto relationship will be able to take account of superannuation interests. This is of particular importance in a society that is, after all, placing increasing amounts of financial resources into superannuation. The more that society relies on superannuation funds as a means of support in retirement, the more important it is to ensure that those funds are equitably divided when a de facto relationship breaks down.
As I think each speaker pointed out, the proportion of de facto relationships in our society at present is much greater than it was even half a generation ago. That proportion is now far too high to ignore, especially in the context of the increasing importance being placed on superannuation as a means of retirement support. The bill will also help minimise distress to de facto couples with children when relationships break down. Once the Commonwealth legislates, de facto couples with children will be able to have matters relating to property and children dealt with in the same court. It may be appropriate at this time to remind the House that I was able to point out in my second reading speech that this referral will provide added financial security, particularly for many non-working, lower-income partners in a de facto relationship, the great majority of whom are women. This measure is of significant importance to women in de facto relationships, especially those on lower incomes, and their children.
I should point out that at present different laws apply in the different States and Territories, and when the Commonwealth legislates for the States that refer power, laws relating to the division of property for de facto couples will apply consistently across Australia in the jurisdictions that have referred power. At present only South Australia has indicated that it will not refer power. Western Australia is a special case: it has its own Family Court and does not, therefore, need to refer power. However, even if New South Wales were the only State referring power and the Commonwealth was prepared to accept the reference, the major advantages of the reference would still apply. De facto couples in the State would be able to access the Commonwealth superannuation legislation regime and have matters relating to property and children dealt with at the same time in courts exercising jurisdiction under the Commonwealth Family Law Act.
Referring particularly to the remarks of the honourable member for Bligh, it is the case that the Commonwealth has clearly indicated that it intends to exercise power only in relation to heterosexual de facto couples. That stance has much concerned the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General for some time. It is a stance that is almost inexplicable in contemporary society. In any event, that is the reason the referral power has not been drafted to contain a single definition that applies to both heterosexual and same-sex de facto couples. We are concerned, having made this referral, that it should ensure the validity of Commonwealth legislation based upon that referral. It would be pointless to make the referral in terms that were, at every practical level, guaranteed to ensure that the Commonwealth either did not legislate or produced legislation that was invalid. That would benefit no-one.
Nevertheless, the discrimination that we know will follow as a result of the action of the Commonwealth upon the referral of this power is to be much regretted. It is important, therefore, that I should remind the House that the referral will not deny de facto couples the benefit of family law property provisions that already exist in New South Wales. No rights in New South Wales will be adversely affected by this legislation. We are aware, and have accepted, in the face of the intransigence of the Commonwealth, that there will be discriminatory effects when the Commonwealth legislates, but we are reluctant to deny the benefit of any such legislation to those in New South Wales who will benefit from it. Equally, it is important to emphasise that no rights in New South Wales will be adversely affected by this legislation. There will be no change to the existing rights of same-sex partners under present State law.
We will keep the operation of property relationships legislation under constant review. That is to say, the existing State law will be constantly updated. The Government has an ongoing program of identifying and rectifying State laws that discriminate on the basis of sexuality, and further amendments under the program are presently being developed. At the same time, the Government will take into account any recommendations from the Law Reform Commission that may be relevant. We are committed to ensuring that enlightened and non-discriminatory laws continue to be developed and legislated in this State, whatever the antediluvian attitude of the Commonwealth in this respect may be.
I should also make it clear that any attempt by the Commonwealth to introduce legislation that had the effect of reducing the existing benefits and rights of same-sex couples under New South Wales property relationships laws would then result in the termination of the reference we are, by this bill, making to the Commonwealth for the benefit of, at least, the majority of de facto couples: the heterosexual couples of this State. We will, nevertheless, closely monitor the Commonwealth response to our referral. I believe New South Wales is the first State to make this referral, although we expect that all of the other States except South Australia and Western Australia, Western Australia being a particular case, will follow in due course. We will continue to closely monitor the Commonwealth's response and to lobby the Federal Government to implement an inclusive and equal scheme. If the present Government will not introduce such a scheme, I am sure that the next Federal Labor Government will do so. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
COMMITTEE ON THE HEALTH CARE COMPLAINTS COMMISSION
Motion, by leave, by Mr Scully agreed to:
(1) That Allan Francis Shearan be appointed to serve on the Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission in place of Pamela Diane Allan, discharged; and
(2) That a message be sent to the Legislative Council acquainting it with the resolution.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Routine of Business: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Scully agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to provide that at this sitting:
(1) until the rising of the House at this sitting no divisions or quorums be called; and
(2) the House shall adjourn without motion at the conclusion of Government business.
Motion by Mr Scully agreed to:
That the House at its rising this day do adjourn until Wednesday 17 September 2003 at 10.00 a.m.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2003-04
Debate resumed from 3 September.
(Swansea) [8.47 p.m.]: In speaking to the 2003-04 budget I congratulate our beloved Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Egan, on constructing a budget that, firstly, pays for all the promises made by the Government prior to the March election and, secondly, provides a massive $29 billion four-year program for new capital works and provides a sound fiscal foundation for the future economy of the State. The Hunter and Central Coast regions of the Swansea electorate are experiencing steady growth in employment numbers, business profitability and consumer confidence. While private sector investment for major projects in the Hunter, such as replacement steelmaking investment or programs for steelmaking, remains far off, the optimism generated by the Carr Government's facilitation of the opportunities by appropriate management of the former BHP site and other industrial land will create a favourable climate for investors.
According to the economic indicators published by the Central Coast Research Foundation, Central Coast unemployment now equals the State average. That improvement is underpinned by strong growth in business and consumer confidence. The survey showed that the long-term hiring intentions of businesses on the Central Coast are positive—a pleasing result. Businesses, especially small businesses, are benefiting from the budget and ensuring that New South Wales is competitive through State taxes and charges. From 1 January 2004 new trainees will be granted the same exemption from payroll tax that applies to apprentices, replacing the current tax rebate system for trainees.
Also, from 1 January next year employers of trainees will be required to pay the workers compensation premiums of trainees, putting trainees and apprentices on the same footing. The statistics show that the growth in jobs in the Hunter and on the Central Coast comes mainly from traineeships, which offer a level of training and career path that previously was not possible. Further traineeships will be undertaken by young people because of the tax benefits they provide to employers and workers compensation premiums being paid for trainees.
