Wednesday 1 September 2004
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Joseph Aquilina)
took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
offered the Prayer.
Bill introduced and read a first time.
THREATENED SPECIES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Mr BOB DEBUS
(Blue Mountains—Attorney General, and Minister for the Environment) [10.01 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The continuing loss of our native plants and animals is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing New South Wales today. More than 80 species that used to exist in New South Wales are now extinct and over 800 more are in danger of becoming extinct. It is a sad fact that in just over 200 years, Australia—a species-rich country—now has one of the world's worst records on extinction. This is precisely why the Government introduced the Threatened Species Conservation Act in 1995 after the Coalition dithered for the previous seven years. Similar amendments were made to the Fisheries Management Act soon after. Today I am introducing important reforms to this landmark legislation.
This Government is committed to passing on the State's natural heritage to future generations in the best shape possible. These reforms reflect our determination to do even better in slowing and reversing the trend of extinctions and species decline. These reforms will establish better procedures so that landholders, farmers, community groups, government agencies and those who develop land can more effectively contribute to protecting the State's biodiversity. The Government is proud of its significant environmental achievements.
In relation to biodiversity protection, our additions to the State's network of national parks are unmatched. Nearly 7.5 per cent of New South Wales—around six million hectares—is now preserved for the future. We have also created four marine parks, protecting more than 160,000 hectares of our pristine coastal marine environment. However, the obvious fact is that many species at risk do not live in national or marine parks. Many share the land on which we live, work, play sport and shop, and even the cemeteries in which we are buried. Many live in the seas or rivers where we swim or fish. There are often, and inevitably, conflicts about what should be the appropriate activities carried out on such lands or in such waters.
The reforms I am bringing forward today are designed to equip the entire community of New South Wales to better protect native plants, animals and fish in the challenging circumstances we face—where population growth, economic activity and recreational pursuits are increasing the pressures on our precious biodiversity. We have now had nearly 10 years experience of our threatened species laws. In 1995 the Act was at the forefront of biodiversity conservation in Australia. Economic, social and conservation pressures are, however, vastly different today than they were in 1995 and it is time to reform our threatened species framework to meet these many new challenges.
The major lesson of the past decade is that too often a threatened species decision involves the winner taking all—only one side of a dispute usually wins. From time to time, costly disputes arise which pit a particular development against a particular threatened species. The current Act no longer provides the best mechanism to resolve this kind of dispute in which one side or the other prevails—either the development has to be substantially reconfigured or the threatened species has to be sacrificed to social or economic needs. It is possible to have good development that provides our community with housing, jobs and amenities and to also protect biodiversity. The Government believes that these essential conservation and socio-economic objectives should not automatically be in conflict. A sound decision-making process can bring them into harmony. The provisions of this bill will establish a robust framework to resolve conflicts in a way that will better protect threatened species.
As things stand at the moment the system operates at the micro-level and at the very end of the planning process—disputes can be fought out golden-bell-frog by golden-bell-frog, endangered orchid by orchid. There is a much too narrow focus on individual threatened species or isolated populations and far too little focus on the protection of wider habitat on which the threatened species depend. The issues also tend to be considered in detail only after land has been bought and a development application has been submitted—rather than at the very beginning of the planning process when the planning rules are being written. In this situation, decision-makers can easily lose sight of the bigger and more important picture. The reformed Act will provide the direction and the opportunities for the Government, local councils, catchment management authorities and the broader community to focus on achieving landscape-wide conservation within their local areas.
Last year the Government significantly reformed the State's natural resource management system. These historic reforms arose from the Wentworth agreement between the Government, conservationists and farmers. I am pleased to report that the agreement has achieved something that a National Party-dominated Government could never have done—we have ended broad-scale land clearing in New South Wales and established catchment management authorities [CMAs] to make resource management decisions at the local level. The CMAs now have the ability to better help farmers repair the landscape and protect the environment, while allowing them to get on with the vital business of growing our food and many other basic necessities. This historic decision to end broad-scale land clearing will, of itself, result in significantly improved protection of threatened species on private land.
