Friday 19 September 2003
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Joseph Aquilina)
took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
offered the Prayer.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2003-04
Debate resumed from 17 September.
(Wyong) [10.00 a.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to address the House in this take-note debate on the 2003-04 budget. Honourable members will be aware that for some considerable time I have been interested in information technology [IT] matters, particularly as they relate to school students and their education. Last year three months of protracted negotiations with senior officers of the Department of Education and Training produced an excellent result, and Wyong High School was designated as a technology high school in both name and reality. My time in these negotiations had been well spent. This year a selective class has been offered in year 7 at the school. It is based on a competitive examination and students in the class will receive an IT education across all curriculum areas. More importantly, the students have access to Microsoft-accredited and Cisco-accredited courses, which is a first for public or private school students in New South Wales. In fact, at the launch of the Australian Labor Party policy for the Central Coast at the Avoca Surf Club the Premier said that it was a first for Australia. I was not aware of that fact, but if the Premier said so I am sure that it is correct.
The course is so popular at Wyong High School that the Department of Education and Training [DET], in its wisdom, has decided to offer two selective classes in year 7 next year. After just one year of operation, a substantially increased number of year 6 students have decided to pursue that option and apply to attend Wyong High School. The level of candidature at the competitive examination this year was substantially higher than last year. The funds for the additional classes will obviously come from this budget. No line item relates specifically to that expenditure but I am sure that the funds will be made available in the ensuing 12 months. Page 12 of the Treasurer's Budget Speech, which was delivered in this place on 24 June 2003, states that $846 million for technology initiatives, including the upgrade of bandwidth and the roll-out of e-learning accounts for staff and students, will be allocated over the next four years. That program is certainly proceeding apace.
However, there have been some problems in this area for several years. Shortly before the Treasurer delivered his Budget Speech, the journal of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, Education
, contained an article by Jennifer Leete, the Deputy President of that organisation. The article of 9 June advised Teachers Federation members of an expanded pilot for email accounts in schools in New South Wales. It is important to recognise that when we talk about e-learning accounts we are talking about email accounts. "E-learning" is the spin doctors' term and the expression used in media grabs, but it is nothing more than email collaboration accounts. Ms Leete wrote:
Federation's aim is to develop an industrial agreement with DET to address e-mail use and access as well as assess the educational and workload impact of the ISP program. This agreement will need to include staffing levels for technology support and teacher time, as well as training and development.
The 50 school and TAFE sites which have been invited to nominate are in the St George and Dubbo districts and include schools ranging from PP6 to collegiates.
The article makes a further important point:
While DET originally said they could run the 50-site pilot during term 1 it was not until well into term 2 that they were able to even send the letters out to schools inviting them to nominate.
I have reason to believe that is true. I do not deprecate the position of the DET in this matter because it obviously wants to ensure that it gets the pilot right. But before we go too far down the track and spend $846 million we must ensure that we adopt the right approach. What we need to do is apply first principles to ascertain that research currently exists which shows that email accounts for students are educationally more beneficial than are other educational resources, such as additional resources for teachers or, indeed, textbooks in schools. It is important in a time of scarce resources to ensure that we adopt the optimal approach to achieve an enhanced environment for students in public education. We need to ensure that the policy framework is right.
I have a strong belief that Roger Wilkins and all the good people in the Cabinet Office as well as those in the Department of Education Training would have pored over this whole approach and made sure that everything is in order before taking on this email system, but how many public schools in New South Wales currently allow students to receive phone calls and letters from the outside world while they are at school? I would be very surprised if one school in this State allows that. With this email learning approach, we are allowing people from outside school areas to obtain access to students via email accounts. We need to be very cognisant that this issue involves communication and especially its legal implications. An obvious question that needs to be addressed with an unequivocal response before the policy goes too much further is that if the DET provides email accounts and it can be established that subsequently a child has corresponded with a paedophile by using that email account, what is the legal liability and the duty of care of this Government and the DET in respect of that? It is very important to address that question.
It is even more important when considering the approach adopted by the DET in respect of promoting email addresses to note that a system of providing email addresses has been devised; it has simply been a case of firstname.lastname@example.org. Even leaving aside the obvious problem of having a number of John.Smiths in New South Wales or Jane.Smiths or even Miriam.Ibrahims and the need to distinguish between students who have the same name, more importantly we should consider, if someone does correspond with a student through the student's school email address, what security exists to ensure that there is no improper use involved in gaining access to that student through the student's email account.
The Department of Education and Training boasts that its approach to email accounts will mean that it is the largest organisation in the world that uses an internal email system, and that may be a laudable achievement. But again I come back to the point that we need to ensure that this approach proves to be worthwhile, bearing in mind competing interests for scarce resources, and that it meets the needs of students. Importantly, the email system should not have a great impact on the workload of teachers. As recently as this week teachers demonstrated in Macquarie Street. I think teachers in New South Wales do a tremendous job and that a great number of demands have been placed upon them through bureaucratic changes, especially those teaching students in the senior secondary school years. I understand it will be the responsibility of schools to contact parents to obtain permission from a parent of each child for an email account to be established.
Steps need to be taken to ensure that if a teacher is designated as an administrator in an individual school, additional resources will be available in schools. If a child loses his or her password, what steps will need to be taken to provide the child with a replacement password, and who will administer that? When this policy was initially adopted in 2001 it was unclear whether it would be school-based with an individual server in each school, or whether the email system would be centralised. It has become clear that the centralised approach will be adopted. With the effluxion of time, the gurus in the Department of Education and Training's information technology section presumably arrived at that decision on some rational basis. There also have been suggestions of a help desk, which begs the question whether students will be able to access the help desk. How will students be able to obtain replacement passwords? What are the time implications? These are the issues that need to be thought through in adopting this policy.
In 2001 I gained the impression that the system would provide only for school students and I originally estimated that there would be 800,000 users. It now transpires that students of technical and further education colleges and teachers will bring the number of users up to 1.3 million. They will be allocated an average of 5 megabytes of space each. There will be differential levels of use. Apparently teachers will be provided with 10 megabytes of space and students will be provided with 4 megabytes of space, and apparently that averages out at about 5 megabytes of space each. I point out that a PowerPoint presentation with a graphics component not uncommonly uses 20 megabytes or 30 megabytes of space for just one file. If a user is allocated 5 megabytes of space, 20 megabytes does not go into 5 megabytes: it is a mathematical impossibility—unless the DET has a mathematical insight that I do not share. The file will simply bounce back. Transmission will not occur because of the limitations of the system, and it is illogical to suggest otherwise.
When the Treasurer initially announced this policy in his Budget Speech in 2001 he said that this would revolutionise education and that email in schools would be the new way. I want to know how that will occur because on the information I have to date the system will be limited to text messaging, and certainly will not be able to handle graphics. It is not uncommon for a single digital image to take 1.2 megabytes and up to 1.7 megabytes. The department should be cognisant of the problems that those limitations may create. I point out also that free email services can be accessed through yahoo.com
, whereby each user is allocated 6 megabytes of space. Telstra.com also has a free email arrangement whereby each user is given 4 megabytes of space absolutely free. Hotmail, which is Microsoft's free email service, allows a user to have 2 megabytes as well.
There are a number of free email services which provide free email addresses and they offer a similar capacity to that offered by the DET system, but the DET is proposing to provide its service at considerable cost to the New South Wales taxpayer. I am sure that there are logical reasons why the DET would have its own internal email service at a time of scarce resources, and I would like to know what they are. Another point that needs to be addressed is that the whole approach should not have been centralised. A proper distributive approach by the provision of a server for each school and proper technical and administrative support may have led to a better system. Be that as it may, that has not occurred.
We must ensure that the web filtering is correct for users browsing the Internet. My understanding is that currently one filter covers this component of the Department of Education and Training WAN, or wide area network, but the proposal is for 15 filters that will relate to each year level as well as one for teachers and perhaps one for TAFE students. The intention of the DET to allow 10 bookmarks is a concern. However, 10 bookmarks for Internet users is probably not very much. The intention of the Treasurer, as outlined on page 12 of his Budget Speech, to link bandwidth and the rolling out of e-learning or email accounts is very sensible because the two are intrinsically linked under the policy approach of the Government. In the past 12 months bandwidth within schools has improved. Generally schools get a two-megabit per second link, which works quite well. But the problem will be the huge increase in demand on that connection to transfer data between the centralised server and schools when this email approach to learning is adopted, and speed of access will reduce accordingly.
We must think about not just the current bandwidth but the impact of the bandwidth of email accounts that transfer data between the centralised server and individual schools. We should reconsider our approach to the proposal. I have no doubt that it would be difficult to be the Treasurer of New South Wales, other States or Territories of Australia or the Commonwealth. Treasurers are always seeking sources of funds. Elsewhere in the budget I notice that the Treasurer considered clubs as a potential source of additional revenue to fund other worthy aspects of Government administration. I make these comments on the basis that I believe there are much smarter, cost-efficient and effective ways to manage the introduction and maintenance of email accounts for all government school students, if we do it at all. I hope we reconsider the current approach before we go too much further down the track.
We should employ people with expertise in the field and ensure that the resources are developed in-house. It appears that Unisys is supplying the DET with information. It is not so much a DET system as a Unisys system, and consequently the DET is linking with Unisys partners, which may or may not be a good thing. It is very important that we adopt a whole-of-government approach to information technology [IT]. The previous Minister for Information Technology, the honourable member for Granville—probably the most competent IT person in the entire Parliament—was committed to such an approach. We must ensure that we adopt a sensible approach that meets the needs of the population. The Premier is concerned about our ageing population and our policies to address this reality. We desperately need to generate wealth in this country to provide funds for our ageing population. One way to do that is to adopt the best possible approach to IT, thus ensuring wealth for our future so that our young people can enjoy a standard of living commensurate with Australian standards of previous generations.
(Wagga Wagga) [10.20 a.m.]: I put on record some of the aspirations of my community in the past 12 months and their achievements, as well as their future aspirations, including those for capital works and social projects. This debate is the ideal forum to bring these matters to the attention of the Government. I am continually disappointed with the Government's fiscal management and its continued attempts to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the taxpayers of New South Wales. Had it not been for the $1,564 billion in unexpected revenue, the budget would have been $1,365 billion in deficit. The budget was overspent by some $1.4 billion. Yet every year we hear about the Treasurer's great fiscal management and the Premier's great management of the State, particularly its fiscal management. But when one analyses the budget figures it is clear that that is far from the truth. It is disappointing. The Government overspends because of waste and mismanagement. Two recent projects have cost the State $174 million: $60 million for the failed computerisation of Sydney Water, and $114 million for the Millennium trains.
I put on record for the Government the projects my constituents had hoped to see funded in the budget, and I put the Government on notice that we will pursue these projects and the shortcomings in my electorate, some of which affect the entire State. In my electorate of Wagga Wagga, which includes the local government areas of Holbrook, Lockhart, Tumbarumba and Wagga Wagga, road funding is important. Such funding should be applied fairly and provide motorists with a means of travelling from A to B in the safest possible environment. Time after time I have pointed out the desperate need for funding to upgrade the Jingellic to Holbrook road. I acknowledge that efforts by the communities of Holbrook and Tumbarumba have been successful in winning funding from the State Government, but we need more funds to finish the job. Certain parts of the road remain in disrepair, particularly a section known as "the gap". I have invited the Minister for Transport Services to look at the project. I hope that, after today' s presentation, he will take me up on my offer.
I am concerned that unless quick action is taken lives will be lost on that section of road. Previously I have raised in this place the necessity to convert the Alpine Way to a State road to avoid further loss of lives. I was disappointed to note that no money has been allocated in the budget for this project. However, neither my community nor I will stop pursuing it. The road is controlled by three entities—the State Government, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Tumbarumba Council—which means that the road is subject to three different standards. The Alpine Way is a major scenic tourist route, and is particularly used by motorcyclists. Unfortunately, and tragically, motorcyclists have been killed when they have experienced changes in the condition of the road as they move from one section of it to another that is controlled by a different body. Money should have been allocated in the budget to ensure adequate funding to convert the Alpine Way to a State road to reduce the possibility of further deaths on this treacherous section of road.
I have referred in the House to funding for the Kapooka Bridge, and about $500,000 has been allocated for planning. How long will this planning take? The department draws plan after plan and makes reassessment after reassessment of costings for a project that has been demonstrated to be desperately needed. Semitrailer crash after semitrailer crash occurs on this corner. Given the current circumstances, I fear that a truck will go off the bridge, crash into an XPT on the railway line below and cause a major fatality. The Minister for Roads must look into this matter. I am disappointed that the budget does not allocate funds to progress this major project, which has been on the drawing board for 20 years. The Minister has failed dismally in this regard. I ask him to give the project greater priority to prevent further road incidents at the Kapooka bridge corne.
I turn now to health, a subject that is constantly exercising the minds of most honourable members in this place, whether they be on the Opposition side or the Government side. And so it should, because media articles and reports that have been handed down make it clear that New South Wales health services are in a dreadful state. I have spoken before in the House of how Wagga Wagga elective surgery services will be cut for four months. Patients will not be able to stay overnight or have surgery that requires rehabilitation. Robinson House—the ward traditionally used for patients in need of rehabilitation, particularly after orthopaedic surgery and so on—will be closed for four months. The excuse given is that bathroom renovations are necessary to provide a safer working environment. No-one would disagree that those renovations are desperately needed—I have called for them on many occasions—but I disagree with the process that is taking place.