The honourable member for Charlestown would agree that many retail trainees are employed by small businesses in the large shopping centre at Charlestown Square. A number of traineeships are available to young people in the hospitality industry around the lake and in coastal areas. Nevertheless, I remain concerned about long-term unemployment and the lack of opportunities for young people in the Hunter and on the Central Coast. The social consequences of unemployment are well documented and I will not discuss them here. However, I wish to comment on the appalling abandonment of the unemployed by the Federal Government. Not only has the Liberal Party-National Party Coalition privatised the Commonwealth Employment Service, it has abandoned its constitutional and moral responsibility to assist the temporarily unemployed to obtain jobs. Indeed, those people are being kicked while they are down—such is the compassion of the Federal Government to the most vulnerable in our society.
I turn now to the details of the 2003-04 budget, and I will refer to some of the major expenditures in the budget and how they impact on the Hunter and the Central Coast. Health has been allocated $9.267 billion, an increase of $920 million. The Hunter received $566 million for Health, an increase of the 11.1 per cent, while the Central Coast region received $677 million, an increase of 8.7 per cent. A further $69 million has been allocated for the Central Coast Area Health Service, and $16 million for the Hunter Area Health Service. Part of that allocation is for the continuation of stage two of the refurbishment and rebuilding of Belmont hospital.
Shortly after the election I had the great pleasure of attending, with the Premier, the Minister for Health and other community representatives, the formal opening of the new accident and emergency department of Belmont hospital. Indeed, for the first time an after-hours general practitioner service has been established. Like so many areas, with the exception of the North Shore, Belmont has insufficient doctors, and only private practitioners can be found. To their credit the Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Department of Health have negotiated an arrangement whereby a district roster has been drawn up for a doctor to be available at night and on weekends to provide after-hours general practitioner care. Although the roster has only been in place since 1 July, the co-ordinator, Dr Annette Carruthers, has said it is working quite well.
The Commonwealth Government is funding these initiatives and I am pleased that, in conjunction with the New South Wales Department of Health, this innovative arrangement is being trialled at Maitland Hospital, Belmont hospital, and John Hunter Hospital. We need more doctors and nurses, and earlier debate highlighted how the Federal Government is hampering the encouragement of nurses and new graduates into the system. The New South Wales Department of Health is campaigning hard to entice back to the public system nurses who had previously left the profession. Under this Government, nurses are also receiving better remuneration.
The budget includes major expenditure of $8.159 billion for the Department of Education and Training, an increase of $542 million over the previous budget. North Lakes High School has received funding for a $3.6 million upgrade, a worthy project for a school in an economically challenged area where the students need considerable assistance. This Government has provided that assistance and has kept its commitment to reduce class sizes. The Government acknowledges the importance of the early years of schooling, and over the next four years capital funding of $107 million and additional recurrent funding of $222 million will be allocated for class size reductions in kindergarten, year 1 and year 2.
Evidence has shown that very young children can be taught to recognise sounds and symbols and to grasp simple mathematical concepts. The smaller the class size, the better the opportunity for teachers to provide individual tuition, particularly to students who have borderline difficulties. My youngest daughter is in first class at Belmont Public School and is able to read at a level above her age. The fact that she and many others in the class can read so well is a tribute to the teachers and the school. The Government is meeting its election promise to reduce class sizes and, by doing so, is assisting the new generation of children going through the public education system. Nevertheless, over the next three budgets I will seek further capital works enhancement for my electorate.
Belmont High School is the oldest high school in my electorate. It was built with money from the coalminers of the district and from the then Department of Education. However, the school, which has a student population of more than 1,100, is in dire need of a capital upgrade. It has a very constricted site and there is certainly overcrowding. When I visited the so-called staff room I was appalled by the unprofessional accommodation provided for professional people. It was much smaller than some of the toilets in this building. Along with the capital upgrade, a new hall should be provided. The existing hall can seat only 300, so the assemblies for different years must be held at different times. As well as providing a new hall, perhaps combined with a gymnasium, the Government needs to consider the very poor facilities provided to the more than 100 staff.
Swansea High School is also in need of some level of refurbishment. The department has an application for the Government to fund the construction of a new welding room complete with occupational health and safety compliant equipment. The current arrangements are woefully inadequate. Swansea High School provides welding courses to students at Belmont High School and to students at the publicly funded private Belmont Christian College. I have ensured that Swansea High School is charging appropriate fees for conducting these courses for private school students.
However, it is important that the Government provide some bricks and mortar and occupational health and safety compliant equipment for this school. I am pleased to acknowledge that two weeks ago the Minister for Education and Training advised me that Gwandalan Public School, which is in the Central Coast part of my electorate, will get two new classrooms. Gwandalan and Summerland Point are fast-growing areas, although a recent citizen, Mr Williams of HIH fame, fled after his wife sold her massive mansion. Gwandalan Public School's two new classrooms will be a wonderful addition to that fast-growing area. The school has too many demountables, and the two new classrooms will be a welcome addition.
I welcome the commitment of the Minister for Transport Services to find out what commuters actually want with public transport. When the timetables for the Newcastle buses were restructured at the beginning of last year and leading up to the election in March this year, the commuters were the last people to be consulted. Now the commuters will be the first people to be consulted. I look forward to the ensuing debate. I look forward also to ensuring that the Hunter and Central Coast regions receive their fair share of funding for proper public transport. As a non-Sydney metropolitan member of Parliament I fear that Sydney will receive the largest share of this budget. I make a plea to the Government to consider providing the funding we need to ensure that we have good linkages between and across our communities, and links not only with the north but also with the great metropolitan city of Sydney. With that, I commend the budget to the House.
(Albury) [9.04 p.m.]: On 24 June in this House the Treasurer announced with a self-congratulatory flourish of papers that this was a Labor budget of which he was proud. He said that it was a budget that is socially responsive and financially responsible. Two days later the Leader of the House proclaimed that "This Government acts for all communities. It does not just represent Labor seats; it represents the whole State and is a responsible government." And, yes, the Government is responsible—responsible for reducing services in country areas while claiming the opposite. Every week seems to bring news of departmental restructuring or planned downsizing, whether it is nine Rail Infrastructure Corporation employees from the signal boxes at Albury or talk of cutting CountryLink services to Henty and Culcairn, elimination of the administrative position for the Department of Juvenile Justice in Albury, or removing support staff from the Department of Education and Training district office.
The Treasurer said that in a recession a balanced budget "would require significant tax hikes and significant service cuts, causing social hardship and dislocation and applying the wrong economic medicine at the wrong time". Well, the tax hikes and the service cuts have emerged, and we are not in a recession. What sort of spin doctoring is this, and will regional electorates accept the spin over the substance? I think not. The club industry is a strong and vital part of my community, which has 18 registered clubs. The imposition of significant tax hikes will have a heavy and permanent impact on our region—an impact on employment, on social services, and on sporting, cultural, recreational and charitable services.