Biodiversity and threatened species conservation are, of course, a central part of the protection of our unique environment. The reforms in this bill will integrate the State's natural resource management and land-use planning systems with our biodiversity conservation laws. Conservationists, landowners, farmers, industry and those who wish to develop land will not end up having to deal with two unco-ordinated or potentially conflicting systems of approval. The benefits for conservation of this better integrated, balanced and transparent decision-making procedure will be significant. Indeed, without such integration, it is difficult to see how we can make long-term conservation gains on private land other than in an ad hoc manner.
Before outlining the key elements of the bill, I advise the House that these reforms are the product of an extensive consultation process involving all key interest groups. First, a discussion paper was released and widely circulated. It outlined the Government's proposed framework for reform and a series of specific proposals. Submissions received in response were used to draft the bill before the House. The views of key groups are therefore reflected in the bill's provisions. Second, a series of consultative meetings have been held with a range of key groups, including peak environment and industry organisations. They have included the Total Environment Centre, the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservation Council, the New South Wales Farmers' Association, the Urban Taskforce, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, the New South Wales Minerals Council and the Local Government and Shires Associations.
The Scientific Committee, which carries out the critical work of assessing and listing our species, has also been involved in detailed discussions on the shape of these reforms. The bill will now lie on the table of the House until the next sitting week and there will be further opportunities over the coming days to discuss any specific issues that are identified during that period. I now turn to the provisions of the bill itself. First is urban and coastal development. Our spectacular coastline, world famous beaches and vibrant cities draw people from around the world who want to visit and even settle here permanently, and understandably so. But the consequence is that we are experiencing unprecedented development pressure in these areas. We must ensure that this pressure does not result in bad planning and development decisions that contribute to the decline of our biodiversity.
We need to ensure that the areas that draw tourists and new residents are properly protected and that we preserve the very values that make our land so attractive, especially the habitat for many of our most threatened species. One of the most effective ways to achieve long-term protection for threatened species is through strategic planning that ensures conservation while providing new residential areas to house future generations and new economic zones in which new industries can develop and create sustainable new jobs for our children and grandchildren. As I have said, the present law does not systematically build in the conservation of threatened species at the earliest stage of the planning process, when the rules that decide the future uses of the land are written. Rather, threatened species are too often considered very late in the process, only after an individual development application has been submitted and sometimes even after it has obtained all the other consents required to proceed.
Indeed it is not uncommon for some development consents to contain a condition requiring the applicant to obtain a separate threatened species approval from the Department of Environment and Conservation before work can begin. Consequently, the system is often crisis driven. In too many cases debate has been reduced to a black and white decision: it is either the shopping centre or the orchid; the Grevillia or the school hall; threatened species X or development proposal Y. The bill will improve this situation by allowing the Minister for the Environment, or the Minister for Primary Industries in the case of the Fisheries Management Act, to certify an environmental planning instrument that promotes conservation of threatened species and biodiversity more generally. In other words, threatened species conservation will be considered, and even more importantly satisfactorily resolved, at the beginning of the planning process when the local environmental plan, regional environmental plan or other planning instrument is being prepared.
The bill requires the Minister to consider a specified set of criteria before making a decision to certify a particular planning instrument. These are the likely social and economic consequences of the plan, the most efficient and effective use of available resources for conservation, the principles of ecologically sustainable development, and conservation outcomes resulting from reservation of land or through a conservation agreement. Certification is a critical part of the new process. For example, a certified Local Environmental Plan [LEP] could include a special zone within its area to protect high conservation value habitat for threatened species or endangered ecological communities. The LEP could specify that the permissible uses within that zone will be only those that will not harm those conservation values, that is, the zones in the LEP will ensure that habitat for threatened species is conserved and that development proposals will not harm those threatened species.