The building contractor should have been employed to carry out these works in the hospital's traditional close-down period in December-January. To close the Robinson wing two months earlier is unacceptable. I have called on the Minister to revisit this issue and take action to ensure that Robinson House continues to function during its normal operating period so that those needing orthopaedic surgery and surgery that requires overnight stays may have that surgery, and to schedule the repairs and renovations of bathrooms and toilets during the usual Christmas break. The community can only view the decision taken with a cynical eye and regard it as a cost-cutting measure. I believe it is. To prove me wrong, the Minister should change the redevelopment schedule and thus enable patients to have the surgery they require.
Whilst on health I want to speak about specialist services in Wagga Wagga. We are desperate for speech therapists, dentists, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists in the public health system. These matters have a disappointing, coloured and chequered history. The number of physiotherapists and occupational therapists in the public system is less than half the number there were five years ago, and it is reducing further. Yet we see no action from the Government in this budget to restore the number of those specialists.
Children aged zero to five in need of occupational therapy or physiotherapy have the wonderful Kurrajong-Waratah facility, which provides an excellent service to the community and the region. But children aged five to sixteen years who leave Kurrajong-Waratah and enter mainstream schooling have no therapy facilities. Nowhere in this budget is there any indication that the Government will address that issue. That is disappointing. I have raised it previously in the House, as I have the need for special resources to provide children with autism with a decent educational setting and enable them to achieve a decent educational standard. I will continue to raise those matters in this place until the Government addresses them with budgetary measures.
I also wish to speak about children, young people and those up to 50 years of age with disabilities who need accommodation. These people need accommodation but, sadly, particularly if they have physical disabilities, they cannot get it. Nothing in the budget indicates that the Government has a plan to address the crisis in the region—I dare say in the State—of the need for accommodation for people with physical disabilities who are in need of care. They need long-term planning. Many of these parents who are older want to provide a guaranteed and stable future for their children who have disabilities in the event that the parents should pass on. I challenge the Government to put forward, cost, and fund a long-term plan to ensure that these people are cared for with dignity.
On many occasions I have spoken in the House about the Holbrook multipurpose centre, and I have been successful in gaining funding for the redevelopment of the centre. We appreciate the money that has been provided for the Holbrook multipurpose centre. But, as I have also said previously, stage three of the project has been put out to tender and the tenders received exceed the money allocated. I have therefore called for the old hospital in Holbrook to be sold and the proceeds allocated to the shortfall in funding. I repeat the call to the Minister for Health to allocate the proceeds from the sale of this surplus property so that the Holbrook community can enjoy a facility of a standard that will serve them for many years to come.
It is traditional for an Opposition member, when speaking to a budget, to refer to its shortcomings. Sometimes we tend to concentrate on the negatives. However, I want to concentrate on some of the positives for my electorate. In that regard I acknowledge the work that people are doing in their communities without assistance from the Government. However, I must say to the Carr Government that there is an opportunity for it to encourage and assist those communities. I would like to instance Tumbarumba, which has been described as the economic miracle community—and it is. This is a logging community with a timber industry. Anyone looking at the community 20 years ago would have thought that by now it would be a ghost town. Far from it. Tumbarumba has experienced a boom, particularly in its sawmilling and timber industry, with an investment of something like $140 million by the Hyne company, which continues to expand the timber mill and plant. Of course, that boom has placed enormous demands on Tumbarumba infrastructure.
Tumbarumba needs funding for sewerage works. The mayor, the council and the community want to build 100 new homes in the town. That reflects the demand generated by private investment in Tumbarumba. That is good news for a country community, especially when we hear so often that country communities are suffering cutbacks in economic activities. Very little of the Tumbarumba growth is in government dollars: it stems from private investment. We now need infrastructure, funded by government, to enable Tumbarumba to build those 100 houses. The first 10 have been started—again with private investment and without the support of public money. This is an opportunity for the Government to put its money where its mouth is and for the Minister for Regional Development to advocate for these small communities and get funding for this desperately needed infrastructure. Natural gas is another need in Tumbarumba. This is an opportunity for the Government and the Minister to demonstrate their commitment.
Whilst I am on the subject of infrastructure, I want to talk about Kooringal High School, which I visited last week. This week Max Burmeister, a student at that school, is undertaking work experience with me. The school was built in the early seventies and has 1,000 pupils. When I toured the school I discovered that it does not have a school hall. Consequently, it has problems conducting a presentation evening or a function where parents can enjoy themselves and support their children in their achievements. These functions have to be held over two or three nights. There should be a proper mechanism in place for schools such as Kooringal High School to identify where they are on the priority list, which we are told exists. I have not as yet seen such a priority list, but there is a need for or it.
I note that the Minister for Police has walked into the Chamber. That is probably good timing, because whilst I am speaking about the need for infrastructure I would like to speak about the Wagga Wagga police station. The Minister visited Wagga Wagga and I appreciate his invitation for me to speak with him. It is no secret in this place that on some issues we have to work together, and I have given the commitment that I will work with him to gain a new police station. What I want to hear from the Minister is when we are going to get this development. I want to hear when he will put forward the priority listing which indicates to the people— [Extension of time agreed to
The community wants a commitment from this Government to finally resolve the police precinct debacle that has hampered it for many years. In fact in 1995 the Coalition Government agreed to build a new police station. I challenge the Minister to come forward with a time frame and tell the community when they can expect a decent facility. The hard-working policemen and policewoman who have worked under very difficult circumstances there for many years deserve better.
I also want to inform the House of a major project that is being undertaken in our city, that is the building of a gas turbine electricity generator valued at $180 million. Once again, that project is to be funded by private investment money—not a dollar from the State Government—and it is good news. It is good news because people realise that Wagga Wagga has the infrastructure to support this welcome development, which will provide the opportunity for job creation. The council, and certainly the local member, will do as much as possible to assist that development. I acknowledge that the project has already been given State significance, but the process needs to be carried out with as little fuss as possible so that the developers can get on and build this much-needed generator. Stage one will cost $180 million and stage two will cost $150 million. The project will create up to 400 jobs whilst it is being built, including up to 20 permanent jobs. That means $6 million will be injected into the community.
TAFE is experiencing some problems in relation to the development of our region. As I said earlier, we are achieving, although sometimes it is against all the trends. TAFE has been integral in the achievements that we are making in our region, known as the Riverina. The plan that has been proposed by the Minister for Education and Training needs to be seriously reviewed. There is no way on this earth that the area of the Riverina can be considered to have any synergy or relationship with Wollongong. What has been proposed is an eighth region that will link Wollongong and Wagga Wagga as one region. The plan is flawed. I have rejected it publicly, I reject it now, and I call on the Minister to reassess it and give us a ninth region, as we deserve.
I appeal to the Minister for Education and Training to consider the hundreds of submissions that have been presented asking that our TAFE not be dissected into two regions. We do not have a relationship with Orange. Deniliquin does not share any similarities with Orange. There is no service directly to Wollongong from Wagga Wagga. To get to head office will be a day's travel, with enormous expenses involved. If there must be only eight regions I suggest that Wollongong be integrated with Sydney and that Wagga Wagga, Griffith and the Riverina be given their own region.
I know that all honourable members are interested in the important issue of education, and I would like to now refer to Yanco Agricultural College, something about which my good friend the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and I are very concerned about. We have been through one of the worst droughts in our history, and we are trying to recover, but the drought has not yet officially broken. I appeal to the Minister for Agriculture not to close Yanco Agricultural College, but to give the farming community time to get back on their feet so that they can access this facility. If it is closed country people will be disadvantaged. They will have to bear the added costs of sending their children to other agricultural schools. Yanco has a great history, it is a marvellous facility, and I ask the Minister for Agriculture to reconsider his decision.
Before the budget was announced I did not see anywhere a reference to forced amalgamations. I raise this matter in the House because of the amount of correspondence that I have received about amalgamations. People are concerned about losing their voice through local government. Letter after letter is coming to my office with people expressing their wish to retain their council. When we went to the election there was absolutely no mention of amalgamations. This Government should be dammed for the way it has acted. Although some smaller councils are not amalgamated yet, it is only a matter of time before they will be. Once again, country people in particular will lose their voice. They will lose their ability to be part of the community and to take part in the decision-making process.
This is also the case with regard to clubs. Clubs are under pressure. In my community some of the clubs are the focal point, the only point where communities can meet and join together. In my first term in this place we passed legislation and helped to create the Pleasant Hills community licence as a result of the publican having sold his licence and his gaming facilities and leaving town. Some of the towns I represent do not have the benefit of a pub, they only have their club. They predict through their financial records that they will be hard done by. The Premier should have been up-front and honest about the policy he is pursuing and the afterthought that the money will go to Health. My community is disappointed, and correspondence and petitions I have received indicate that they will fight all the way. The Premier has got a fight on his hands, and if he wants to see a community with their backs to the wall they will come out fighting, and they will fight him every inch of the way.
Another issue I wish to raise is home owners warranty insurance. As I said earlier, the Wagga Wagga region is achieving, against the odds. The Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] wants to build up to 90 new homes to accommodate the expansion at the RAAF base with the 1,100 new recruits per year that will come through the training centre. Builders in my electorate are still having difficulty obtaining home warranty insurance. Once again, the budget provides no funds whatsoever to address that issue, and the overall plan does not refer to how the Government intends to finance improvements to the home warranty insurance scheme.
This has retarded development in my electorate. It certainly retarded for a period the development of the 10 new houses, and ultimately 100 houses, at Tumbarumba. I am aware of many other communities in which development has been delayed because of the difficulty in obtaining home warranty insurance. The inability of builders to obtain home warranty insurance has resulted in a substantial decrease in the number of builders. I acknowledge that an inquiry is being conducted at the moment, but we get inquiry after inquiry. What we want is results. We want builders working, and we want apprentices to have the opportunity to obtain gainful employment and to excel in a career such as the building industry, which, along with the trucking industry, is the barometer of Australia's economy.
In conclusion I refer to public liability insurance. Community groups have been enormously disadvantaged trying to manage their budgets. As I said, during its term in office the Government has not been overly honest about the exact state of the budget. Local members are continually asked to make appropriations, particularly as we get towards the end of the year. It is usually for the funding that has been overspent, and we can usually point the finger at waste and mismanagement, whether it is in respect of tunnels, trains, or some fiasco that the Government has presided over. Charities and fundraising groups such as the Country Women's Association, community sports groups, and so on, do not have the benefit of a large tax-paying base. We passed legislation in this place to give those groups protection.
However, confusion still reigns about whether those groups are protected, whether they need to get insurance, and whether they come under the auspices of the new legislation that the Premier has touted will give them protection. I ask the Premier to clarify the position publicly—and to perhaps implement some kind of public promotion—so these groups know where they stand. Public liability insurance for country women's associations has now increased to around $99,000. That money could go towards charities and community groups, to help solve some of the social dysfunction that communities are experiencing because of the lack of funding, for example, for community services. Those groups are now working full time to pay their public liability insurance premiums. If the Premier is so confident about the legislation and the positive outcomes to emerge from it, I ask him to explain to the community exactly what they need to do so they may take advantage of that and reduce their insurance premiums.
I could raise issues about the disparity between the States regarding payroll tax and workers compensation. I could also raise issues about the disparity between the States regarding the transport and trucking industries, gaming and racing licensing laws, and many other issues. As those issues arise I will certainly take action to bring them to the attention of the Minister. Whilst the budget provides much-needed funding for capital works projects, more funding will always be welcome. There is always a need for the Government to fund infrastructure, which is the one thing that communities cannot do on their own. Everything else, particularly private development infrastructure, can be funded by the private sector, but the Government must take the lead. The Government needs to provide funding for public facilities for the benefit of communities. I have pointed out some of the projects that needed funding but, disappointingly, did not receive funding in this budget, and I call on the Government to address the matter.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Shearan.
GAMING MACHINES AMENDMENT (MISCELLANEOUS) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(The Entrance—Minister for Gaming and Racing) [10.55 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Gaming Machines Act, which commenced on 2 April 2002, introduced a wide range of gaming machine reform measures for the New South Wales club and hotel industry. The Act contains extensive harm minimisation and responsible gambling measures, and introduced a new scheme permitting the transfer of gaming machine entitlements between venues. The Gaming Machines Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill contains a range of miscellaneous amendments to the Gaming Machines Act. These amendments have been identified as necessary to the proper functioning of the Act, as experience is gained in the administrative and operational side of administering this legislation. While many of the amendments are minor, they are worthwhile and achieve a greater clarity for the operation of the Act as a whole.
A number of clarifications are proposed to provisions relating to large-scale clubs. Eighteen clubs in New South Wales hold more than 450 poker machines and are referred to as large-scale clubs. Under the Act, these clubs must reduce the number of entitlements they hold by 10 per cent, or by such number as would result in the club not exceeding 450 entitlements, over a five-year period commencing in 2002. Due to refinements aimed at providing these clubs with flexibility in the annual reduction process, there is now a need to clarify an end date by which time all the required entitlements must be transferred, including those for which an additional short period of time has been provided under regulations. This time limit is proposed as three months after the end of the five-year period. The end date will be July 2007.
The bill also clarifies that the number of gaming machines held by each large-scale club once the reduction obligations are met is to be the maximum number of machines that may be held by each large-scale club from then on. The insertion of a specific limit for large-scale clubs is considered appropriate, given the special exemption already extended to the number of machines that may be operated in large-scale clubs and the strict limits imposed on all other gaming venues. The bill will amend the Act to clarify that the special arrangements put in place to ensure the efficient and appropriate reduction of gaming machine numbers in large-scale clubs will cease to apply once the club concerned has met its 10 per cent reduction requirement under the Act. This will allow equality in the transfer arrangements that apply to large-scale clubs and all other clubs once the specific requirements for large-scale clubs are discharged. It will also provide an incentive for large-scale clubs to meet the 10 per cent reduction target earlier than 2007.