Another threat to employment emerged in the form of the removal of incentives to employ trainees. At a time when there is a skill shortage in many sectors, the Government has removed the exemption on workers compensation for trainees instead of monitoring the system more closely. And it is a system that desperately needs overhauling, with administration costs out of control at almost $400 million a year and fraud costing at least $175 million a year. Since June 2002 WorkCover debt has gone from $2.6 billion to $3.2 billion, and the Government picks on trainees and their employers as a propitiatory revenue raiser.
The Treasurer announced that the budget provides for an expansion of the State literacy and numeracy plan, and $846 million for technology initiatives, including the upgrade of bandwidth and the roll-out of e-learning accounts for staff and students. But staff and students in the Albury electorate have not welcomed the budget. Instead, the staff reaction has been that the budget will cripple underprivileged English language literacy and numeracy students by removing fee exemption status.
The head of the Adult General Education Access Department at Albury's Riverina Institute of TAFE said that functionally illiterate students and low-income earners such as migrants, the aged, women, the unemployed, the indigenous, the disabled, and youth at risk would not be able to make the payments. Many do not qualify for one of the pensions required to obtain individual exemption. A survey conducted by the New South Wales Adult Literacy and Numeracy Council found that 36 per cent of students enrolled in adult basic education courses at the Albury campus were not on Centrelink benefits and would not be able to pay the fees.
Most migrant women learn English so they will be accepted into society and so they can be confident while shopping and dealing with day-to-day activities. These are basic fundamental skills that are being removed from people who have the least opportunities. Ms Elizabeth McKie said that studies clearly showed that a lack of literacy creates social problems but that the functionally illiterate do not have a voice because they cannot read or write, and now they will not be able to learn. The plan to save money here is short-sighted, as additional funding will be required later for rehabilitation programs.
The Government proposes to introduce upfront fees for TAFE mainstream vocational courses. This is contrary to Labor Party policy. The increase for a certificate IV is from $260 to $750. Many students will not be able to complete, let alone start, these courses. Earlier I spoke of trainees. At a time when small businesses are desperate for skilled employees the Government introduces TAFE fees of up to $350 for these young people. The TAFE system provides students with skills that are directly useful for industry and business, often with input from local business communities, as is the case in my electorate with the Riverina Institute of TAFE. Coupled with the disincentive for employers to take on trainees, the introduction of fees can only be seen as another swipe at business by a Government that is out of touch and out of step.
Overshadowing all of this is the spectre of the grim reaper coming to claim jobs in TAFE and the Department of Education and Training. The common theme in so many of the Government plans is reduction of services in areas where they are needed. Ironically, this is accompanied by a burgeoning bureaucracy in centralised, distant locations where call centre operators have no idea of local needs, personnel or conditions. Electronic learning is no substitute for teachers and personal contact. No wonder the people of Albury are concerned about this budget and its impact on teachers and students.
I return to impacts on our community. As a result of the poker machine tax, some $33.7 million will be ripped out of the Albury electorate between the next financial year and 2010-11. This equates to $777 per elector. We are told that some clubs will pay no tax. That is not what the clubs say. Certainly they will pay no tax of any form if they go out of existence. Closed clubs pay no tax. The Sailors, Soldiers and Airmens Club, which is one of the larger ones in our district, cancelled a $3 million building plan in August after considering the effects of a 40 per cent increase in gaming tax. The club's general manager, Mr Andrew Terry, said that the 40 per cent increase in the club's gaming tax made the project unviable and would seriously jeopardise the ongoing viability of the club if it were to proceed under the new tax threshold. Mr Terry said that the impact of new tax rates would add an additional $2.2 million of debt to the club between 2004 and 2010. The proposed building works would have resulted in the club employing an additional 30 staff, over the present 160, and would have generated an additional $1 million of retail revenue upon completion.
Clubs provide a social and sporting meeting place in country areas and are often the only provider of such venues. They provide employment—often for younger people. They launch careers in hospitality, catering, functions management, greenkeeping and so on. They provide venues for musicians and other entertainers. Where I live, on the Murray River, clubs provide the sporting facilities and the entertainment facilities that attract tourists and customers from across the border. This is good for New South Wales. It is good for my electorate. These are now threatened.
Sporting groups, charities, bridge clubs, and community groups all meet free of charge, courtesy of the clubs. Clubs support returned services groups such as the RSL, Legacy and the War Widows Guild. They provide the venues and the refreshments free of charge. They provide the venues for program launches for government and non-government bodies. Only recently I went to the launch of an employment-generating program courtesy of a local government initiative, supported in principle, and with some funding, by the State Government—in a club that provided the venue and the refreshments free of charge.
It is ironic that the annual conference of Clubs New South Wales will be held in Albury next month, because one of the keynote speakers is Margot Cairnes. She will address delegates at the conference and will get to the heart of the leadership issue. Margot strongly believes in relationships at all levels, at all times. She stresses the need to balance personal happiness and business success. One of the areas she will address that is particularly apt for the club movement—and this was written before the budget—is leadership in times of change. As change is the only thing we can be sure of in the current economic and social climate, her address should give all delegates food for thought.
There was no mention in the Budget Speech of the taxes that came into effect at the beginning of July, nor of the raft of increases from the first month of this financial year. Workers compensation premiums are now charged on salaries and wages, directors' fees, and superannuation contributions, and even on payments to contractors who already have their own cover. Farmers and the self-employed are only now finding out about how these hidden taxes are biting. Most employees will not be aware of the extra revenue being clawed in by this Government, the highest-taxing State Government in Australia. But their employers certainly are aware of the increased workers compensation premiums, and inevitably there will be some impact on jobs. It is no good the Government then pointing the finger, because it is setting the example in job shedding in regional areas—just ask the staff of the Department of Education and Training district office in Albury, or the former Juvenile Justice administration staff, or the former railway signalmen, or the former accounts staff at Albury Base Hospital.
From 1 July there have been more than 1,000 Government fee increases—all conveniently overlooked in the budget. They range from driver's licences to speeding fines, from business name registrations to applications for incorporation. It is not that the Government is short of revenue. The massive stamp duty windfall of $830 million was not accompanied by any concessions to home buyers. There was no incentive to help struggling families into their own homes. Instead there was a gleeful imposition of a continuing iniquitous tax on home buyers ranging from young families to retirees.
Since 1995 the Albury electorate has seen significant increases in stamp duty on homes, with rises of 130 per cent for units in Albury, 317 per cent in Mulwala, 122 per cent in Howlong, 196 per cent in the Brocklesby area, 143 per cent in Corowa, and 61 per cent in Lavington. These figures are increasing, and quickly, because the Albury area is experiencing unparalleled demand for property. It is an attractive and popular area for families, for retirees, and for investors. This is good news for existing home owners but not such good news for those trying to buy their first home.