Of course, it is expected that such an LEP will also have land appropriately zoned for various development purposes. Under this new system, any subsequent proposals for development will not require a separate site-specific assessment for threatened species as is currently required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act or a further approval from the Department of Environment and Conservation. In other words, duplication would be eliminated. The Hunter Economic Zone illustrates how the new system will work. Established near Kurri Kurri, the zone sets aside a large area of land for job creating investments. However, the conservation values of the land were also central to this decision. The developer, the local council and relevant government agencies have developed an LEP that achieves two outcomes. First, it zones land that will protect around 70 per cent of the area for conservation. This area is predominantly threatened species habitat, containing 16 species of threatened animals, two species of threatened plants and two endangered ecological communities.
Second, the LEP zones the rest of the land as being suitable for job-creating development, subject, of course, to the normal environmental assessment process contained in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The Hunter Employment Zone is a relatively small-scale example of how the new system would work. In the case of larger priority areas, the bill will establish new processes to be known as Regional Biodiversity Agreements. These agreements will draw on the substantial conservation information databases created through previous comprehensive regional assessments [CRA]. As the House would be aware, these CRAs have successfully resolved longstanding forestry conflicts in a balanced manner and provided certainty for the timber industry while achieving significant positive conservation outcomes. Regional biodiversity agreements will be central to the Government's strategic planning for areas of high population growth. Each regional biodiversity agreement process will commence with the collection of all current knowledge about the biodiversity values of the area under assessment.
Areas where fieldwork might be needed to complete gaps in existing data will be identified. Such work will be done in an open way, involving local government councils, key stakeholders and local communities, and will identify the key biodiversity assets needed for long-term conservation of threatened species and biodiversity. This bill will provide the mechanism for the relevant Minister to certify new environmental planning instruments that give effect to the outcomes of regional biodiversity assessments. Approvals for development in some areas will be quicker because high conservation value assets will have been protected already in other areas. Work on these assessments will commence on the Far North Coast and extend to other high growth areas, including parts of the greater metropolitan area, Lower Hunter, South Coast-Illawarra and the Sydney-Canberra corridor. Some $700,000 will be made available for this purpose.
Other areas may be identified in the future as high priorities for biodiversity certification, either by a local council or as a result of Government recognition of the area as a State priority. The departments of Environment and Conservation, Infrastructure Planning and Natural Resources and Primary Industries will provide expertise, tools and resources for these regional assessments, working in close collaboration with the councils in each area. Assistance in biodiversity planning will be provided to councils to ensure sound science is used in the process, giving the public greater confidence in subsequent decisions. Guidelines to help councils in preparing their local environmental plans for biodiversity certification will also be made available. Appropriate safeguards are also being put in place to ensure that certified plans are given effect on the ground. The Minister may suspend or revoke certification if in future the environmental planning instrument fails to make appropriate provision for the conservation of threatened species.
Furthermore, if new discoveries are made about threatened species in the area covered by the instrument, the Minister may also request a review of the plan. If that request is not complied with, certification may be withdrawn. However, that would not be done in a manner that would inappropriately undermine the need for certainty for landowners. As I have said, biodiversity certification requires comprehensive assessment and is not appropriate in all areas. If development pressures or biodiversity values are low, then the local council may choose not to seek certification of its LEP. This bill also contains a number of other reforms that will assist in resolving problems that have been identified with the current threatened species laws. These include the lack of comprehensive and consistent guidelines about threatened species assessments and surveys.
New guidelines will be published to assist local government, consultants, developers, the conservation movement and the public in understanding the requirements. The bill will allow the regulations to identify minor developments that will not have a significant effect on threatened species, thereby avoiding trivial and costly assessment and licensing processes. They will cover the majority of applications. Another issue concerns dual assessments under which proponents have to apply a so-called test of significance and then later a species impact statement. The new regulations will identify developments that will have a significant effect on threatened species so that a species impact statement can immediately be prepared, thereby eliminating a two-stage assessment process.
Most applicants for development need to employ specialised consultants to prepare threatened species assessments. Threatened species assessment reports are used to make important decisions, and there is a real need for unbiased and objective information. An accreditation scheme is therefore proposed to improve the quality of information provided by such consultants. Initial accreditation will be based on knowledge and experience, with ongoing accreditation based on performance. A point-score system is now being investigated as a way to manage any poor performance by consultants. The bill also allows for greater flexibility in the granting of concurrence by encouraging the reservation of land, entering into conservation agreements, and restoring threatened species habitat. That will help achieve a "win-win" outcome from development.