The bill seeks to recognise the specific circumstances faced by non-metropolitan clubs. Parliament recognised this difference during the debate on the Gaming Machines Further Amendment Bill 2002. A proposal was passed that extended from 1 kilometre to 50 kilometres the distance within which two premises of a non-metropolitan club can be located in order to be allowed to transfer poker machine entitlements between the premises without forfeiture of any entitlements to the State. This bill proposes an amendment in the same spirit.
The Act currently requires a comprehensive social impact assessment to be undertaken if a club wishes to transfer gaming machine entitlements to another of its premises which is more than one kilometre away. While this distance may be appropriate in metropolitan areas, the one-kilometre restriction is considered inappropriate in relation to non-metropolitan areas, where the distances between two premises of the one club can be significantly greater. The bill will amend the Act to enable non-metropolitan clubs to undertake a more routine social impact assessment when transferring entitlements between premises, provided the club premises are within 50 kilometres of each other.
Clubs will still be required to do a social impact assessment, as that is an important part of the gaming machine control framework established by the Act, but this amendment will allow clubs to do a standard class one rather than a more onerous class two social impact assessment. This amendment will recognise the different geographical circumstances faced by non-metropolitan clubs and facilitate the management of gaming machine entitlements between relevant non-metropolitan club premises. The bill will make it clear that the pooling of video-style approved amusement devices—which may be exchanged for a poker machine entitlement at the rate of three approved amusement devices to one poker machine entitlement, in metropolitan hotels, and a rate of two approved amusement devices to one poker machine entitlement for country hotels—is to apply only when hoteliers are down to their last remaining approved amusement devices [AADs] and hold an insufficient number to form an appropriate block of machines for transfer by themselves.
The Act does not currently specify this restriction for left-over or remnant devices, but the legislation has been administered this way in line with the intention as described in the second reading speech for the Gaming Machines Further Amendment Bill 2002. I stress that that is in line with the intention of the original bill. Several hotels have approached the Liquor Administration Board to approve the exchange of approved amusement devices that are not remnant devices. The scheme permitting an exchange of AADs for poker machine entitlements was provided on the assumption that the total number of machines in a venue would go down. Through allowing non-remnant AADs to be exchanged, a significant number of additional poker machines would be moved into a venue but without an associated drop in the overall numbers of gaming machines, as was intended.
Equally importantly, through this proposed method of exchange, the hotelier would be able to increase the number of poker machines in the venue but avoid the established social impact assessment requirements usually needed for such an increase. To allow those approaches to be approved, when others have not exploited that loophole, would be to disadvantage hoteliers who have been involved in previous exchanges, done in the spirit of the legislation. The bill will ensure that all hoteliers with these devices are treated in an equal manner. The Act currently provides that new and small clubs that had less than 10 gaming machines at the time of the club freeze in 2000 can apply for a number of free entitlements that would bring their total number of entitlements to 10.
The bill will prevent new and small clubs from transferring entitlements to another venue then claiming more free entitlements to bring their total number back to 10. That will prevent exploitation of the free entitlement scheme for small clubs. The bill will insert a definition of public holiday for the purposes of the legislation. A reduction in the mandatory shutdown period for gaming machines can be sought for public holidays. For the sake of clarity, a definition of what is meant by public holiday will be inserted into the Act. The bill provides that if a registered club ceases to trade, the club will still be able to transfer its poker machine entitlements within 12 months, or any such longer time as approved by the Liquor Administration Board. This time limit will promote the reallocation of gaming machine entitlements from closed premises. It will also provide consistency with the requirement that clubs have 12 months to transfer entitlements if a club registration is cancelled or surrendered.
The bill enables a complaint to be made to the Licensing Court on the ground that an hotelier or club has not paid gaming machine tax, or a penalty or interest is due for late payment of any such tax. The bill provides that the disciplinary action the court can impose in relation to such a complaint includes cancelling, suspending or modifying the venues authorisation to keep gaming machines. It is important for the court to be able to impose disciplinary procedures for the non-payment of gaming machine tax, as compliance with such requirements is important in determining the appropriateness of a hotelier or club being allowed to operate gaming machines. The bill seeks to rectify an ambiguity in the legislation that treats gaming-related licences and work permits differently. The Act currently allows the board to cancel a gaming-related licence for the non-payment of a gaming-related fee and reinstate the licence on payment of the fee. The bill will make it clear that an interim work permit may also be cancelled for non-payment of a gaming-related fee and reinstated upon such payment.
The bill provides a regulation-making power that allows a time period to be stipulated within which the Liquor Administration Board must consider a social impact assessment. It is intended that such a regulation-making power will be used only if proposed administrative measures do not achieve the intended result. The bill proposes a number of minor miscellaneous amendments that deal with drafting errors, minor wording changes, or similar clarification. I will not go into the detail of all those amendments other than to note that they are important to the effective operation of the Act. I note that it is now the practice that all bills will be scrutinised by the Legislation Review Committee. The committee's obligations are set out in the Legislation Review Act 1987 and I believe that this bill does not contain any provisions that fall within the areas of interest to the committee.
The bill does not contain any provisions that trespass on personal rights or liberties. It includes a number of provisions which close loopholes. The closing of those loopholes may be seen by some, particularly those who seek to exploit them, as restricting their ability to act in a certain way. However, it is considered that closing those loopholes will ensure that the legislation applies in a more equitable fashion across those businesses that it affects. The bill contains only one regulation-making power; it is narrow and specific and, as such, it is not considered that it would inappropriately delegate legislative powers or insufficiently subject the exercise of legislative power to parliamentary scrutiny. The bill does not contain any provisions that make rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon insufficiently defined administrative powers or upon non-reviewable decisions. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS AMENDMENT (PENALTIES) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary), on behalf of Mr Campbell [11.08 a.m.] I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is the principal Act in relation to a broad range of animal welfare matters. The objects of the Act are to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote the welfare of animals by requiring a person in charge of an animal to provide care for the animal, to treat the animal in a humane manner and to ensure the welfare of the animal. Offences under the Act are enforced primarily by officers of the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League, which are each approved charitable organisations under the Act.
The most serious offences under the Act are found at sections 6, 15 and 21. Section 6 provides penalties for acts of aggravated cruelty by which an animal that has been cruelly treated is killed, deformed or seriously disabled, or is left in such a condition that it would be cruel to keep it alive. Section 15 of the Act provides penalties for administration of a poison or other bait to a domestic animal, and possession of a poison with the intention of using it to injure or kill a domestic animal. Section 21 provides penalties for the involvement of a person in coursing or any activity where an animal is chased, caught or confined by a dog.
Sections 6, 15 and 21 of the Act each presently provide a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units, or $11,000, upon the conviction of an individual for an offence under those sections, and a maximum penalty of 500 penalty units, or $55,000, upon conviction of a corporation for offences under sections 6 and 21 of the Act. Despite the current level of penalty, offenders continue to treat animals with horrendous cruelty. When an act of cruelty to an animal involves extreme sadism the penalty provided under the Act must match the crime. By comparison, the Companion Animals Act 1998 regulates the keeping of dogs and cats. It contains serious offences in respect of dangerous and restricted dogs. These offences could be equivalent to the level of seriousness reflected in sections 6, 15 and 21 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act but the current penalties in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act do not reflect that fact.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Penalties) Bill 2003, hereinafter called the bill, proposes to double the maximum penalties provided under sections 6, 15 and 21 of the Act to 200 penalty units, or $22,000, for offences by individuals. In respect of penalties committed by corporations it is proposed to increase the fines to a maximum 1,000 penalty units, or $110,000. The bill also proposes to increase the jurisdiction of the Local Court so that it can impose penalties of up to $22,000, avoiding the necessity of taking proceedings for serious offences in the Supreme Court.
This bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to protecting the welfare of animals by increasing the range of monetary penalties available to the courts for the most serious offences provided under the Act. This bill also ensures that uniform penalties are provided under comparable legislation. The Companion Animals Act 1998 already provides for maximum penalties of $22,000 for the most serious offences under that Act. Importantly, the bill is one part of the implementation of the Government's "Better care for pets and wildlife policy" that was approved by the electors at the March 2003 elections. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
COMMUNITY RELATIONS COMMISSION AND PRINCIPLES OF MULTICULTURALISM AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary), on behalf of Mr Carr [11.13 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This amendment to the Community Relations Commission and Principles of Multiculturalism Act honours a pre-election commitment by the Carr Government to designate a commissioner of the Community Relations Commission as a representative of youth from New South Wales culturally diverse communities. The amendment, in fact, goes further. It makes provision for two young people aged between 18 and 24 to be appointed to the commission. An increase in the number of commissioners from 9 to 11 will bring a considerable increase in expertise in youth issues to the commission. The appointment of two youth commissioners is provided for in item  of schedule 1 to the bill.
Since its establishment in 2001 the Community Relations Commission has been increasingly involved in addressing the needs of young people from culturally diverse backgrounds. The commission works with a wide range of public sector agencies on issues affecting youth as they affect young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The commission is a Government partner in the Youth Partnership with Arabic speaking and Pacific Islander Communities initiative. An important feature of the partnership with Arabic speaking youth is the support the commission provides for its youth liaison teams.
These teams consist of Arabic speaking community members drawn from Islamic, Christian and non-denominational backgrounds. The liaison teams carry out a range of activities, including: conflict mediation between young people; difficulties between young people and their parents; educational assistance and guidance; and, in some instances, courtship issues between young couples. Twenty-one youth liaison team members now operate in shopping centres, railway stations, sporting venues and other public spaces on Thursday and Friday nights in Auburn, Parramatta, Liverpool, Bankstown and Darling Harbour.
Last year the Youth Partnership with Arabic Speaking Communities initiative was the gold winner in the social justice category in the 2002 Premier's Public Sector Rewards. The appointment of two young people to the Community Relations Commission will not just give the commission greater expertise and insights in approaching issues affecting our young people, it will also harness the vitality, energy and vision that our young people are capable of producing. I commend the legislation to the House and encourage young people to make use of this and other opportunities to become involved and to help make decisions that affect our future.
I also commend the final clause of this amending bill. The clause enables the commission to provide interpreter and other services, as approved by the Minister, outside of New South Wales. This is particularly important in ensuring that the commission has the power to market its community media review as a service to promote a better understanding of our culturally diverse community. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
EVIDENCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ACCUSED CHILD DETAINEES) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary), on behalf of Mr Debus [11.18 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Evidence Legislation Amendment (Accused Child Detainees) Bill
proposes amendments to the Evidence (Audio and Audio Visual Links) Act 1998 to provide for the use of audiovisual links by accused children in custody appearing before New South Wales courts. The bill also makes consequential amendments to the Evidence (Children) Act 1997. Briefly, the amendments will create a presumption in favour of physical attendance at court for children in custody but provide for the court to order that a child appear by way of an audiovisual link in certain circumstances. In deciding to make such an order, the court will be required to have regard to relevant factors set out in the rules of the court made under the Act.
The Evidence (Audio and Audio Visual Links) Act 1998 facilitates the appropriate use of audio and audiovisual technology in our courts and allows New South Wales to participate in a substantially uniform interstate scheme for the taking or receiving of evidence and the making or receiving of submissions from or in other participating States. The Act was amended in 2001 to clarify the type of evidence or submissions that can be given by audiovisual link where an adult accused person is held in custody in New South Wales. Those amendments created a presumption in favour of using audiovisual links for certain preliminary criminal proceedings and a presumption in favour of physical attendance at court for substantive criminal proceedings. In recognition of the special nature of proceedings before the Children's Court, the presumptions established by the 2001 amendments did not apply when the accused person was a child.
Amendments contained in the bill extend the application of the Act to Children's Court proceedings, while at the same time recognising the special needs of children in obtaining legal advice and representation. The amendments recognise the particular vulnerability of a child defendant and the fact that a child in custody should be treated differently to an adult in custody. The amendments seek to fulfil the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and are consistent with the general principles underpinning the exercise of the criminal jurisdiction in relation to children set out in the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987. In particular, this includes the principle that children should have a right to participate in processes that lead to decisions that affect them and have the fullest opportunity practicable to be heard.
Nevertheless, while the proposed amendments to the Act will create a presumption in favour of physical attendance by accused children, the court will retain the power to make an order requiring that a child appear by way of audiovisual link in certain circumstances. This discretion will ensure that, wherever appropriate, the interests of the child in physically appearing in court are able to be balanced with general considerations of cost and convenience, including the need to avoid unnecessary travel for brief appearances and disruption to the child's participation in programs at detention centres.
Videoconferencing facilities are currently available in Children's Court proceedings at Bidura, Campbelltown, Lidcombe, Woy Woy, Dubbo, Lismore and Goulburn. Links from these courts are able to be made to juvenile justice facilities across the State, including the sites of Acmena, Cobham, Frank Baxter, Orana, Reiby, Riverina and Yasmar. The Children's Court has made an express commitment to utilise these facilities wherever possible to ensure that the benefits of reduced travel costs and use of court time are maximised. It is anticipated that audiovisual links will be used most frequently in proceedings involving bail reviews, parole matters, mentions to confirm a hearing date, adjournments for the prosecution to reply to defence representations and mentions to review youth justice conferencing outcome plans.
Rules made under the proposed legislation will identify relevant factors that the presiding judicial officer should consider when deciding whether it is in the "interests of justice"
for a child to appear by way of an audiovisual link. In addition to taking into account the nature of the proceedings, other relevant factors may include the need for the child to provide instructions to counsel or discuss a brief of evidence; the distance the child would need to travel and the expense and inconvenience involved in a physical appearance; the maturity of the child and his or her capacity to satisfactorily use an audiovisual link; and the child's need for the support of parents, carers or other support persons during proceedings.