The Coalition plan for cuts in stamp duty is worthy of consideration. It would deliver significant advantages and more affordable options to first home buyers. Under the plan, stamp duty rates on property transfers would be cut by 5 per cent on 1 July 2004, the cuts increasing to 7.5 per cent from July 2005 and to 10 per cent in July 2006. The city and country thresholds of the First Home Plus Scheme would be equalized. There needs to be some action to provide more affordable housing. For all the talk of social justice by members opposite, there is precious little social conscience when it comes to stamp duty. The capitalist mentality is rampant and the people of New South Wales will keep paying. The Plan First tax introduced last November is well on its way to reaping double the revenue expected. It has raised almost $7 million in 10 months, with average home builders paying $120 towards this tax. In the Albury local government area this levy on developments valued at over $50,000 has netted the Government $28,286.
Where are some of these taxes going? We know that the Henty multipurpose service has been planned for some time and it is great to see that the community group has succeeded with Department of Health officers in getting the rural hospital and health services project funded this year, to the tune of a little over $5 million. This will be an excellent new facility and it would be good to think that the old hospital building could be used in some way to cater for the needs of the older residents of the town.
I welcome the allocation of $1.4 million towards track reconstruction, underbridge renewal and rerailing by the Rail Infrastructure Corporation. As we know, the rail network is in dire need of maintenance and this will start to address some of the backlog of work noted recently by the Minister. The Roads and Traffic Authority has been allocated $15 million to continue planning for the Hume Highway upgrade, which will soon see the tendering process under way and result in new infrastructure to benefit road users and stimulate our economy. That is Federal Government funding. The new road will eliminate several level crossings—and not before time. The Government has committed to a grade-separated rail crossing at Gerogery on the Olympic Highway, and I note that $8 million has been allocated to this project in the budget. The long-awaited Federation Bridge at Corowa is now under construction, with funding from the Federal Government being supplemented by New South Wales and Victoria.
Our region needs capital investment to develop. Infrastructure will provide the backbone for a vigorous industrial community—for the manufacturers who have just celebrated Manufacturing Week with a host of activities and displays, for the small businesses, which are the innovators and drivers of the Chamber of Commerce, for our transport operators, and for our government and non-government institutions. The Government has to take stock of this area, which was once titled the national growth centre, for the Victorian Government is winning the battle for new industries and Wodonga is outstripping Albury in growth and development. The budget did not address this issue sufficiently. We need the regional development vision and the energy of a government truly committed to the area south of the Murrumbidgee. I look forward to participating in an exciting future for the Albury electorate and to representing the needs of our region in the years to come.
(Charlestown) [9.20 p.m.]: I welcome this opportunity to address the House on the recently adopted budget, which is the eighth balanced budget by the Carr Labor Government. The track record of this Government is consistently evident in this budget—that is, it is financially responsible and it has been developed with due consideration for the needs of local communities, while being accountable to the greater New South Wales population. With good governance comes the need for responsible and sound financial management. With this budget, the Carr Government has again ensured that the future of New South Wales is secure. It has reduced State debt by $8 billion since 1995, and increased expenditure to further enhance the goods and services administered by the State.
The fundamental difference that sets the Government apart from the Opposition is that we develop budgets that respond to community needs and concerns, and we have a genuine desire to ensure the longer-term viability of this State and its resources. The Opposition preaches its commitment to our communities and how it can do better. However, we only need look at the Opposition's colleagues at the Federal level to know that the Coalition has little regard for the citizens of not only this State but also the nation—what I would refer to as a total abuse of power. I stand proud to be part of this third Carr Labor Government, with its track record in delivering for New South Wales. It is a government that responds to the needs of the community—an approach that is in stark contrast to the Opposition and its highly flawed policies and directions.
The need for revenue to match community expectations will always be a challenge for the Government, something that the Opposition is unlikely to experience. The Opposition's Federal colleagues should take a more realistic approach to sharing finances across the States. New South Wales deserves its fair share of resources, yet we are again subject to the Federal inefficiencies and lack of commitment. The Federal Government continues to shed its responsibilities to the States but does not provide the required levels of funding to match. I see these actions resulting in a cut to services as the State is burdened with the additional demands that should be funded by the Commonwealth.
Locally, the budget offers my electorate of Charlestown continued support for all essential services, such as health, education, policing and public transport. I am pleased to be part of a Government that makes commitments and delivers. The budget delivers for my constituents and it delivers for the Hunter region. Health services in the Hunter are paramount, as they are in many other electorates across the State. The Hunter region will see the implementation of stage two of the Newcastle strategy, which will improve access and expand health services for our communities. The Newcastle strategy is worth $16.2 million and is part of the Government's continued commitment to health services. But our commitment is becoming more difficult to meet as a result of the Federal Government's draconian approach to health services.
The States have a lead role in health service provision. However, let us not forget that the Federal Government has an even greater role to play in the provision of health care. It is obvious through the Federal Government's actions over many months that it does not have any desire to meet its moral or social obligations. It is charged with a responsibility to do the right thing and support service provision and access to medical services. The reality is that many of our community members are struggling to receive basic medical attention when and where it is required thanks to the Howard Government's approach. Public hospitals are overloaded, not because of inadequate State funding but simply because the Howard Government has no interest in supporting Medicare or health provision. I am sure that the Howard Government members would have a very different view if they only made an effort to get out and talk to their constituents who are suffering.
I am pleased that the State budget enables major upgrade works at Belmont hospital to the value of $724,000. Also, $360,000 has been allocated to John Hunter Hospital to establish a major trauma unit and $745,000 has been allocated for cardiac service expansion. These are some examples of funding for the Hunter, with a total of $56.4 million in additional funds being made available to enable the growth and delivery of services. This funding demonstrates our commitment to health service provision. Recently I visited John Hunter Hospital with my father, who was a patient. I was very impressed with the professionalism and commitment of the hospital staff. Not long ago we saw the opening of the hospital's new emergency department. My father was initially placed in this unit. I was wearing a different hat when I visited those facilities with my father as a patient and saw the unit and staff in action working to help our community members. I congratulate all the staff at John Hunter Hospital for the commitment, service and support they give our community members.
The Charlestown electorate is not unlike many other electorates in that the growth of the region is placing greater pressure on educational services. The schools in my electorate are well positioned with professional teaching staff and continuing support from the State. The budget will assist to further enhance school resources. These resources reflect our commitment to our students of today, whilst striving to set high standards for the students of tomorrow. Smaller class sizes will allow a greater focus on individual student needs, and the provision of a range of maintenance works and upgrades will embellish our students' learning environment. Increased spending on literacy and numeracy programs to enhance our students' basic skills, the provision of airconditioning in schools, increased safety fencing and numerous other work programs highlight our level of support to public education system and the importance of giving our students the best possible start.