I now turn to the operation of the new system in rural areas, in particular, the ways in which it complements the Government's recent reforms of natural resource management. In common with the planning and development system, consideration of threatened species issues on farms and in rural areas tends to occur very late in the process. Farmers may have already gained approval to undertake a particular agricultural activity, only to be told they need to obtain a separate threatened species licence. The new system introduced by this bill will resolve that problem. The cornerstone of the new approach to repairing the landscape in rural New South Wales is a partnership between farmers, conservationists and the Government. This is based on simpler rules and financial incentives for conservation and restoration. The reforms contained in the bill mirror those for native vegetation and are specifically designed to allow farmers to get on with the job of sustainably managing their farms while significantly improving conservation outcomes.
Threatened species and biodiversity conservation does not prevent farmers from undertaking routine activities. To the contrary, under the new system routine agricultural management activities— such as fencing, establishment of farm roads, and control of noxious plants and animals—can occur without the need for a threatened species assessment or licence. The definition of routine agricultural management activities will be consistent with that in the Native Vegetation Act 2003, ensuring the maximum alignment between native vegetation and biodiversity regulation. The Government is also introducing a new approach to property vegetation plans [PVPs], which are the interface between the landholder and the legislation. The PVPs create a simple and fair way to provide incentives to help farmers restore landscapes and conserve native vegetation and biodiversity.
Property vegetation plans are the vehicle by which farmers will access funding to manage native vegetation and biodiversity, including $30 million being made available by the New South Wales Government for biodiversity incentives to help the conservation of threatened species. That is in addition to another $400 million provided by the State and Federal governments in connection with the native vegetation reforms overall. Further, farmers will be free to undertake activities in accordance with a PVP without the need for a separate threatened species licence. Under this bill, that will be possible once the Minister for the Environment has given "biodiversity certification" to the native vegetation reform package as a whole. Those applying for development consents under the Native Vegetation Act will also obtain similar benefits.
Under the current threatened species laws, a farmer may need a threatened species licence and a property vegetation plan. Unless this bill is enacted, this undesirable situation will continue. This bill will, therefore, provide for the Minister for the Environment to give biodiversity certification to the "native vegetation reform package", which is defined as: the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and the regulations under that Act; statewide standards and targets for natural resource management issues adopted by the Government under the Natural Resources Commission Act 2003; catchment action plans under the Catchment Management Authorities Act 2003; protocols and guidelines adopted or made under the regulations of the Native Vegetation Act 2003; the Catchment Management Authorities Act 2003; and the Natural Resources Commission Act 2003.
In deciding whether to give biodiversity certification to the native vegetation reform package, the Minister will ensure that threatened species and biodiversity are appropriately addressed under the package. This will empower catchment management authorities as the single interface with farmers who enter into and comply with the terms of property vegetation plans. The framework to support catchment management authorities and farmers to develop these PVPs has used world-class science to focus on protecting landscapes, rather than individual plants and animals. This is underpinned by the Government's policy to end broadscale clearing.
Under this bill, the protection of threatened species will become important in the delivery of financial incentives to farmers. At present, many farmers consider threatened species to be liabilities. The new system will make them central to their everyday work. Under this bill and the native vegetation reform package, the catchment management authorities will have clear standards, targets and guidelines that address threatened species conservation. Development consents and property vegetation plans will incorporate the protection of threatened species. Farmers can then go ahead and farm in accordance with the consent or the PVP without obtaining further threatened species approvals.
To ensure that the new system is implemented reliably, the bill provides that the Minister for the Environment may withdraw biodiversity certification in relation to specific areas if, for example, the catchment management authority fails to act consistently with the native vegetation reforms or otherwise fails to protect threatened species through its core activities. This may emerge as a result of an audit by the Natural Resources Commission, or through other means. Withdrawal of certification would not affect property vegetation plans already issued. The bill provides for a new way of doing business in rural New South Wales. If we work together and make this system effective, we will be able to channel millions of dollars onto farms to improve the condition of native vegetation and revegetate over-cleared landscapes, thereby also protecting our many threatened species.