The content of the rules will be finalised following further consultation with relevant stakeholders and the input of the Children's Court Advisory Committee. A number of different people and agencies have been consulted about the changes proposed by the bill. These include the Senior Children's Magistrate, the Legal Aid Commission, the Commission for Children and Young People, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Law Society of New South Wales and NSW Police. Where appropriate, their comments have been taken into account and each of those agencies has indicated its support for proceeding with the proposed amendments.
It is proposed that the amendments to the Act be trialled, and evaluated after 12 to 18 months, with data to be maintained in relation to the frequency with which audiovisual links are used in Children's Court proceedings and the factors motivating the court to make an order on each occasion. The amendments contained in the bill will resolve the continuing uncertainty about the application of the Evidence (Audio and Audio Visual Links) Act 1998 to children and ensure savings to be made from the use of the available facilities are maximised wherever possible. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Constance.
PRINTING OF PAPERS
Motion, by leave, by Mr Gaudry agreed to:
That the following reports be printed:
Report of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal on the Determination of NSW Public Transport Fares—CityRail and State Transit Authority from 31 August 2003, dated 15 August 2003
Report of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal entitled "NSW Health—Focusing on Patient Care", dated August 2003
Report and Determination of the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal on Travel Allowances for NSW Magistrates, dated 16 July 2003
Report and Determination of the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal on the President, Deputy President and Registrar of the Workers Compensation Commission, dated 18 August 2003
Report of the Rural Lands Protection Boards for 2002
Motion by Mr Gaudry agreed to:
That the House at its rising this day do adjourn until Tuesday 14 October 2003 at 2.15 p.m.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
BEGA ELECTORATE FISHING AND BOATING INFRASTRUCTURE
(Bega) [11.26 p.m.]: I speak of behalf of the Tathra, Merimbula and Pambula communities in relation to recreational fishing and commercial boating infrastructure. However, before doing so, I draw the attention of honourable members to the bravery of two police officers in my electorate, Officer Steven Fox and Officer Steven Hegarty who, along with the volunteer coastal patrol, yesterday rescued a recreational fishermen who had been swept off rocks in very rough conditions in Ulladulla. These two officers risked their lives by spending 25 minutes in the water with a couple of boogie boards while suffering the difficulties associated with hypothermia. They showed incredible bravery and strength in the face of these adverse conditions, and I should like to recognise their bravery in the House. No doubt we will hear more about that matter later.
Today I speak about the recreational fishing and commercial boating infrastructure that is impacting on fishing and charter boat operators in the Bega Valley at present. Recently two fishing clubs, Tathra amateur fishing club and Pambula Fishing Club, received notification from the Department of Lands about a redetermination of the rent payable on the sites on which their clubhouses are located at Broadwater Park and Tathra. Broadwater Park is in the electorate of Monaro. Many members of Pambula Fishing Club are residents in the electorate of Bega. It is unclear how market rent can be calculated on land that cannot be resold. However, the Government has tried to justify an extraordinary rental increase to both of these not-for-profit organisations.
Pambula Fishing Club was formed more than 30 years ago. Since then it has been valuable and active in the fishing community on the far South Coast, as well as in the local community in general. The club has about 173 members, including children and pensioners. In conjunction with council, the club provides many hours and resources to develop a friendly tourist destination at Broadwater Park that includes a jetty, a boat ramp, car parking, barbecues, toilets and other amenities. The club continues to upgrade these facilities and has recently applied to the New South Wales Department of Sport and Recreation capital assistance program for a grant to cover the outdoor area. It is difficult to ascertain why the State Government deems it fit to increase rent on the land by 500 per cent—from $1,400 to $7,200.
Similarly, the Tathra amateur fishing club is also facing an extraordinary increase in rent—of $4,481.40. Tathra fishing club maintains the area for public benefit, and many hours of volunteer community involvement has gone into both of these areas. I call on the Government to cut these rents to what they should be and to no longer put extraordinary pressure on these clubs, which are going to struggle to find the necessary funding to pay these incredible rent increases. I also draw to the attention of the House the Merimbula jetty, which is a dilapidated structure. It is eventually going to fall over—it is like the Pambula bridge. An editorial in the Merimbula News Weekly
this week indicated that this structure provides great tourism benefit to the region. It is one of the most used structures in the council area. I call on the State Government to intervene and fully fund the redevelopment of the Merimbula jetty, as it is apparent from the unfunded mandates put on local government that the council is struggling to find funds. The State Government needs to step in and assist with Merimbula jetty. I look forward to its response.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.31 a.m.]: Today the honourable member for Bega has raised several issues concerning fishing and wharves in his electorate. I am sure that the relevant Minister will take up those issues. I compliment the honourable member on bringing to the attention of the House the bravery of two police officers—Steve Fox and Steve Hegarty—in rescuing a rock fisherman in very dangerous circumstances. Recreational fishermen, particularly those who fish on rocks in conditions that are often difficult to work out, must be aware of safety and take care. They must also be aware of the dangers faced by our emergency services—whether it be the police, ambulance services or the coastal patrol—when rescuing people in those circumstances. We compliment those two officers on their outstanding courage.
PARRAMATTA TRANSITIONAL CENTRE
(Parramatta) [11.32 a.m.]: Today I bring to the attention of the House the good work of the Parramatta Transitional Centre. I had the pleasure of visiting the centre in April this year with the Premier and the Minister for Justice. The centre commenced taking inmates on 20 September 1996. Since then a total of 139 inmates have lived at the centre. It holds a maximum of 21 women, some of whom have children with them. The centre is based in two refurbished federation houses. It is a special work-release prison centre for women in Sydney's west. The women selected for the transitional centre must be low security with good behaviour and nearing the end of their sentence. Female inmates spend time in the centre before their final release into the community. The centre is an example of the Government's outstanding management of inmates, facilitating rehabilitation, reducing the rate of recidivism and offering educational and employment opportunities to female inmates.
Due to the excellent management of the centre, record rates of rehabilitation are being achieved, with less than 4 per cent returning to gaol, compared to 52 per cent of the State's inmates—male and female. The centre aims to provide a bridge between life in a correctional facility and life in the general community by breaking the institutional routine of a correctional centre and by developing the living skills that an inmate will need to reintegrate effectively into the community. Examples of programs that transitional centre inmates have participated in are family counselling, financial planning and budgeting, alcohol and other drugs counselling, financial counselling, gambling counselling, parenting groups, play groups, literacy classes, English as a second language and child care studies. The women also attend a range of courses at university and TAFE, and they receive assistance with job-seeking skills.
In addition to the counselling services provided to inmates, the centre places a high priority on family counselling, where partners, adolescents and younger children also engage in counselling prior to the women's release. Where possible, the centre accesses counsellors compatible with the language needs of non-English speaking women. Women take part in work release programs such as laundry, factory, nursing homes, horticulture, hospitality, telemarketing, accounts and office administration. All women participate in voluntary work projects, either on site or in the community. Examples are the North Rocks Institute for the Deaf and Blind, the Salvation Army and North West Disabilities. The centre functions on a user-pays basis. If women are working they pay for their education and programs or they are subsidised depending on their wage. The transitional centre has been a model for other jurisdictions. Delegations from the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand have visited the centre to view the program.
The centre has been so successful in rehabilitating, reducing recidivism and providing educational and employment opportunities that the Government has plans to set up a similar transitional centre for 50 male inmates. I congratulate and thank the dedicated staff of the Parramatta Transitional Centre on doing such a great job. I especially congratulate the women of the transitional centre who are working very hard to rejoin our society. It is a great credit to them that they are working so hard for themselves and for the future of their children. Where many others have given up, they have decided that real change in their lives is possible and they are well on the road to achieving those changes. I am sure all honourable members will join me in wishing them all the best in their endeavours.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.37 a.m.]: I congratulate the honourable member for Parramatta on raising an extremely positive program that has been put in place by the Government—a compassionate approach that gives those women who have found themselves within correctional centres the skills, the self-esteem and the drive to reintegrate into society in a positive way. As the honourable member pointed out, many of these women are disadvantaged in education, in their literacy and numeracy skills, and possibly the tracks that led them to prison in the first place come from that disadvantage. This program will reintegrate them into society. It is important to draw this centre to the attention of the House. There is a move to extend this program to male prisoners. I refer to Yetta Dhinnakkal, where young Aboriginal offenders are given a very positive program. The honourable member for Bathurst has spoken of a similar activity in his area.
I take this opportunity to wish the honourable member for Parramatta all the very best in her approaching clash with destiny. We look forward to seeing her back in the House with a smiling addition to the Labor team.
GAMING MACHINE TAX
(Lachlan) [11.39 a.m.]: May I join with the honourable member for Newcastle in wishing the honourable member for Parramatta well. I have heard of many different ways of getting the numbers, but that is a novel way to increase the numbers by one. I wish the member good luck. Today I want to talk about registered clubs in my electorate. One of the weaknesses in the governmental system in this State—and it is probably replicated in every State—is that departments and ministries tend to consider matters in isolation, rather than holistically. In particular, I refer to the responsibility of clubs to provide benefits to our communities. My electorate comprises 44 communities, and in the majority of those communities are clubs of one sort or another. In my electorate Forbes, which is the largest town, and Young have a population of just on 10,000 people each, four towns have a population of just over 4,000 people, and the rest have a population of under 4,000.
In nearly every town registered clubs are the epicentre of social and cultural activities for the community. A great deal of the work that the clubs carry out is not appreciated across the interdepartmental roles. When we talk about clubs we think of one department, that is, sport and recreation. But many clubs in my electorate carry out work in social areas. For example, they provide assistance to widows or widowers with funeral arrangements after the death of a partner, or they help seriously underprivileged families to go on a holiday. One club in my electorate owns cabins and kayaks on the South Coast. The club regularly provides the cabins to families for a summer holiday. A number of clubs quietly assist parents who cannot afford swimming lessons for their children at the local pool. Often such activities are not recognised by our system of governance because they do not fit within the usual profile.
Clubs are more than a place to eat, drink, bowl or play golf. As I have said previously in this House, clubs in small towns—such as Junee, Cootamundra, Harden, West Wyalong and Forbes—provide a place where the new policeman, the new doctor or the new school teacher and their spouses go to meet the local people. It is hard to attract those types of professionals to a small town unless it has reasonable and active recreational facilities and a community meeting place. Until recently, the local school in Junee held its annual break-up at the club. There is no other hall in which to hold such events. West Wyalong does not have a town hall, and it never has. The services club in West Wyalong provides that facility to the community.
The services club at West Wyalong took over the country club when it got into financial difficulties five or six years ago. The country club still runs at a loss, but because the services club makes a profit it will continue. The country club—which, effectively, is a resort—is now well maintained. The golf club in Forbes also got into financial difficulty. About 12 months ago the RSL club took it over and injected a great deal of money into refurbishing the facilities. The golf club now has a very good restaurant and a hall to hold conferences and conventions. It is attracting people and providing a much-needed service to the community. Once again the golf club is a major recreational cultural and social centre for the community.
Whilst the clubs at the top end will not be seriously affected of the taxation changes that are proposed by the Government, they will be affected when the GST component becomes their responsibility. The Federal Government did a deal with the States that the GST refund will be passed on to the clubs. But New South Wales will take that money away from them. An amount of $5,000 to $8,000 for the Ungarie Bowling Club or $12,000 to $15,000 for the club at Junee or Cootamundra is the difference between profit and loss. Cootamundra Shire Council recently allocated $60,000 to keep the golf club alive. I raise this issue not because of the financial aspect but because of the importance these clubs have to society. Currently the clubs are hanging on by a gossamer thread. I ask that the Government take note of the predicament of small clubs in country towns.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.44 a.m.]: As usual, the honourable member for Lachlan has taken us on a wonderful tour across his electorate. As he rightly pointed out, clubs in small towns are the epicentre of the community. They involve themselves in the recreational, cultural and social life of the town. The honourable member referred to the GST. As all honourable members know, the GST is a Federal Government tax. There was a four-year lien on the imposition of that tax on clubs. It was clear that after four years the GST would be introduced unilaterally across the movement. We have taken that fact into account.
BOARDERS AND LODGERS LEGISLATIVE PROTECTION
(Coogee) [11.45 a.m.]: On 7 October, International Tenants Day, a poster and campaign kit will be launched by the Boarders and Lodgers Action Group. This group is convened by the New South Wales Tenants Union. I am indebted to the excellent Tenants Union web site for much of the commentary on the need for legislative protection of boarders and lodgers. The objective of the campaign is to achieve statutory legal rights for boarders and lodgers. Currently they are denied the rights available to other classes of tenants. Boarders and lodgers cannot defend eviction proceedings except in the Supreme Court, which is both expensive and difficult to access. Boarders only have those rights available at common law.
House rules, payment of bonds, advance rents and the like, as determined by owners, are generally without restriction or regulation. Whilst it is true that licensed boarding houses are subject to more conditions of operation than unlicensed boarding houses, these conditions do not cover tenancy rights or access to remedies. Lack of legal protection means that boarders and lodgers live with insecurity and may tolerate unsafe housing conditions out of fear of eviction. If boarders and lodgers have disputes with the owners, they can be evicted or locked out at short notice and left without affordable accommodation. It must be borne in mind that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
The 1998 study entitled "Inner City Boarding House Report" found that 71 per cent of residents had lived at their current address in excess of three months, and viewed it as their permanent place of residence; more than half of the residents cited affordability as the reason for living in a boarding house, with 14 per cent noting that they had no other choice; 45.9 per cent relied on statutory payments for income, with a similar percentage having weekly before tax incomes of $250 or less; 19 per cent had a form of disability; 22 per cent had a mental disorder; 20 per cent had a mobility problem; and 17 per cent were aged over 60 years. Such persons if evicted or locked out tend to end up homeless, living on the street or in overcrowded and insecure informal arrangements. In a civilised society this is unacceptable. Waverley Council, of which I am mayor, has endorsed this campaign. The endorsement is consistent with Waverley's commitment to social justice and equity and its policy of retaining affordable accommodation in the Waverley area.