Education funding will deliver $250,000 for Cardiff High to take another step forward in becoming a centre for excellence in the information technology field. TAFE initiatives include $4 million for the Child Care Studies Centre at Belmont TAFE, $1.3 million for a kitchen upgrade at Glendale TAFE and $7.1 million at the Kurri Kurri campus for horticultural and environmental studies. These measures will ensure a brighter future for our students and our work force of tomorrow. I can proudly say that I am a product of the public education system, the TAFE system and the university system. TAFE deserves our support. The TAFE system provided me with training that I could not have received elsewhere. It is a key player in developing and building our work force, particularly in the trade sector. I congratulate our TAFE colleges.
The Charlestown electorate and the Hunter have also received increased funding for a range of road-related programs. This funding continues the Government's support to road and public transport infrastructure. The Government has allocated $3.4 million to complete the delivery of 30 new low-floor airconditioned buses with wheelchair access for the Hunter. I see this as yet another way in which the Government encourages people to utilise public transport services. In conjunction with the supply of these buses, a major review of transport services is under way to establish further improvements and incentives for the public to use our public transport network. This review is looking at not only bus but also rail services in the Hunter.
The Government has recognised the benefits of the recently opened Charlestown bypass and has allocated significant additional funding to commence planning for its connection to the north at Jesmond. The Charlestown bypass has received an allocation of $700,000, which will allow traffic safety issues at the northern end to be addressed. These works include the installation of traffic lights at Peatties Road and intersection upgrades for Kimbarra Close. I thank the local community group for its valuable input in assisting the Roads and Traffic Authority to determine the appropriate solutions for the intersections. Fernleigh Track has received its first allocation of $125,000 as part of the pre-election commitment of $500,000 to complete works from Kahibah to Whitebridge. The track has rapidly become a significant recreational resource for the community of Charlestown and I am pleased to have been able to work to achieve this funding for my community.
Like all other electorates, local traffic safety matters are important in my area. It is pleasing to note that the budget has delivered continued funding of $23,500 for the employment of road safety officers by Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils. Funding of $1.4 million has been committed to both councils for maintenance works on State and regional roads, ensuring that our assets are maintained to a high standard. Safety fencing along the Pacific Highway Gateshead will be installed at a cost of $150,000. This will ensure the safe movement of pedestrians on that very busy highway. These items are only part of the overall funding for the State. A record $7,138 million will be spent on capital works this year—an increase of $788 million. The electorate of Charlestown has many public houses that require a range of work. It is pleasing to note that the Government's budget has allocated $624 million to assist more than 500,000 vulnerable people across the State. Of that, $25.8 million will be spent assisting 71,000 people through the Rent Start Program and a further 1,000 tenants will be provided with support to undertake employment training programs. This again demonstrates the Government's commitment to helping those in need.
Policing is another area that has received additional resources in this budget. The statewide increase in the police budget is $986 million. Of that, $8.5 million has been allocated over two years for the installation of video equipment in police vehicles; $3 million has been allocated for the continuation of the Operation Viking blitz, which has been successful in the Hunter; $1.7 million has been allocated to improve the technology of fingerprint systems; and additional funding is also available for uniforms and mountain bikes. The Hunter will get its fair share of those resources. Without doubt, policing is one of the toughest fields of work in which to be engaged. Public expectations are extremely high and the day-to-day functions of a police officer are stressful, to say the least.
I am pleased that the Government is continuing to support our officers with additional resources to allow them to undertake their work and to serve the community. While I recognise that crime rates are somewhat fluid, it is appropriate also to acknowledge the role the community can play in preventing and reporting crime-related activities. Encouraging reporting is an important issue in my electorate. Often when I discuss crime-related issues with constituents they advise that they have not reported an incident. It is hardly fair to criticise police if an incident is not brought to their attention. New recruits recently graduated from the academy and I congratulate them and wish them well in their chosen career.
We should not forget other important areas in which the Government has responsibilities. One such area is providing services for children and families. I note the 25 per cent increase in the budget for these services and recognise the Minister's tireless efforts to enhance the support system. It is pleasing that $25 million will be spent to improve child protection systems, with 100 new caseworkers to be brought on line. In addition, $47.1 million will be spent on improving out-of-home care systems, which will be in great demand in my electorate. The budget includes an allocation of $39.7 million to rebuild the Department of Community Services' basic service delivery system, which will further improve our ability to respond to those in need. The provision of family and community services is another area that is often undervalued, although staff commitment is high.
The elderly in our community are also winners out of this budget, with the allocation of $159 million for pensioner assistance. When these members of our community are in need we will now be in a position to offer assistance with utility charges. I take this opportunity to highlight to the House the urgent demand for aged care beds in the Hunter. John Hunter Hospital has 30 patients who need specialist care that could be provided in an aged care facility. Yet again, they confront the Commonwealth Government's complete lack of interest in providing beds. I encourage the State to assist in the provision of aged care services by supplying land to aged care providers on a lease arrangement. That would demonstrate the State Government's leadership on this issue and help to facilitate the supply of beds for elderly community members in need. During the past month I have witnessed a constituent in need of an aged care bed being transferred to Scone, which is two hours away from her family and home. That is not acceptable to me, to my constituent or to her family. The response from our Federal colleagues is, "So be it." Aged care is the Federal Government's responsibility and this is yet another example of its lack of commitment to our community. [Extension of time agreed to
The Government is acting responsibly to ensure that appropriate controls are in place to manage development on important coastal sites. The proactive review of State environmental planning policy 71 will tighten controls and establish strict guidelines for development proposals on our coast. No longer will the broader community have to sit by and watch as our coastal areas are consumed by urban development. Our coastal lands are rapidly being lost and it is critical that we take a strong stand to preserve our remaining holdings. The Government has allocated additional funding to improve infrastructure to manage our water resources more effectively. Stormwater management projects will receive additional funding and greater incentives will be offered to encourage stormwater harvesting and reuse.
For too many years our community has had a culture of capturing and disposing of stormwater quickly, treating it as though it was some form of disease. It is logical, particularly in light of global warming, that we harvest that water for reuse. Our community can make significant savings simply by capturing and reusing stormwater. Financial savings could be used to assist in meeting mortgage payments, which in turn would lead to additional savings in interest payments. Water harvesting is an important program for our community and the environment in which we live. Major sewerage infrastructure will be provided across the Hunter to ensure that services are adequate to meet the growing needs of the region. Using grey water could also provide savings for individual households. I am pleased to note that the Carr Labor Government has again allocated funds for urban renewal. The most significant program will be undertaken at Cessnock, but the Windale community will also receive funding to continue the tremendous work undertaken in that area.