The Government is committed to retaining a scientifically robust and credible process to list threatened species. The Government believes that listing decisions should continue to be made by an independent scientific body. Whether a species is threatened with extinction or not is a matter of scientific fact, not an arbitrary opinion. The bill more clearly separates two key stages in threatened species conservation: The first is identifying the threats, which is a role of science and the relevant scientific committee; and the second is to motivate the community as a whole to implement effective recovery plans. The Government acknowledges the difficult work that the scientific committee has to do and the very high levels of commitment shown by committee members over the years. The bill provides for significant improvements to the operations of the committee.
First, the relevant Minister will have the ability to refer a draft determination back to the scientific committees for further consideration if additional scientific assessment is warranted as a result of fresh information being provided to the Minister. This will improve the accountability of the committees and provide an opportunity for affected industries or members of the public to present to the Ministers extra information they believe is relevant so that it can be considered by the committees before they make final determinations. The relevant scientific committee will also be required to publish its reasons for decisions against criteria modelled on those prescribed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This will provide a standardised framework for decision-making.
To ensure that the relevant committee's resources are tightly focused on the areas of highest need, a new system will be instituted that will enable nominations to be given priorities and to determine what resources are required to examine each nomination. The bill also provides that this can be informed by recommendations of the Natural Resources Commission or the relevant Minister and takes into account statewide issues of concern in biodiversity conservation. The relevant committee will also have the additional function of providing advice to the Natural Resources Commission on matters of a scientific nature as they relate specifically to threatened species.
Under the bill's provisions, the scientific committees may also consider the recommendations of the Natural Resources Committee or the relevant Minister as to what investigations should be undertaken to identify threatened in specific regions of the State. This new process is in addition to the existing nomination process under which anybody can propose the listing of a species to the scientific committees. In addition, the Natural Resources Commission will now also be able to make such nominations. Finally, the bill introduces the new categories of critically endangered ecological communities and critically endangered species—that is, those which are at an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future.
Under the current system, a recovery plan must be prepared for every threatened species. For current listings alone, this could amount to over 900 plans. To date around 60 recovery plans and two threat abatement plans have been approved. Those figures indicate that this particular process has become an ineffective way of achieving recovery for threatened species. It was effective when we knew of 80 threatened species, but it cannot be effective when we know of 900 threatened species. Therefore, under the bill, it is proposed that relative priorities for action would be identified in a priorities action statement, including realistic performance indicators to ensure accountability. Public accountability will be increased through a public exhibition and consultation process.
The recovery priority statement will be reviewed and updated every three years, after input has been sought from the Natural Resources Commission, the Scientific Committee, the Social and Economic Advisory Council and the Biological Diversity Advisory Council as well as government agencies and the community. The priority statement will include a description of the means to be adopted for achieving recovery of each listed species and for the abatement of each listed threat. These may include action to secure or repair habitat through the land-use planning system or the reformed natural resource management system, or additions to the reserve network, or private conservation agreements. In short, this bill will increase the effectiveness of threatened species recovery and conservation through a more realistic process of planning and by integration with mainstream planning and natural resources decision-making processes.
I mention some other provisions of the bill. The bill provides for a statutory Social and Economic Advisory Committee. Membership of the committee will be skills-based and require expertise in areas such as natural resource management, economics, social impact assessment or industry and agriculture. Key stakeholders will be asked to nominate members to this committee.The committee's functions will be to advise the Minister, the Director General of the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Natural Resources Commission on the likely social and economic impacts of listing decisions, and to inform subsequent government decisions such as the preparation of recovery or threat abatement plans. The bill also provides for the Biological Diversity Advisory Council to be retained. Its members will need to have expertise in biological diversity, biological science or environmental science. Its function will be to advise on the likely impacts on biological diversity of actions to be taken under the Act following a listing by the Scientific Committees.