Boarding house stock in Waverley—in common with other areas in the inner city and the east—is gradually declining, due to refurbishment of older-style non-strata boarding houses, and the strata subdivision and conversion of other boarding houses, both for residential purposes and commercial and tourism purposes. I particularly mention the impact of budget tourism, especially backpacking, on available boarding house stock. Many of the boarding houses in Waverley were originally established as guesthouses or private hotels in the tourism boom days of Bondi in the early decades of the last century. With the passing of that demand, many were converted to boarding houses, and remained so for many years. However, in recent years speculators have seen a quick dollar to be made from young backpackers and have not hesitated to convert accommodation to a tourism use, to the detriment of many low-income and vulnerable people. Regrettably, council has been unsuccessful in preventing this change of use, due to technicalities in the planning laws that recognise an often artificial existing use right.
People who face homelessness due to rent increases or boarding house closures require protection from arbitrary eviction and unfair rent increases. In addition, there is the need for access to an independent dispute resolution mechanism. Despite claims by boarding house owners that regulation will accelerate the depletion of boarding house stock by discouraging investment and forcing existing owners out of business, there is little evidence to substantiate these claims. On the other hand, research based on figures in 1997 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that the taxation treatment of property and the potential for capital gains are the major factors affecting decisions about whether to invest in housing. Waverley Council supports the call for the introduction of legislation protecting the rights of boarders and lodgers. In addition, the legislation should ensure that this type of accommodation is maintained at a standard that is fit for habitation. The exploitation of these vulnerable people due to the current lack of legislative and regulatory protection permits must be ended.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.50 a.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Coogee for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. The Newcastle electorate has similar issues in relation to the gentrification of the inner city and the loss of boarding house accommodation. Vulnerable people who are compelled to seek that form of accommodation have no statutory legal rights and are subject to eviction with an unclear right of tenancy. It is time that our compassionate society looked at legislation on behalf of those who, apart from the homeless, are the most disadvantaged group of people. As the honourable member said, many of those people move from being a resident of a boarding house upon eviction to becoming homeless. We must provide legislative rights in relation to tenancy and accommodation standards for those people.
CRONULLA SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT RECYCLED WATER
(Cronulla) [11.52 a.m.]: I will also show that this Government is not above board. Before the 1999 State election the now Premier pledged that he would promote water re-use and pursue alternatives to ocean outfalls in Cronulla. The Premier and the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, and Minister for Natural Resources again went to the polls in 1999 with the promise that effluent re-use would be a major component of the upgraded Cronulla sewage treatment plant. They promised that the new upgraded plant would make a greater use of non-potable, that is, non-drinking recycled water on parks, golf courses and in industry. Yet four years later no viable commercial markets have been found for recycled water from the sewage treatment plant [STP]. Sydney Water states that the upgraded Cronulla sewage treatment plant is the largest ocean plant of its kind to discharge such a high quality of effluent, yet currently less than 2 per cent of its wastewater is recycled and, even then, that is an operation of the sewage treatment plant. I might pause for a drink of water.
Are you all right?
Yes. I do not need treatment, which is more than some could say in this place. Sydney Water's publication "Recycled Water Projection 2000-2005" states that approximately only 2.3 per cent of total wastewater treated at all its STPs is recycled. Of that 2.3 per cent, 83 per cent is used in the operation of the STPs themselves, while industry uses 5 per cent and irrigation uses 12 per cent. More disturbing is the report on Cronulla STP re-use that Sydney Water was required to submit to the Environment Protection Authority as part of its approval. While several large potential water re-use clients were identified in the report, no projects were considered to be financially viable due to the high cost of recycled water.
The recycled effluent component was a major part of the upgrade of the STP. The Government had five years to find a market for recycled water. Its failure to do so has resulted in approximately 50 million litres of disinfected water going into the ocean every day. This is water that could be used to service industry and water parks and golf courses or even reticulated on a grander scale for agricultural purposes. The newly commissioned Cronulla STP represented a golden opportunity for the Carr Government to demonstrate responsible forward thinking on the use of water. The Carr Government has shown an appalling lack of commitment to the use of recycled water and has failed to progress from the ocean discharge mentality of the 1950s.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.55 a.m.]: Once again the honourable member for Cronulla has criticised the Government. I wonder how many discussions the honourable member has had with Sydney Water, local councils in his area and environmental groups to arrive at positive outcomes in relation to water. Recently, at Lismore the honourable member for Lismore pointed out to me how treated water was being used at Lismore airport.
Grey water was being used at a substantial tea-tree plantation, with positive outcomes. I am not sure whether Sydney airport could do that, but I wonder whether the honourable member for Cronulla has talked to the honourable member for Lismore about such a project.
KAHIBAH PUBLIC SCHOOL HALL
(Charlestown) [11.56 a.m.]: On 13 September 2003 Kahibah Public School held an open day. I attended the open day to participate in the celebration of the new community/school hall, which is not like any other. When I say it is not like any other, I simply refer to its grandeur. This hall is massive, and is certainly the biggest hall within any school across the Charlestown electorate. The hall has been a joint initiative between the State Department of Education and Training and the local community. The Kahibah community traditionally had access to a hall until its closure in recent years because it had reached the end of its useful life. After much research, the school site was found to be the most suitable location for a new hall as it could be utilised by the school students and the community at large.
What makes the development of the new hall more significant is the level of community support offered to assist in its construction. Local trades people offered their services and donated materials, spending many hours of their time on site assisting and supervising the work. I thank those community trades people for assisting in this project, and thank them for their professionalism and skilful services. It is pleasing that for many years the community of Kahibah has consistently delivered an enormous amount of time and resources for their community and school. Regardless of the scale of projects or programs, time and time again the community has met the challenge. I acknowledge the efforts of Principal Mrs Pam Richardson, Mr Col Curry, the President of the Parents and Citizens and the School Council, and the school staff, who contributed many hours of time and effort to improve the facilities and services of the school.
I must also acknowledge the support and efforts of the students who assisted with works in any way they could. Many students spent time, as part of their learning outcomes, landscaping the surrounds and learning about the various trade skills. I point out that this hall is multipurpose and is accessible to the community of Kahibah to hold functions and various community meetings. I would like to see more joint shared facilities within our school infrastructure. Sporting fields often sit idle after hours and during weekends while local councils struggle to provide and maintain their own grounds, in some cases immediately outside school grounds. Economically the continued practice of different levels of government providing like facilities in isolation is not feasible or sustainable. It is not logical considering the potential savings to councils and the State through true partnership arrangements. I congratulate Kahibah Public School and the community of Kahibah. I look forward to the official opening of the hall in the near future. I wish them all the very best for their programs and services.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.59 a.m.]: As Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Training, I compliment the honourable member for Charlestown on bringing this matter before the House. I also congratulate the Kahibah community on its involvement in this valuable project. As the honourable member said, the more we link community and education facilities and get more bang for the buck—to put it bluntly—the better it will be for the community and for schools. The honourable member congratulated the tradespeople who supplied the materials, community members, and works supervisors on their involvement in this project. It was a particular pleasure to hear the honourable member compliment Pam Richardson, who is a long-term friend of mine. She is a very dedicated school principal who has taken the lead on primary school issues for some time. The honourable member also mentioned the involvement of Col Curry, the president of the parents and citizens association, and school staff and students. I am sure that the honourable member looks forward to attending the hall opening with his community.
WILLOUGHBY ELECTORATE ROTARY ATHLETICS FIELD ACCESS
(Willoughby) [12.01 p.m.]: Access to the Rotary athletics field on the corner of Mowbray Road and Epping Road is a matter of great concern in my electorate. I have raised the matter with the Minister for Roads, and Minister for Housing on several occasions, and I appreciate that both the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] and Willoughby City Council are working to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of parents and the wider community. However, I think the community's patience is wearing thin and it would like some certainty about how many car parking spaces will be available at the field, especially as the summer months will bring an increase in athletics activity at the venue.
The RTA initially proposed to use the entire car park of the Rotary athletics field as a compound for the construction of the Lane Cove tunnel. However, following my representations on behalf of parents, athletics club officials, volunteers and community members about the ramifications of denying access to the important facilities at the club and the field, the Minister for Roads undertook to offer a compromise to the community and provide at least a certain number of car spaces so that parents and school communities could continue to access the field. At a meeting with the Minister and representatives of Willoughby City Council and the RTA on 2 July the Minister advised me that he would confirm a definite number of car spaces within two or three weeks. Regrettably, the Minister has not yet contacted me and I implore him to expedite his decision so I can inform the broader community of the results.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate the parents and volunteers from various sporting clubs, especially Little Athletics, who presented me with a petition and sent letters and emails about this matter. They have done an excellent job on behalf of their communities in conveying their concerns to me, which has allowed me to raise the matter in this place. I hope their efforts will soon produce a positive outcome and I implore the Minister to confirm that that is the case.
I would like to mention a few of my recent experiences at the field. I attended the athletics carnivals of Willoughby Public School and Chatswood Public School at the field. The over-zealous medium density policy that the Government is pursuing in my electorate is putting much pressure on local playing fields, and school communities and many sporting and cultural organisations rely on the Rotary athletics field as a venue for many of their activities. By attending those sporting carnivals I could see how school communities benefit from using the site. I also look forward to attending a very important community event, the Willoughby City Relay For Life, that will be held at the field this weekend. I implore the Minister to give me an answer about how many car spaces will be available at the site so I can pass that information on to the literally hundreds and hundreds of people who signed a petition and sent letters and emails to my office. It is important to alleviate their concerns and provide some certainty before the hectic and robust sporting competitions commence in the summer months.
LAMATTINA PLACE, GREEN VALLEY, TRAFFIC NOISE
(Liverpool) [12.05 p.m.]: I wish to inform the House about traffic noise that emanates from Cowpasture Road, Green Valley, and affects my constituents in Lamattina Place, which is in one of the newer subdivisions of Green Valley that have been developed in recent years, and therefore comprises mostly newer houses. Lamattina Place backs onto Cowpasture Road, which is immediately to the west of Lamattina Place, which in turn is south of North Liverpool Road. It is comparatively close to the intersection of Cowpasture Road, North Liverpool Road and Frederick Road. Residents who have lived in the area for a considerable time—before the development occurred—tell me that as traffic increases and traffic conditions change, the noise gets worse. Older residents remember when people could ride bicycles along Cowpasture Road. The situation has changed dramatically in recent years and there is now considerable traffic and noise.
The most obvious solution is to construct a noise barrier, and earlier this year representations were made to the appropriate authorities. The request for a noise barrier was justified on two bases: an increase in traffic has caused a considerable increase in traffic noise, and the anticipated widening of Cowpasture Road will worsen the problem by bringing the road closer to the houses. On the face of it, that seemed to be a sensible argument, but the response was not helpful. A director of the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] responded to me in a letter dated 30 June 2003, which in part says:
As you are aware, the Parliamentary Secretary advised you that the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) would respond to you direct following its investigations. The investigations have revealed that a noise barrier was constructed as part of the subdivision works around Lamattina Place, Green Valley.
The RTA seeks to ensure that residential developments adjacent to arterial roads include appropriate road traffic noise measures as a condition of development consent.
During development planning for the subdivision, the RTA provided advice to Liverpool City Council and the developer in relation to appropriate noise attenuation measures for those properties fronting Cowpasture Road.
Consequently, the RTA does not propose to construct additional noise attenuation measures at the location in question.
As honourable members undoubtedly can imagine, this response was not welcomed by residents, and they have highlighted some particular issues. Their letter refers to an existing noise barrier that was constructed as part of the subdivision process. In fact, the barrier referred to seems to be a paling fence—there is no other structure that residents can identify as a possible noise barrier. It clearly does not placate residents who are worried about traffic noise to say that a paling fence is a noise barrier. However, the RTA response is even more flawed. The letter refers to advice to Liverpool council and the developer about noise restrictions being imposed for the subdivision. Residents say quite rightly that that happened four years ago and the objective reality of the situation has changed dramatically since then.
It is simply not realistic to say that measures taken four years ago are automatically adequate several years later. Traffic has become a lot busier over the past four years, and a number of things have happened. First, the increase in the volume of traffic is typical of traffic conditions in much of Liverpool. Further, extensive and welcome roadworks have occurred in Cowpasture Road that have involved moving Cowpasture Road closer to Lamattina Place. That has obviously exacerbated noise problems in Lamattina Place. The roadworks also involve three lanes of traffic merging into one lane. The traffic is often bumper to bumper on that stretch of road and this change to traffic conditions has increased the volume of traffic noise near Lamattina Place. Other work has seen the replacement of the Cowpasture, North Liverpool, and Frederick roads intersection roundabout with traffic signals. That has undoubtedly improved the intersection but has also increased noise levels. For example, trucks must use their compression brakes more frequently.
Residents of Lamattina Place also point, not unreasonably, to other nearby work. Cowpasture Road has been widened north of the intersection of Cowpasture, North Liverpool and Frederick roads. That is well and truly welcomed. On the western side of the road a quite significant noise barrier was constructed. Residents in Green Valley point out, not unreasonably, that if it is appropriate for that portion of Cowpasture Road to have a substantial noise barrier, then a barrier would also be appropriate for the part of the road that backs onto their houses. Residents have not restricted their efforts to talking to their local member of Parliament. One constituent contacted the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] environmental services branch to explore the possibilities of assistance from the RTA noise abatement program. The environmental services branch held no joy for my constituent. There are a number of criteria to allow funding under this program. One of the criteria is as follows:
Treatment is deemed equitable by way of giving priority to long term and affected residents (7 years or more) rather than to those who have bought into an existing noisy area.