The social responsibility demonstrated by the Government has set a high standard for any government at any level. Overall the Government has committed $34.9 billion in this budget for expenses and $3.5 billion for capital investment by the general government sector. This budget provides for a mix of new and ongoing measures and programs that meet the Government's strategic objectives. Whether one focuses on transport, health, education or policing, one will see increases—increases that allow greater enhancement to service delivery. This is a budget we should be proud of—a budget the Opposition could never deliver. My colleagues and I realise that this budget is another step towards financial security for the State, while addressing a wide range of important issues for individual communities, which deserve support through the supply of goods and services. I congratulate the Treasurer.
(North Shore) [9.40 p.m.]: The Treasurer said that this year's budget is "a Labor budget every inch of the way". He is right: it is about increased taxes, a blow-out in all major portfolios, waste, mismanagement and, above all, spin. This budget confirms that New South Wales is the highest-taxing State in the country. In fact, the Carr Government's taxes raised $1.057 billion more than budgeted in 2002-03. North Shore residents, whom I represent in this House, make a significant contribution to the State Government treasury chest through various forms of taxation, most notably property taxes. North Shore residents will be affected by the numerous new charges and taxes outlined in the budget, including changes to workers compensation through expansion of the base on which it is calculated. Wages will be redefined to include payments for long service leave, superannuation, retirement or termination, fringe benefits and directors' fees. This will mean that even if the rate remains the same, the actual amount will have increased. Contractors will also be liable for subcontractors' workers compensation. The Coalition opposed these changes during debate on the legislation.
I am pleased to see the Minister for Gaming and Racing at the table. Increases in the clubs tax will mean that licensed clubs will pay a seven-year incremental poker machine tax increase from September next year. Marginal rates currently applied to compensate for the GST will be dropped, although the State receives compensation from the Federal Government for GST-related payments. A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of attending a gathering of the clubs in my electorate and the electorate of Willoughby, which was convened to inform the honourable member for Willoughby and me of the impact of the clubs tax increase imposed by the Government.
We were advised that the tax will cost the clubs in the lower North Shore area an additional $1 million in the first year alone, climbing to more than $5.5 million by 2010-11. The accumulated tax increase to 2010-11 will be almost $23.5 million. The losses over the same period will increase each and every year, culminating in a total loss of more than $36 million for the 2004 to 2011 period. I am sure all members of this House, including disgruntled Government members, are aware of the great benefits that clubs provide to their constituencies. It is no different in my electorate. Among those benefits are access to social and sporting activities, donations to charities and support for other clubs, particularly junior sporting organisations. I have raised a number of these matters previously in this place.
A further increase in charges that affects my electorate is the increase to the parking space levy, which will, according to the Treasurer, raise an additional "$2 million in 2003-04 by increasing the parking space levy from $800 to $840 a year in the Sydney, North Sydney and Milsons Point business districts, and from $400 to $420 in St Leonards, Chatswood, Parramatta and Bondi Junction". The Treasurer also said, "All monies raised by this levy are hypothecated to public transport improvements," such as suburban car parks at railway stations. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that North Shore residents have benefited from any such car parking, and yet they are hit with a parking space levy of $840 a year. The increased levy also applies to the Kirribilli Returned Services Club, one of the clubs that has also been hit by the Government's poker machine tax increase, which is a double whammy.
The lack of land tax reforms in this budget means that residents continue to pay the premium property tax charged on homes where the land value exceeds $1.68 million. In 2002-03 land tax raised $1.35 billion, $87 billion more than the Government had predicted. New South Wales is the only State to tax people for living in their own homes. The Coalition has announced that in government it would abolish this tax and overhaul the system of valuation for land tax as part of a review of State taxation overall. In 2002-03 stamp duty raised $830 million more than expected because of Sydney's prolonged property boom. Last year stamp duty delivered the Government $3.55 billion, and $3.37 billion is expected to be raised in 2003-04. Despite the windfall, the budget contained no measures to lessen the burden of stamp duty on North Shore properties, which has increased by more than 100 per cent since the Carr Government came to office. By contrast, the Coalition has proposed a plan under which it would cut stamp duty rates on property transfers by 10 per cent by July 2006 while keeping the budget in surplus. This would cut stamp duty on the sale of North Shore properties by up to $6,880.
Despite the Government's generous contribution to the State budget, it has ignored projects that are important to North Shore constituents. For example, I refer to the long-awaited library, and visual arts and technological and applied science amenities at North Sydney Boys High School. In addition, I refer to the badly needed improvements to the toilets, canteen and school entryway at Beauty Point Public School. There is also no funding for a real solution to massive traffic problems in the North Shore electorate. Instead, the Government has revealed plans to add a two-lane clip-on drawbridge alongside The Spit Bridge. The estimated total cost of the project is $35 million, with $1 million to be spent this year and a further $2 million allocated for the 2003-04 financial year. It is estimated that the project will be completed by 2006. However, this $35 million in taxpayers' money will merely make a bad problem worse, and the Government knows it. I have expressed my concerns to the Minister, and I again appeal to him to listen to the more than 2,000 people who recently attended a public rally in Mosman regarding this matter and the more than 5,000 people who have signed petitions asking for the Government to drop this ludicrous proposal.
Highest on the list of underfunded projects is the Royal North Shore Hospital stage 2 redevelopment. Despite the fact that 27 of the 47 buildings do not meet the current building and fire standards, the project will not be completed until 2010. The Coalition's commitment to education and training is well documented through the substantial policy commitments made at the March election. They include lowering the class sizes in kindergarten, and years 1 and 2; establishing six additional partially selective high schools in Western Sydney; introducing school canteen healthy food initiatives; increasing funds to $50 million annually for the professional development of teachers; creating the position of chief teacher; restoring discipline, respect and standards in our schools; and reporting publicly to parents on the performance of public schools. All election commitments were costed and accompanied by advice regarding funding sources. The Carr Government played catch-up in education policy commitments, announcing initiatives such as reduced class sizes only after the Coalition's policy announcement and after initially rejecting the proposal. A press release of 10 March 2003 stated:
Mr Carr reiterated his pledge that Labor's class size reduction plan was fully funded by treasury and would not come at the expense of sacking other public sector employees.
However, on 17 June—one week before the budget was brought down—the Minister for Education and Training announced a restructure of the Department of Education and Training. He told the House:
The shake-up proposes a reduction in the bureaucracy, such as its head office and corporate services, by about 1,000 and would return up to 300 teachers to the State's classrooms.