The benefits of the threatened species reforms will also extend to aquatic biodiversity. Fourteen New South Wales fish species and two populations are threatened, including icon species such as the grey nurse shark, silver perch, and the eastern freshwater cod. Many of these species were once abundant over wide areas, but without our concerted efforts they face extinction. Schedule 2 to the bill amends the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act to introduce the reforms and to ensure consistency between the Threatened Species Conservation Act and the Fisheries Management Act.
The alignment of the legislation provides further evidence of the New South Wales Government's commitment to ensuring that farmers, conservationists and developers experience one consistent system. In addition to the reforms already discussed, key changes to the Fisheries Management Act involve making the Fisheries Scientific Committee responsible for amending the threatened species lists of the Fisheries Management Act. The ministerial order-making provisions that are unique to the Fisheries Management Act have been retained to allow the Minister to deal with specific issues relating to fishing activities.
I conclude by saying that this bill gives full effect to the reforms embodied in the Native Vegetation Act and will complete the Government's response to the historic Wentworth group's report. It will also ensure that New South Wales does a better job of protecting our unique plants, animals and marine species in areas like Western Sydney, the Hunter, Illawarra and the North Coast, where rapid population growth and development pressures demand balanced outcomes between biodiversity, housing, employment and community infrastructure. The community demands that we act more strongly to prevent extinctions and irretrievable loss of our natural heritage. The bill fulfils our duty in that respect to future generations. I commend it to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Michael Richardson.
ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS TRIBUNAL AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.36 a.m.], on behalf of Mr Bob Debus: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Government is pleased to introduce the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Amendment Bill. The bill amends the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act 1997 to streamline the interlocutory and appeals processes in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. It also makes related amendments to certain other Acts which provide for applications or appeals to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. These are the Architects Act 2003, the Surveying Act 2002, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1986, the Veterinary Practice Act 2003, and the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.
This bill will allow the tribunal to realise considerable annual savings and reduce administrative delays. It will also allow tribunal members to concentrate on the tribunal's core jurisdiction, which is to make and review administrative decisions that affect people's rights and resolve general complaints. A conservative estimate of the annual savings that can be achieved if the amendments are passed is $168,000. The savings will result chiefly from single member hearings of interlocutory matters and introducing appeals by leave in respect of interlocutory matters. Under proposed section 24A of the Act, the president will have the authority to direct that, in an interlocutory matter whether at first instance or on appeal, the tribunal may be constituted by one member. Consequently, the tribunal will no longer be required to convene multi-member panels to hear all interlocutory matters.
The benefit of this reform is twofold. The first benefit is that matters can proceed more quickly. Previously the tribunal experienced difficulty in convening panels to hear matters. Single member panels will ensure that more interlocutory decisions are disposed of. The second benefit is a considerable reduction in costs. The cost of panel hearings of the tribunal can be over four times greater than the cost of a hearing by a single member. The tribunal can expect to save at least $111,000 as a result of this reform. The introduction of appeals by leave from interlocutory decisions will also produce administrative efficiencies. Under new subsections (2A), (2B) and (2C) of section 113, the president has authority to direct that an appeal panel be constituted by a single presidential judicial member. Appeals from interlocutory decisions will only proceed with the leave of the appeal panel. This means the tribunal will have the power to control the number of interlocutory matters that proceed to appeal, with the result that the number of appeals heard is likely to drop. As a result, the tribunal's resources will not be wasted on hearing appeals which lack merit or which are likely to fail.
A third reform is to remove the right of appeal to the appeal panel of the tribunal in matters involving architects, surveyors and veterinary surgeons. A decision of the tribunal at first instance in these professional proceedings may now be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. It is proposed that appeals to an appeal panel of the tribunal are to be abolished by amendment of the Architects Act 2003, the Surveying Act 2002, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1986 and the Veterinary Practice Act 2003. It is proposed to amend each Act with an identical provision that states that the appeals provisions of the ADT Act do not apply to a review decision or original decision of the tribunal. The proposed amending provisions in the Architects Act are sections 58A and 58B, in the Surveying Act sections 32A and 32B, and in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1986 and Veterinary Practice Act 2003, sections 54G, 54H, 91A and 91B.