Quite explicitly, the letter also stated as follows:
It is noted that your length of occupancy at 20 Lamattina Place, Green Valley is under seven years and therefore does not satisfy the equity criteria.
This response is fundamentally flawed in this instance. On the one hand, one of the constituents concerned in this issue has been there for 20 years—well in excess of the seven years limit referred to in the letter. On the other hand, the criteria seem to completely ignore the situation when noise could significantly worsen within seven years, especially when the worsening stems from decisions taken by the RTA. I ask the relevant Minister to have a proper look at this issue and try to address these concerns.
TREE PRESERVATION ORDERS
(Davidson) [12.10 p.m.]: During a wind storm on Sunday 24 August two men were driving to a soccer game at St Ives and a substantial gum tree near the corner of Memorial Avenue and Toolang Road, St Ives, fell onto the car, killing the passenger and injuring the driver. The car, a Hyundai Excel, was flattened to approximately one-third of its original size. The issue I wish to raise with the House, the Government, and the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council is the fact that council tree preservation orders are preserving and retaining trees that are of an inappropriate size for their location and that pose a threat to buildings or, more particularly, to citizens. The tree in the 24 August incident was 80 centimetres in diameter at its base and about 26 metres high. In 1999 the property owner requested that the Ku-ring-gai council remove that tree and another tree, and he was told he had to get an arborist's report, which he did. That report concluded, not surprisingly, that the tree was healthy. The tree was clearly healthy, but it was simply too large and inappropriate for its location.
On the basis of that report the council refused the application to remove the tree. The property owner was told that he had the option of taking the matter to the Land and Environment Court, which would have been an expensive process. Since that incident and the tragedy, he has applied to the council to remove three other trees, and approval has been given. His views reflect what most people think, and he has told me that people are living in fear of their own trees because although in some case they may have planted trees, they have grown to such a size that they are inappropriate in some circumstances, such as when they are too close to homes and when they pose a threat in extreme weather conditions, notwithstanding that they are healthy.
A quite ridiculous situation has emerged. I understand that Wollongong City Council constituents have also raised similar concerns. People have asked for trees to be removed but approval has been refused. Earlier this year the Warringah Council saw sense and tried to provide an amnesty on tree removal by having a moratorium on tree preservation, but was told that it was illegal to provide the amnesty. In 1998 in Shoalhaven, on two occasions a gentleman tried to remove a tree but was refused. Subsequently while the man was sleeping, the tree fell and killed him. Councils need to be far more flexible; indeed, they should loosen restrictions on the removal of trees. They should provide for standardised exemptions. For example, trees that are above a height of, say, 20 metres should be eligible for a standard exemption; likewise trees that are growing very close to buildings or homes. Many trees are not indigenous to their locations. Many have grown in shallow soil or soil that is inadequate to hold them during strong winds. Much more commonsense needs to be applied to the resolution of these problems.
The Government should take the lead by ensuring that tree preservation orders are made under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and are open to standardised exemptions. That would ensure that councils that are to some degree recalcitrant in refusing to acknowledge the threat posed by some trees in wind storms and bushfires will be made to understand that trees should not be preserved merely on the basis that they are healthy, but should be considered for removal if they pose a potential or substantial risk to property or people. I acknowledge the efforts of the property owner involved in the case to which I have referred, whom I shall not name. I also acknowledge the efforts of Cheryl Rogers, who works in my office. She assisted me in compiling this information, as she has in many other instances. Cheryl will be leaving my employment in a few weeks time and I take this opportunity to thank her for the work she has done for me over the past two years. She is moving on to greener pastures and is very sensibly taking the next step in her career. She is looking forward to working in children's education and lifestyle television. I wish her all the very best for the future.
MOUNT PENANG PARKLANDS
(Peats) [12.15 p.m.]: Mount Penang parklands, which are located within the Peats electorate at Kariong, hosted a number of important events during the month of September. On 10 September the Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Illawarra, and Minister for Small Business, the Hon. David Campbell, visited Mount Penang parklands to open the Information Communications Technology Industry Forum. The forum was one of 400 events held across the State as part of Small Business September—an initiative of the New South Wales Government to salute the enormous contribution that small business makes to the State's economy.
Supported by the Carr Government, small local information technology firms on the Central Coast, under the auspices of Connect IT, have banded together to conduct a number of programs. These programs have helped to keep local businesses better informed about innovations in equipment, software systems, and business practices. The Minister told the forum that business networks and clusters were an effective way for smaller companies, including information and communications technology firms, to prosper through a strength-in-numbers approach. Connect IT has resulted in 20 spin-off projects and strong business relationships. That has created business growth, regional marketing, and business and community education infrastructure investment. The Minister took the opportunity during his address to congratulate members of Central Coast Connect IT on their innovative approach to business and on their many successes.
When the Deputy Premier, the Hon. Andrew Refshauge, held the Planning portfolio, he announced that the heritage and history of the Mount Penang parklands at Kariong would be protected and conserved. It was therefore a very pleasant task on my part to welcome the Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration), the Hon. Diane Beamer, to Mount Penang parklands on 11 September. The Minister was in the Peats electorate to announce that Mount Penang parklands had been listed on the State's heritage register. In making the announcement in Carinya, one of the refurbished heritage buildings on the site, the Minister said that Mount Penang had been the State's most important juvenile detention centre for most of the twentieth century.
Work began on the centre in 1912 when a party of 100 boys, aged between 10 and 16 years, began clearing what would then have been a very bushy area at Mount Penang. Some of the buildings at the site reflect a nautical theme, resembling lighthouse cottages, and the boys were housed in dormitory-style cabins. This rather unusual twist could be attributed to the fact that for many years wayward boys—although some of them had committed very minor offences—were detained on ships that were moored in Sydney Harbour. In those days, hard physical labour and isolation from outside social influence and communal living were seen as the way to rehabilitate these young offenders. For many years a first-class dairy operated on the site, with boys in residence being charged with the responsibility, under supervision of course, of attending to the dairy herd. The centre's dairy won many awards at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the Gosford Agricultural Show, and many other agricultural shows throughout the State.
When the decision was made by the Carr Government to build a new juvenile justice centre on the site, the Frank Baxter Juvenile Detention Centre, the dairy herd was sold. This decision was lamented by many long-serving employees of the Department of Juvenile Justice, but it had to be made to make way for the redevelopment of the large and beautiful area. Fortunately, the history of Mount Penang has been diligently recorded in a wonderful book written by Valerie Rubie entitled Sent to the Mountain: a History of Mt Penang Juvenile Justice Centre 1911-1999
. Minister Beamer launched the book on 11 June at Mount Penang. It was a very moving occasion, attended by a number of former detainees, well advanced in years. The heritage listing announcement made recently by the Minister coincided with the holding of the Spring Floral Festival at the Mount Penang parklands.
The event was officially opened on Friday 12 September by the Chairman of the Festival Development Corporation, Councillor Tony Sampson. Tourism New South Wales assisted in the promotion and sponsorship of the festival, as did the Central Coast Express Advocate.
The festival draws visitors from all over the State as well as interstate. This year attendances were at a record level—approximately 67,000 people attended over a four-day period. It was the best festival ever. Entertainment provided during the day involved many students from local schools on the Central Coast, including a number from within the Peats electorate.
CARLINGFORD HIGH SCHOOL PEDESTRIAN FOOTBRIDGE
(Epping) [12.20 p.m.]: On 17 December 2002 Carlingford High School made a request to the Safety Around Schools Review Panel and entered a registration of concern form requesting a pedestrian footbridge for Carlingford High School at North Rocks Road, Carlingford. The matter has a long history. A lengthy submission was made to the Roads and Traffic Authority as far back as 1998 as well as submissions from me to the Minister. The matter was taken up subsequently with the Staysafe committee. All those documents were placed before the Safety Around Schools Review Panel. By letter of 31 March 2003 addressed to Mr John Alexander, Acting Principal of Carlingford High School, Natasha Thomas from the Safety Around Schools Review Panel advised that the review panel would consider the school's request for "a pedestrian bridge over Pennant Hills Road" at its meeting of 2 May.
Mr Clarke and Ms Kerrie Moon, on behalf of the Parents and Citizens Traffic and Safety Committee, duly attended and made a review panel presentation in writing on 2 May 2003 in which they made significant references to the need for a pedestrian bridge. However, as appears in a letter dated 22 May signed by Ms Moon and Mr Clarke to Natasha Thomas following that meeting, they were bitterly disappointed about the way the proceedings were undertaken. The letter states:
As requested we supplied documentation on the history of this request, including Hansard transcripts from the StaySafe Inquiry. However, at no time during the said meeting were we questioned about the need for such a pedestrian bridge, nor did any Panel member even mention the subject of "a pedestrian bridge".
The Panel's concentration on "educating students" and "bus diversion" appeared to be the only issues pending on their agenda, and we wish to formally advise of our concern that the subject matter, which we were led to believe would be discussed, was not discussed in any way.
There were a number of concerns: the panel was not introduced, questions related to only two topics on educating students and bus diversion, and there were no questions whatsoever related to the pedestrian bridge, which was the subject of the specific invitation from the review panel to Ms Moon and Mr Clarke in the first place. No mention was made of traffic flow, accidents or deaths, solutions such as guardian fencing, 40-kilometre per hour speed limits, or speed cameras, and no explanation was offered on the criteria for other schools.
It was apparent from the meeting that the decision centred on bus diversion being the answer. No official stenographer was in attendance, there was no recording and there was no request for the copy of the presentation. The school representatives offered a copy of their presentation to a person ushering them to the lift, and it was accepted at the door of the lift. There was no questioning on the information put forward, and both Ms Moon and Mr Clarke felt patronised and insulted by what had happened. Notwithstanding that, I received a letter dated 12 May 2003 from the honourable member for Bankstown, the Parliamentary Secretary for Roads, in relation to a representation I had made, which states:
The Safety around Schools Review Panel will consider their request for a pedestrian overbridge in early May 2003.
Suspicions were raised when, on 4 July, Ms Moon received a letter from the executive secretary of the panel, which stated:
The Panel's recommendation regarding your school's issue is awaiting review by the RTA Chief Executive
In other words, anything the panel does is subject to a review and, I suspect, ultimate veto by Roads and Traffic Authority bureaucrats. On 30 July, when the letter expressing concern was tabled, the panel wrote back and said that there had been extensive discussions and referred to possible solutions, particularly the provisions of the pedestrian bridge. The letter stated:
You can be assured that the Panel's Terms of Reference and processes ensure that road safety matters are addressed by the panel in a fair and equitable manner.
The school is far from convinced of that, as am I, and that was confirmed in the most recent letter signed by the chair of the review panel, which was received yesterday. That letter stated:
The panel did not support your school's request for a pedestrian bridge. Panel members voted unanimously to decline it for the following reasons.
Five dot points were then set out, the last of which states:
The available RTA budget for pedestrian bridges over the next few years has already been committed.
In other words, the Safety Around Schools Review Panel is a low farce, subject to veto by the head of the Roads and Traffic Authority. I do not know what Terry Rumble, the chairman of the review panel, and other panel members are doing with their time because I suspect they are misleading and not doing the right thing by this school community and others. They did not take into account any regard for a pedestrian bridge. They are not bothering with it.
WALLSEND ELECTORATE EDUCATION WEEK ACTIVITIES
(Wallsend) [12.25 p.m.]: Last week was Education Week. The achievements and successes of our great public education system in New South Wales highlighted during Education Week throughout New South Wales, particularly in the Hunter region, were a source of enormous pride not only for me but also for the community I represent. They are a credit to the teachers who work so professionally and so well in leading and teaching the students at our public schools and the strong support that is given by parents and families of students in our public school system to ensure that they take advantage of the excellent opportunities offered to them through our public schools. Last Wednesday I visited Maryland Public School, where I had some very useful discussions with the principal, John Dwyer, the energetic and insightful leader of a school at which 480 kids are enrolled.
We talked about students with special needs, children with intellectual disability in mainstream classes, children with behaviour-related conditions, and various human and physical resources and staff welfare issues. We also talked about dealing with the change to quality teaching and learning, school promotion and image, and technology, which included training and development. Although all staff have had basic training, most staff now need to improve their skills to cope with the new generation of computer technology in the schools. I found myself addressing an assembly of not only 480 kids but at least as many adults and family members—one of the largest crowds I have addressed in recent times. I can assure honourable members that the support from the families and parents who attended the assembly was enormous. They had a great time listening not only to the kids and the principal speak but also to hearing and seeing the many performances in the hall and underneath the covered walkway.
The school has 100 computers, including those in the administration section and some from the parents and citizens association. All classrooms are equipped with computers that have Internet access and are networked to the curriculum server. Maryland has been taking part in the pilot scheme on the computer assessment test for year 6 students. The results reveal that overall they are above the State average for computer operations, word processing, graphics, multimedia, the Internet and spreadsheets. It is a credit to Judy Lock and the other staff who have specialised in computer technology at Maryland Public School. The school has attacked literacy with teamwork, and it has achieved outstanding results at or above the State average. The school also offers a gifted students class. Again, I give credit to the very enthusiastic community of Maryland, and their support and pride in the achievements of the students at the school.
The Newcastle district had its awards presentation function at Newcastle City Hall. The keynote speaker was Matthew Helm, world champion gold medallist at Barcelona in high board synchronised diving, who comes from our region. He was interviewed by Amber Hughes, captain of the Hunter School of Performing Arts, and Edward Burrowes, captain of the Merewether Heights Public School, who were the chairpersons at the ceremony. Wayne Ible, the new superintendent of the Newcastle district, gave an address. A wonderful musical item entitled "Circle of Life" was played by the Newcastle High School Combined Vocal Ensemble. As an oddity that provided a lot of entertainment, five students—each with two Coke bottles partly filled with water—were part of the percussion section. They blew in the bottles to produce notes. It was a great achievement to synchronise that with the work of the band.