The New South Wales Teachers Federation claimed there would be no additional teachers and estimated $60 million to $70 million would be saved by the abolition of 1,000 jobs, a figure later confirmed by a departmental officer during a consultation with teachers. In a press release on 17 June, Maree O'Halloran, President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, said:
These job cuts appear to be directly related to the need for the Department to find from within the existing budget the money to fund the ALP's pre-election promises. The Government has deceived the New South Wales electorate.
The Government also tries to deceive the electorate in the spin it puts on the budget. "There is an extra $542 million for education", crowed the Treasurer and the Minister. But a closer examination shows that although there is, indeed, an extra $542 million in the estimated budget for 2003-04, when compared with the budget brought down the previous year, the reality is that last year the Government spent $466 million more on education than was budgeted for by the Treasurer. So there is only $76 million or 0.93 per cent extra to spend on education this year. After allowing for the consumer price index and increased wages, that is a reduction in real funding.
Although a number of initiatives are referred to in the budget papers, most are merely re-announcements or continuations of existing programs. The only new initiatives are $6 million to reduce class sizes, $6 million to support the professional development of teachers, $500,000 to improve student behaviour and discipline and $500,000 for a review of non-government schools by the Board of Studies. The total cost of those initiatives is $13 million. At least $35 million is needed to fund teachers' pay increases due this year and $26 million is needed to cover the effect of inflation on operating expenses: a total of $74 million. Therefore, additional funding for education and training is only $2 million. That is $2 million extra to spend this year in one of the two most important portfolios in this State, the other being health. I do not know how Labor members in this place can hold their heads up without feeling embarrassed.
Of the additional $76 million for the education portfolio, $354,000 has been allocated to government-funded preschools, $45.3 million to government schools, $25 million to non-government schools, $4.8 million to TAFE and $220,000 to the Board of Studies. Grants for education and training services have been cut by $7.7 million. The budget papers also include information about the number of students enrolled in government and non-government schools and TAFE, so it is possible to determine how much money is allocated for each level of education. They reveal that the Government has allocated $6,910 per primary school student, $9,518 per secondary school student, $1,635 per non-government school student through its grants obligations, and $931 per TAFE student. Government schools continue to lose students while non-government schools attract more. Enrolments in government schools fell by 902 this year, while non-government school enrolments rose by 5,701. There are 754,281 students enrolled at government schools this year, being 67.8 per cent of the total, and 358,233 students are enrolled at non-government schools, which is 32.2 per cent of the total.
The Coalition strongly supports the right of parents to choose the school that they consider will best meet the needs of their children. That is why our education policies were directed at restoring community confidence in public education. We believe that real choice is only possible when government schools provide the kind of education that parents want for their children. The Carr Government has been in office for eight years, during which time there has been a steady decline in government school enrolments. This budget provides no initiatives that will turn that tide. The Government has run out of educational ideas and is totally out of step not only with parents but also with many working in and closely associated with the education system. The 5,000 submissions regarding the Government's disastrous restructure plans support that claim. This will be demonstrated tomorrow when members of the Teachers Federation march upon Parliament House protesting against the heavy-handedness of the Minister for Education and Training, who threw an offer on the table and refused to enter into negotiations with teachers. The restructure document "Lifelong Learning" illustrates how far the Government is out of step. It states:
The proposal already has the backing of the Board of Management of the Department of Education and Training.
One assumes it has the backing of the Minister, since he was so glowing in his praise when he outlined the restructure to the House on 17 June. Although most people accept rationalisation when jobs are duplicated, serious concerns are being expressed about the Government's downgrading of support services for teachers and students in both schools and TAFE. Almost all submissions and comments regarding the proposed restructure lament the lack of detail in the proposal. They ask how people can comment when they are not fully informed. Draft documents tabled in the Legislative Council show that 1,173 positions will be abolished. Numerous concerns regarding the proposed restructure have been raised. For more details I suggest honourable members visit my website, www.jillianskinner.com
, but I will give a sample now. On 12 August the Teachers Federation delivered petitions with 15,000 signatures to Parliament and issued a press release stating:
The stripping away of $60-70 million from the DET after the election represents a shameful act of deceit by the Carr Government.
On 17 June the President of the Teachers Federation said:
No principal or teacher reading the restructuring proposal would be able to identify what support, if any, their school would receive from the new structure.
Concern about job losses were predicted by senior Department of Education and Training officers planning the restructure. In a confidential memo included in documents tabled in the Legislative Council, officers identify the following problems:
• Potential breaches of contracts if commercial and externally funded and temporary staff positions are abolished, which would "damage DET/TAFE's reputation
• … problems of moving large numbers of people from the country to Sydney as part of the structure. This is of course a general issue, but will be seen negatively as (a) disruptive and costly to families established in the country (b) centralism of the worst kind (c) damaging regional economies.
I remind the House that this is a memo written by an employee of the Minister for Education and Training, who promoted this restructure in this House. [Extension of time agreed to.
The memo continued:
• Schools fear that local autonomy will be undermined. As one Principal put it "I'll have a bureaucrat peering over my shoulder
• The proposed new site for the Regional/District Offices are of grave concern as we will not be able to access and improve the quality of our professional development and meet our training and development requirements because of the distances needed to be travelled.
That was from a teacher working in a school in remote New South Wales. But TAFE is the biggest loser both in the budget and in the restructure. TAFE has been allocated only $12.78 million more than it spent last year, an increase of only 0.96 per cent. Grants for education and training services have fallen by $7.71 million, a decrease of 3.78 per cent. In addition, fees for TAFE students have substantially increased, with the Government estimating an increase of $27.5 million off a base of $45.4 million, a 60 per cent increase in revenue.
No details of the measures are provided in the budget papers, but information on the New South Wales TAFE web site shows that fees will increase by 41 per cent to 227 per cent. The Minister has been quoted in the press as claiming that up to 60 per cent of TAFE students will not be affected by the new fees, but the budget papers show an estimated 528,000 TAFE enrolments for the coming year. This suggests that about 170,000 students will pay the increased fees in 2004.
A number of those students are undertaking courses to improve their literacy and numeracy and other job-related skills so that they can either undertake further study or get better jobs. With exemptions removed from courses for disadvantaged students, it is feared that many of those without pensioner status will simply have to drop out. Expenses for grants for education and training services, under which training services are purchased competitively through other providers, are estimated to drop by nearly 4 per cent in nominal terms against the revised budget for 2002-03. User Choice activities are funded under these elements so the cut in funding also limits choice.