I also attended the Lake Macquarie District Education Week celebrations at Glendale Technology High School on 10 September. Sue Hodges, who is an Aboriginal community liaison officer, received an award for Aboriginal education efforts leading to Aboriginal students achieving above the State average and bridging the gap better. Lehetta Lane, a Cardiff High School student, received an award for indigenous leadership as well as sporting and cultural achievements at that school. Given all those awards to teachers and students, supported by the parents, we can all take great pride in the Hunter region in the achievements of the public school system. [Time expired.
RED CROSS VOLUNTEERS
(Lismore) [12.31 p.m.]: I pay tribute to the people in an organisation not only in the Lismore electorate but right across Australia. I refer to the volunteers and others who work so hard for the Red Cross. I have been quite involved with the Red Cross since May this year, and I want to place on record the contributions made by branches of the organisation not only in the major communities in our area but in outlying country areas. On 3 May I was guest of honour at a day to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Wiangaree branch of the Red Cross. Just on 100 people turned up and had a tremendous day celebrating this occasion. This very active branch does a tremendous job for the Wiangaree community—typical of branches throughout the Red Cross network.
National Blood Donor Week was held in July, and more than 100 people were awarded for donating on 50 to 150 occasions. They have made a great contribution to the Blood Bank, which is based in Lismore and has outreach centres. On that day the Red Cross Blood Service Public Relations and Marketing Co-ordinator for New South Wales North, Catherine Hurley, was present, as was Jeff Johnson, a representative of the National Australia Bank, the major sponsors of these awards, to recognise the contribution of these donors. All made it a very memorable occasion.
There are various zones of this organisation in each of the electorates. In my case, they are zone 2 and zone 27. On 7 August I was honoured to open the zone 2 conference. Mrs Ivy Tegge is the Broadwater Branch President and Mrs Veheideh Hosseini is the Regional Manager of the Red Cross and was guest speaker on the day. We were entertained by the students of Broadwater Public School. The zone 2 conference covers towns like Alstonville, Ballina, Bangalow, Bonalbo, Broadwater, Byron Bay, Casino, Tabulam, Tintenbar, Tuckurimba and Wardell branches, all of which had representatives at the zone 2 conference celebrations. It was a tremendous day.
On 1 September I had the honour of opening the zone 27 conference, which also was held at Wiangaree. Mrs Jenny Ryan represented zone 27, along with Mrs Muriel Phillips, Wiangaree Branch President. Mr Ken Hastie, General Manager of Funding for Australian Red Cross, was also present, as were Mrs Veheideh Hosseini, Regional Manager, and Scott Krueger, Regional Fundraising Co-ordinator. I would not say it was a con, but he encouraged me to take part in a lock-up day next Saturday to raise funds. So I encourage everyone to make contributions, because I do not want to be locked up for too long.
We might pay to keep you in there.
If you want to pay to keep me in there, I will accept all donations. I am sure I speak on behalf of all members when I say this is typical of the work that the Red Cross does in each and every one of our electorates. The branches that constitute the zone 27 conference were Clunes, Doubtful Creek, Georgica, Jiggi, Kyogle, Wiangaree and Lismore. The work done by volunteers through Telecross, the Tracing Agency, Cosmetic Care, the Carer Support Program, Trauma Teddy and the Mobile Blood Bank is magnificent. But I want to say a little more about Trauma Teddy. The regional manager dropped about eight of these into my office. When you have constituents in the office who start to get a bit teary, and you give them one of these teddies, they walk out with a smile on their face. That is greatly appreciated. To members and everyone associated with the Red Cross throughout the State, but especially in zones 2 and 27, I say thank you for the support that you have given our community to make it a much better place in which to live. I pay tribute to the Red Cross. [Time expired.
SOLDIERS POINT LIONS CLUB TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY
RAYMOND TERRACE ROTARY CLUB FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY
(Port Stephens) [12.36 p.m.]: It is often said that a week in politics is a long time, but some weeks are definitely better than others. I would like to talk about some wonderful things I did in the week beginning 9 September. I attended the twenty-fifth anniversary of Soldiers Point Lions Club, and on Saturday 13 September I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the Rotary Club of Raymond Terrace. As I was elected to Port Stephens Council in September 1983, there are many people in both the Lions Club of Soldiers Point and the Rotary Club of Raymond Terrace I regard as friends. We have worked with one another over the past 20 years. It is a credit to both service clubs that they have such a long involvement in their local communities.
The Chairman of the Soldiers Point Lions Club is a good friend of mine, David Sams. It was quite a pleasant coincidence that David's wife, Sue, is the daughter of the founding president of the Soldiers Point Lions Club, Reg Stokes. This Lions Club has had a profound effect on the Soldiers Point community over the past 25 years. Members whom I know well and have worked with are past presidents Brian Spurway from 1980 to 1981, Tony Otton from 1987 to 1989, Dick Logan from 1989 to 1990, Bruce Scott from 1990 to 1992, Rick "Radar" Townsend from 1993 to 1994, and Len Worgan from 1998 to 2000—to name just a few.
The Lions Club of Soldiers Point has provided fencing, retaining walls and covered walkways at Soldiers Point school; donated a substantial amount of money to the Save the Site Foundation, which all Lions Club members are involved in; put in tables and barbeque areas at Lions Park, which is a waterfront park; raised up to $19,000 a year for community activities from the trailer raffle it runs every year—money that goes back to the community; and, for five years, ran the Soldiers Point Carols by Candlelight. I congratulate it on its efforts to the Soldiers Point community over the past 25 years.
The fiftieth anniversary evening of the Raymond Terrace Rotary Club was under the chairmanship of my good friend President Kerrie O'Connor. Kerrie has been a member of the club for many years. On the night of Saturday 13 September it was reported at the ceremony that the charter had been given to Raymond Terrace Rotary Club on 8 September 1953. The meeting at which the charter was presented to the club was on 10 October 1953, which was just before the 1955 flood. Past president John Horn mentioned some of the things that had happened in the 1955 flood—in the lifetime of one of the members of the Rotary Club. He said that in the 1955 flood the Raymond Terrace area received financial assistance from other clubs in Australia. Raymond Terrace Rotary Club used wagons and provided labour to assist people.
The first meeting of the club was held at Raymond Terrace School of Arts. For six shillings a head one could obtain a three-course meal, but it came from Mayfield, which is some 25 kilometres away and, at the time, the fine was 3d. The event was very pleasant. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the club it became involved in another community project. It has been involved in many community projects, such as Raymond Terrace clock tower. It donated a $20,000 rotunda, which was built at Hunter Botanic Gardens—a marvellous effort for that club. Ray Beaumont received the Paul Harris Fellowship on the night. I congratulate Ray on that wonderful achievement. Service clubs deserve all the praise that they can get. [Time expired
HEAVY VEHICLE INSPECTION SCHEME
(Coffs Harbour) [12.41 p.m.]: Today I express the concerns of a good friend and constituent of mine, Mr Alex Waugh from Bellingen, who is a potato grower. Mr Waugh rang me at about 6.30 this morning and said, "Andrew, for the first time in a long time I do not feel like going to work today". I said, "What is the problem?" He said, "I have just about had a gutful. This week I spent two days attending seminars on occupational health and safety. Whilst I fully support the need for a workplace that is safe for me, my son and any employees that I have, it took two days out of my weekly schedule. We know that farms and other businesses are inherently dangerous places and we know that we can lift our game in certain areas. In fact, some of the things that I noticed during the seminars alerted me to the fact that I need to do a couple of things. Because of the arbitrary nature of the people who presented these seminars, if we do not do these things we will receive on-the-spot fines of $200, $500, or $1,000. We are struggling. We are suffering the effects of a drought. Potato prices have not been good. Water has been severely restricted under this Government and we are doing it hard." He said, "The real crunch came when I got home from work last night at about 9 o'clock. The mail had arrived and in it was a letter from the RTA." That letter states:
The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) conducts roadworthiness inspections of heavy vehicles on an annual basis for registration renewal purposes. Inspections are carried out as part of the Heavy Vehicle Inspections Scheme (HVIS).
From November 2003, the HVIS is changing. Key changes to the Scheme include:
• Vehicle classes requiring an inspection.
The letter lists five points, one of which is headed, "Inspection Reports are only valid for three months". The letter continues:
If your vehicle requires an inspection you will be charged an inspection fee, which is paid upfront with registration charges.
The HVIS is a keen vehicle inspection program contributing to road safety. An information brochure detailing the scheme and your requirements is enclosed for your information.
Mr Waugh made the point that it takes 35 to 40 minutes to drive a heavy vehicle from Bellingen to Coffs Harbour, which is where inspections are carried out. Mr Waugh also has farms in the Dorrigo region. According to information on the web site this morning, the next heavy vehicle inspections in Dorrigo will be conducted on 7 October. If farmers cannot go to Dorrigo on that day they have to go to Coffs Harbour, which takes half a day out of their work schedules, or 1½ days every year. It could result in more than that if a vehicle has a minor problem.
Farm vehicles are used to carry produce from Mr Waugh's Bellingen or Dorrigo farms to the depot in Dorrigo. These vehicles are not on the road day in and day out, and they do not travel daily between Brisbane and Sydney. Farm vehicles that are kept in good condition and do a very low mileage have now been included in this new heavy vehicle inspection scheme. It is not just Mr Waugh in Bellingen who is affected: all farmers right across drought-ravaged New South Wales are affected. They now have to spend at least half a day—I would suggest that farmers in some of the western district areas would be spending at least a day, if not more—taking their heavy vehicles into town for inspection and then back to the farm. They have to do that four times a year. That is just another impost on small business in New South Wales.
A lot of large farms in the western district have more than one heavy vehicle. Those vehicles are normally used only during harvest time and other times of heavy activity. Farmers now have to take every vehicle into town on a set day, at a huge expense to themselves and with a resultant loss of production. Farmers can pay up front for that inspection fee in their registration but, by doing so, it means that the Government has the money for those four inspections 12 months in advance. These farmers are struggling under drought conditions and they have done so for quite some time. I call on the Government to rationalise this inspection scheme and to implement some other scheme that will not impact on hardworking primary producers in this State and in my electorate. These vehicle inspections cost them time and money, and they result in lost production. [Time expired
MR AUSTIN WOODBURY LAND ACQUISITION COMPENSATION
(Wyong) [12.46 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the concerns of a constituent in my electorate, Mr Austin Woodbury, who lives at 103 Sparks Road, Warnervale. I have known Austin Woodbury since 1990 when I attended Toukley markets on a Sunday morning to meet people prior to the election at which I was first elected. Mr Woodbury, who is an extremely intelligent man, served his country with great distinction in the Second World War. He has owned five acres of land at 103 Sparks Road for 15 to 20 years—land that is to become part of the new Warnervale-Wadalba precinct, which is the nub of the problem. Mr Woodbury has been advised by Wyong Shire Council that his land is to be resumed under the Just Terms Compensation Act. The problem that has to be resolved is how much compensation should be paid.
Given that this involves an entire precinct of land, some of which will be commercial and some of which will be high-density residential land, it is hard to determine what compensation should be paid. That is the issue that Mr Woodbury wishes the Minister to address if council applies to the Minister to resume this land. Mr Woodbury is concerned also about another issue. In politics we all know that information is power. I suspect that the same thing applies in the world of developers. It seems that Landcom has been involved. I recall Landcom officers meeting with me 12 months ago in my Parliament House office to discuss this Warnervale-Wadalba issue.
There have been various iterations about the way in which land in this precinct has been defined for various purposes. Mr Woodbury discovered only today that his land is to be used for an aquatic centre, a recreation centre and a car park that will adjoin both facilities. That is a laudable proposition. The problem with regard to the determination of compensation is that land adjacent to Mr Woodbury's land has apparently been bought by developers, details regarding the purchase of that land are the subject of a confidentiality clause and property settlement will not take place for a considerable period. Even if one were to conduct an investigation through the Land Titles Office, because settlement has not occurred one could not ascertain the purchase price of the adjoining land.
I understand that stamp duty on any contract must be paid to the Office of State Revenue within two months of the exchange of contracts, otherwise substantial penalties apply. I am not certain about the privacy issues involved. In order for Mr Woodbury to get a just and fair price for his land, we need to know precisely the planning approach of Wyong council's strategic planning department, what iterations have occurred, what changes have been made to the various parcels of land in the Warnervale-Wadalba precinct and the uses to which that land will be put. We also need to know about the involvement of Landcom and developers before we can determine a fair price for Mr Woodbury's land. I understand that Mr Woodbury has recently become an octogenarian, and that his desire is simply to leave the parcel of land that comprises his home in its existing state so that he can live out his days peacefully. He accepts that the adjoining land will be used. I hope that a sensible, rational and fair approach is adopted, and that the Minister does not take any action prior to a full examination of these issues. [Time expired.
NORTHERN RAIL LINK
(Tamworth) [12.51 p.m.]: I support the contribution earlier this week of my colleague the honourable member for Northern Tablelands in which he spoke in powerful defence of our region's rail services. The issue concerns much more than the closure of the track between Tamworth and Armidale; it is an attack on the fundamental rights of country people to access services that our city counterparts take for granted. The Parry interim report currently targets the Armidale link, on the northern line. If we allow the closure of this link, next year we may well be debating how we are going to save the Tamworth route, the Dubbo route, or other country services.