The proposed changes to TAFE are the most criticised aspects of the restructure. Under the plan TAFE and schools will lose their own directorates and will instead be administered by the Deputy Director-General Operations, Schools and TAFE. Concerns relate to the loss of separate line management; the role of the TAFE commissioner being limited to advocacy; the belief that most corporate staff losses will be in the TAFE sector; the loss of flexibility for TAFE institute directors in dealing with local industry needs; and the abolition of four TAFE institutes, particularly the breaking up of OTEN, the distance education institute. Comments on the subject include:
… industry representatives have the sense that another layer of bureaucracy has been added to the Department …
The proposed Deputy Director-General Operations, Schools & TAFE, because of the political importance and size of the school system, will almost certainly be from the school sector and will, without doubt, be consumed by school issues …
Staff now attuned to industry needs, where flexibility and timely responsiveness are crucial, are likely to be replaced by staff attuned to the different needs of the school sector …
Grants for adult and community education [ACE] have been reduced by 15 per cent, which is particularly concerning given that the sector specifically targets people from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those in rural New South Wales. It also offers courses that will become increasingly important as demand grows for education programs for active seniors. Most courses have a user-pays basis, with various levels of subsidisation for disadvantaged students, and they receive $20.8 million in grants in this year's budget. In smaller rural communities ACE colleges and courses may be the only form of post-school education available. The importance of these colleges is illustrated in the kinds of courses offered by the Guyra Adult Learning Association. I was pleased to meet people from that association in my travels recently and I was impressed to learn that they run a Literacy for Parenting course which is designed to teach parents to read and write so that they can help their children in turn. The ACE sector is concerned about the impact of the restructure proposals. The sector's peak body, Community Colleges New South Wales, has written:
There is little mention of adult and community education in the document despite the Government's legislative responsibilities BACE Act 1990 and 1996 policy statement about adult and community education as an "integral component of education and training provision in the State."
We deplore what appears to be a significant downgrading of the status and importance of adult & community education in NSW evidenced in suggestions to abolish The Board of Adult & Community Education and its associated directorate.
The capital works budget for education and training has increased by 8.81 per cent over last year's revised budget. However, this increase will be funded partly by carrying forward the $14.7 million in funding that was allocated last year to rebuild or upgrade schools but was not spent. The 2003-04 budget allocates $368.7 million for capital works to upgrade schools and school equipment, which is a return to pre-Olympics funding levels—honourable members will remember that there has been much comment about the drop in investment in school building programs—but is only about the national average, despite the backlog of school building and maintenance projects. The State budget makes no mention of the fact that about $80 million of this allocation will come from the Commonwealth Government and that a further $34.3 million is for privately financed school projects.
The $72 million allocated for TAFE capital works this year is identical to last year's amount but is down on the $86 million allocated in 2001-02. More than 80 per cent of TAFE capital works funding in 2003 was provided by the Commonwealth Government through the Australian National Training Authority. The media across the State has been full of stories about schools that are run-down to near dangerous conditions, building works that were promised but not delivered and "temporary" buildings that are more than 50 years old. The Coalition has acted on a recommendation in the Vinson report, which the Government rejected, to establish a register of school assets to enable better, and greater transparency in, capital works development and planning.
That is the subject of the legislation that I introduced to Parliament and which is before the House. The importance of such a register was demonstrated by the Minister for Education and Training in his performance before a recent estimates committee. During the estimates committee he accused me, as he has done in this place and in the media, of making a wasteful suggestion about spending money on rebuilding Tamworth West Primary School. However, it was revealed during the committee that the Minister did not know that he, through his department, owned a greenfields site upon which Tamworth West school could be built. That is absolutely disgraceful. The Minister for Education and Training does not even know what school sites he owns.
In the whole of New South Wales?
My point is that the Minister went public and bagged me for promising the kids in that community a new school when he had not even bothered to make inquiries that would have revealed that he owned a block of land in that community. The most amazing revelation of all—I am sure the Minister for Gaming and Racing and the honourable member for Charlestown, who are in the Chamber, will be as stunned to hear this as I was—was that the Minister for Education and Training, who has represented the electorate of Marrickville for 18 years, did not visit one school in his local area until he was appointed to the Education and Training portfolio. Would the Minister for Gaming and Racing do that? No, I am sure that he has visited all the schools in his electorate.
I turn now to the arts, an area for which I also have shadow portfolio responsibility. Funding for the arts has either been cut or suffered no growth over the past few years. The budget allocates a total of $319.852 million for the arts during 2003-04. This is $30.588 million more than was budgeted for in the previous year but is only $14.602 million more than was spent. Further analysis of individual budget programs shows that the State Records Authority and the New South Wales Film and Television Office will receive less than the previous revised budget. I turn to some budget programs in the arts portfolio. For example, in 2002-03 44, or 12.8 per cent, fewer organisations and individuals received assistance in the form of cultural grants compared with three years ago. There were 74, or 12 per cent, fewer applications approved. Funds for scholarships and fellowships decreased and there were fewer events at the Opera House.
Funding for the State Library has risen by only 2.4 per cent, which, when inflation is taken into account, means that has been almost no growth in the budget. While there will be little change in activity at the State Library in the coming year compared with last year, there has been an alarming decline over the past three years. This includes 48.3 per cent fewer visitors, a 28.6 per cent drop in attendance at public programs, a 16.7 per cent drop in the use of offsite and regional services, 66.66 per cent fewer visitors at travelling exhibitions and a 6.2 per cent drop in development grants to public libraries. Like the State Library, the Australian Museum has received almost no growth funding for the coming year. The museum had 34.8 per cent fewer free visitors in 2002-03 compared with 1999-2000 and the number of visits to regional New South Wales museums was down 33.3 per cent.
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences received a budget increase of only 1.9 per cent and the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales received only a 4 per cent increase in its budget allocation for 2003-04. The Art Gallery of New South Wales fared better than most arts establishments, but compared with 1999-2000 the gallery and the Whiteley Studio, which is included in the same budget program, mounted 12.5 per cent fewer new exhibitions in 2002-03 and there were 54.5 per cent fewer visitors to exhibitions in regional New South Wales. The State Records Authority and the New South Wales Film and Television School both suffered cuts in their budgets.
This is a Labor budget every inch of the way. It has been given the Carr Government's traditional spin to make it appear that there is more money to spend than is the case. Cuts to services have been glossed over, drops in public school enrolments are in the small print, and the steady decline in support for artistic endeavour has not been highlighted. The Government has been in office for more than eight years during an unprecedented property boom. It has collected more than $1 billion in unexpected revenue. The question must be asked: Where has all the money gone?
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr McBride.
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
The House adjourned at 10.10 p.m. until Wednesday 17 September at 10.00 a.m.