The Parry interim report displays some stark inaccuracies. It fails to recognise the improvement in CountryLink's performance since the service was stopped in the 1980s. As the honourable member for Northern Tablelands said, country rail costs have decreased from $206.6 million in 1989 to $149 million this year. Over the same period, CityRail costs have ballooned from $498 million to $1.347 billion. Dr Parry should be addressing not the cost of country rail services but the rapidly escalating cost blow-out in CityRail services. The city component is dragging down the entire network, yet country services have been specifically identified as targets for closure.
One factor that contributes to the so-called unviability of the track from Tamworth to Armidale is the lack of freight on the route. It is simply a passenger service at present, but there are significant opportunities to address this issue—providing, of course, the line remains open. It is possible that petroleum products will be delivered to Armidale, as Tamworth's supplies are currently delivered on rail by Freight Australia. There are also options for stock feed, grain, woodchip and other timber products, meat, minerals, wool and other products to be delivered to Armidale. Before closure of the track is even considered, surely options such as these should be explored. These options could also be explored for the Walcha Road station in the electorate of Tamworth. Walcha residents are just as upset as Armidale residents about any proposed track closures or measures that will threaten their rail services.
Successive governments have had a deliberate policy of running down the rail infrastructure in country areas. They have then had a ready excuse to reduce their commitment to country people. As the former honourable member for Kogarah, Mr Langton, said in October 1993 when referring to the then Greiner Government's decision to remove trains from the Armidale route:
Those services were taken away in 1990 because, as the Minister assured us, nobody was using them, they were costing a fortune, and taxpayers did not want the trains. All of a sudden in 1993, Bruce Baird is just the best bloke in the world: he is going to provide trains for people. I assure the Government that the people of NSW are not that stupid. They know the demand was there in 1989 and 1990 and that demand is still there in 1993. The new services are not initiatives; they are simply concessions to the people who always maintained the services were required.
A sense of deja vu is apparent when one listens to the current rationale the Minister is putting forward as his interpretation of the Parry report's recommendations and what was said some 10 years ago by a former member of the Minister's own party. One also has to question the commitment of the National Party and Country Labor to regional services. Their silence on this issue has been glaringly obvious to date. The timetable that the service from Armidale operates could certainly attract greater patronage if it were improved to cater for more than just a leisure market. There are opportunities to link this service with the services that terminate in Scone, link those services with the double-decker service from Newcastle to Sydney, and offer a service that can get people into the city at a reasonable time.
The Minister consistently raised the concession component of passengers using the Armidale link as somehow validating the closure option. Virtually every rail user in regional areas would happily pay more to travel by rail if that would ensure a long-term commitment from the Government to retaining services. I have received many phone calls from people expressing that view. The elderly, the disabled and people with young children would be particularly disadvantaged by any closure of our rail service. We should be seeking to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads and not increase vehicle usage. I call on the Government to reject any initiative recommended by Dr Parry that threatens our country rail services. I urge the Government to make an investment in country rail services, instead of abandoning country people's fundamental rights.
(Menai—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.56 p.m.]: I wish to update honourable members on the progress and recent developments in the Carr Government's commitment to build the Bangor bypass in my electorate. On 27 November 2002, just a few days after the last occasion on which I raised this issue in the House, the Hon. Dr Andrew Refshauge, the Deputy Premier and then Minister for Planning, approved the proposed $115 million Bangor bypass. The planning approval was subject to more than 110 conditions to ensure the protection of the adjacent communities of Bangor, Menai and Barden Ridge, and the sensitive natural environment. The conditions addressed issues such as local traffic congestion and accessibility, road noise, pedestrian and cyclist safety, emergency access and alignment alternatives, which were raised during the exhibition of the environmental impact statement [EIS] for the project.
The Bangor bypass comprises two sections—the 3.5 kilometre east-west link between the western approaches of the Woronora Bridge in the east and the old Illawarra Road in the west, and the 2.6 kilometre north-south link between Alfords Point Road and New Illawarra Road. Honourable members may recall that the original design for the bypass comprised only the section now known as the east-west link. On 8 November 2001 in this place the Minister for Roads, the Hon. Carl Scully, responded to the concerns I had raised on behalf of my community by announcing that the EIS would include the north-south link. Until that time various State agencies had considered that that section would not be built for at least 20 years. It was not, as they said, on the agenda.
Minister Scully's important decision to include the north-south link in the EIS presented the opportunity for planning approval and subsequently the funding to be obtained for both links. Minister Scully concluded his remarks by stating, "The Government is absolutely and totally committed to the Bangor bypass, and we will deliver it as promised." Lakshmy Mulavana, Warren Staulder and Terry Pallister, in their various Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] capacities, worked hard and fast to do the considerable amount of work required to gain planning approval for both links of the bypass. Geoff Skinner of the bypass information office at Bangor Shopping Centre was a great source of front-line support for their efforts. Whilst I am aware that on occasion the RTA receives its fair share of criticism in this place and in the general community, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication of these people.
Minister Scully's statement in this House, as well as every consistent action by the RTA since that time, was ignored by the Liberal candidate in the 2003 State election. The Liberal candidate falsely claimed that the Carr Government was not building the whole bypass. It was just one of the many examples of political opportunism he used in his campaign. Both links of the bypass were again listed in this year's State budget and, as I said, the former Minister for Planning issued approval for the project in November 2002. At that point it was realistically assessed that the east-west link would be open to traffic prior to the construction of the north-south link. However, the approval did ensure that construction of the north-south link would commence within 12 months of completion of the east-west link.
Today I advise the House that the construction of the Bangor bypass is proceeding well, so well that Minister Scully has again seized upon an opportunity to respond to my community's concerns about the timing of the north-south link. There had been concern that there could be a considerable backup of traffic under the likely arrangement. The Minister has brought forward the work on the northern section of the north-south link so that it will be completed and opened to traffic, weather permitting, by the end of 2004. Unlike my opponent in the last election, the Carr Government has always been up-front and realistic with my community about this project. However, I promised my community that despite the time frames published in the planning approval I would do everything I could to ensure a continuous flow of work on the two sections. I take this opportunity to again remind the Barden Ridge residents that condition No. 1 of the planning approval states that the whole project must be built.
There is no reason for any concern about the southern section of the north-south link being built. I am sure that residents appreciate the priority afforded to the northern section. Indeed, in accordance with the approval of the Deputy Premier, community consultation has been thorough and ongoing during the project. An independent community liaison representative, Donna Bevan, was appointed. By all accounts she is doing a terrific job. Donna also chairs two community liaison groups [CLGs], one for each link of the bypass. A number of local residents are giving up a significant amount of their time to participate in the CLGs. I will not list each person for fear that I might forget one or two. However, it is important for them to know that their efforts are appreciated and important to the successful outcome of this vital project. I sincerely thank Minister Scully for, once again, listening to my community's concerns and taking action. We are very grateful that on each occasion that I have raised concerns on behalf of my community he has responded. We are destined to have a much better project as a result of his efforts on our behalf.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD CROPS
(Northern Tablelands) [1.01 p.m.]: I continue to receive representations from my constituents regarding genetically modified [GM] crops, and in particular the current moratorium on GM canola. As a result of their concerns a GM forum was held in Inverell on 10 July. That forum consisted of a panel of four speakers, representing both sides of the debate. A survey conducted after the forum indicated that 85 per cent of the audience was opposed to either eating GM foods or growing GM crops. Absolutely no-one in attendance supported the growing of GM crops. Similar concerns are being raised from communities all over Australia. In a recent Australiawide Kondinin Group survey, 45 per cent of respondents opposed the introduction of GM crops and only 19 per cent were in favour of doing so.
The Inverell forum noted that a number of scientists and experts had serious concerns with GM crops, yet very few were able to voice those concerns publicly. Most of the information generated on this issue tends to be well-rehearsed pro-GM promotions. The number of issues that have emerged is alarming. Mounting evidence can be collected both nationally and internationally which lend support to the discontinuation of GM trials. Firstly, the GM advocates claim higher yields for GM crops. Yet respected scientists from around the world, after various university trials, flatly deny this argument. The Government of the United States of America now also admits that GM crops do not increase crop yields. Secondly, the GM advocates claim reduced herbicide usage. Again, those claims are denied. More alarmingly, there are herbicide-resistant weeds emerging that contain genes from three different herbicide-resistant varieties. Highly toxic chemical usage is reappearing in an effort to control those resistant volunteers.
GM cotton in Australia is already into second and third generation varieties because of insect resistance. The insertion of genes is not as precise or as well understood as the GM advocates would have the public believe. Large tracts of genes, often with antibiotic resistance genes, are unnaturally and randomly inserted into chromosomes. This forced insertion results in weakened and unstable chromosomes that become vulnerable to losing and/or contracting miscellaneous DNA from the surrounding environment. This has already been scientifically documented, but apparently ignored. Thirdly, there are grave concerns about the effects of GM foods on living organisms. A United Kingdom scientist found that changes occurred in the gut of rats after they were fed GM potatoes and these results have been replicated in further studies. In addition, there are increasing numbers of anecdotal stories emerging of livestock actively avoiding GM grain when given a choice.
Fourthly, another major reason why the trial should not go ahead is that the trial would have a similar market impact to the commercial release due to cross-pollination risks. GM-free growers would be forced to prove that their canola is GM free, rather than being able to assume that it is. This would be costly for GM-free farmers. Finally, there is no longer a need to trial canola. Bayer has already had 3,000 hectares of GM canola trials conducted over the past six years. Those trials have been conducted on plots that have been reasonably large, being 10 hectares and above. None of the data from these trials has been made publicly available. This data needs to be released so that the agronomic performance of GM canola can be properly assessed, rather than spending more resources upon conducting new trials.
Advocates of new trials claim that they are needed to determine whether supply chains can segregate effectively. However, that can be done using conventional varieties of canola. CHB in Western Australia is currently conducting a three-year segregation trial using non-GM canola varieties. New South Wales should conduct similar trials, with no risk of GM contamination being present. What are the relative legal issues? There are frightening reports of growers and local governments being liable for GM volunteer plants, whether planted by them or not. Once sold, GM seed companies have no further liability for what happens to their seed. It is difficult to get a complete picture of existing legal problems because of non-disclosure clauses between growers and GM seed companies, and there are some worrying reports of heavy-handed tactics being used by GM seed companies.
Those concerned by GM food and crops are fighting legislative frameworks that have already assumed that GM and non-GM crops can co-exist. They cannot co-exist! GM foods have substantial equivalence to natural foods. So-called independent regulatory bodies are given such narrow terms of reference that the concerns listed above cannot even be considered let alone investigated. All the benefits that GM crops claim to deliver can and are being achieved naturally. Why are we not promoting our existing clean green market image? We should be working with nature, not against it. No markets are actually asking for GM food or crops, yet all markets will accept non-GM food and crops. We must remember that GM technology and its impact on the environment is irreversible and has no boundaries. Once the damage has been done, the consequences of such actions will be eternally suffered. [Time expired.
BURWOOD FIRE STATION
(Strathfield) [1.06 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the recent installation of a new fire-engine at Burwood fire station. On Monday 15 September I visited the station to meet Chief Superintendent Roger Bucholtz, Station Officer Mick Carol and the rest of the fantastic firefighters. These firefighters are currently world champions in motor vehicle accident rescue. Last year they were awarded first place at the World Motor Vehicle Extrication Championships in Prague. Next they will fly to Ottawa, Canada, to defend the title, and I wish them well. The mayor of Burwood was also present for the handing over of the keys to the new fire-engine. I was surprised to hear about the diversity of the work that our wonderful firefighters do. The tasks involve everything from securing broken street signs to freeing people from tragic car accidents. They even carry equipment to catch dogs and other animals.
The new fire-engine cost $520,000 and is one of the first in a new series of specialised rescue equipped fire-engines to be installed at fire stations in New South Wales. The new Burwood fire-engine is part of the largest roll out of new and upgraded fire engines in the history of the New South Wales Fire Brigades. It is cause for celebration and is the result of efforts by this wonderful State Labor Government. In the past four years 168 fire-engines have been installed, with a further 187 to be installed in fire stations across the State in the coming four years. The total value of the fleet upgrade over this eight-year period is in excess of $144 million. Burwood's custom-made fire-engine is configured for primary rescue and incorporates the latest in firefighting and rescue equipment, and technology.
It is a crew-cabin vehicle, allowing crews to communicate and discuss strategies on the way to emergencies. This fire-engine is used to back up the brigades' specialist heavy rescue salvage engines in the Sydney metropolitan area. Burwood fire station responded to 1,328 emergencies last year, including house and commercial fires in the inner-west area. It is vital that the 30-member, full-time crew has the best equipment to deal with fires, rescues and spills of hazardous materials in the community. The new vehicle has a pressure pump that supplies up to 4,000 litres of water each minute for firefighting operations. The vehicle carries vertical and general rescue equipment for gaining entry to damaged vehicles, collapsed buildings and releasing victims trapped in industrial accidents.
The vehicle includes a vast array of hydraulic-cutting equipment to enable firefighters to access and release persons trapped as a result of motor vehicle, domestic and industrial accidents; a 1.6 tonne winch to haul vehicles to safety; a rope rescue kit; fire rescue equipment used to gain entry into homes and industrial premises to secure people in the event of a fire; a set of 20-tonne, high-pressure airbags used to lift heavy objects, for example, trains; and a generator and emergency lighting, which powers and supports the equipment. This historical roll out of new fire-engines shows the commitment of the Government to ensuring that our emergency services workers have the best equipment available to assist the people of New South Wales. I thank the Government and the hardworking Minister for Emergency Services, Tony Kelly, for their attention to this matter. I am thrilled that we have this new fire-engine in the seat that I have the great privilege and honour of representing, the inner-west seat of Strathfield.
Private members' statements noted.
The House adjourned at 1.10 p.m. until Tuesday 14 October 2003 at 2.15 p.m.