The advantage of abolishing a right of appeal to the tribunal in these matters is considerable. Individuals subject to disciplinary hearings, fighting for their professional reputation and their professional livelihood, will typically refuse to accept adverse findings. They will continue to appeal to the ultimate level of the Supreme Court before they accept a finding. In doing so, they can place a considerable burden on the resources of the tribunal. The tribunal has a broad and diverse workload that requires careful administrative management. It cannot afford to make ineffective use of the time of its members, especially judicial members, who are called to participate in a great variety of hearings. In the past, it has been unusual for an appeal panel of the tribunal to overturn the decision of the tribunal at first instance. The appeal decision usually confirms the original decision, in whole or part. Even so, the person who finds that an adverse decision of the tribunal has been confirmed at the appeal level of the tribunal will still usually appeal to the Supreme Court.
This means that, so far as the tribunal is concerned, the time it spends on hearing appeals against original decisions on professional discipline matters is usually wasted. The original decision has been confirmed and the unsuccessful party appeals to the Supreme Court. It is appropriate that the intermediate right of appeal to an appeal panel should be abolished. It means the parties to professional disciplinary proceedings have a direct right of appeal to the Supreme Court and the tribunal is placed in a position to allocate judicial members to other matters. The abolition of the intermediate right of appeal was implemented in 2001 in relation to legal practitioners and licensed conveyancers. That reform has been uncontroversial. Last year, the cost of hearing appeals against professional disciplinary decisions was at least $41,000. Therefore the reform, once implemented, is likely to produce not only administrative efficiencies but also substantial savings.
In respect of rights of appeal to the Supreme Court, the proposed amending provisions in the Architects Act are contained in a new part 4A, in the Surveying Act in a new part 6A, and in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1986 and Veterinary Practice Act 2003 in new parts 6B and 9A. Supreme Court appeals in relation to architects and surveyors will work as follows. Any party to proceedings in the tribunal can appeal to the Supreme Court against the tribunal's decision on a question of law. If the court grants leave, they can obtain a review on the merits. However, an appeal against any interlocutory decision, or a decision made by consent, or a decision as to costs, can be made only by leave of the Supreme Court.
In relation to veterinary practitioners, similar rules apply but with a number of differences that relate principally to the category of decision made by the tribunal. A decision of the tribunal made following review of a decision of the Veterinary Practitioners Board may be appealed by a party to the tribunal proceedings on a point of law, or with leave, on the merits. A decision of the tribunal in relation to a disciplinary order made under the relevant section of the veterinary legislation may be appealed to the Supreme Court by a veterinary practitioner, or former veterinary practitioner, on a point of law or, with the court's leave, on the merits. The person who made the original complaint may also appeal the decision, but only on a point of law or in relation to any penalty imposed. In relation to both original and review decisions, appeals against interlocutory decisions, decisions by consent or decisions as to costs can be made only by leave of the Supreme Court.
The bill also amends the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1988. The amendment is made by adding a new sub-paragraph (j) to section 264 (1) of the Act. This section sets out matters in relation to which regulations may be made under the Act. The aim of the amendment is to allow for the tribunal to review certain decisions made in relation to a family day care children's service. Until now, only the Supreme Court has had power to review such decisions. Granting a power of review to the tribunal will facilitate quick, practicable and resource effective access to review. In relation to transitional arrangements, the bill provides that all amending legislation, except that relating to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, commences on the date of proclamation. However, the new rights created will not apply to two categories of proceedings.
The first category is pending proceedings before an appeal panel. If proceedings were instituted in exercise of an existing right of appeal and had not been determined by the appeal panel at the date of commencement then the proceedings are to be determined as if the new legislation had not been enacted. The second category relates to interlocutory matters. New subsections (2A), (2B) and (2C) of section 113 will not apply to any accrued right of appeal to an appeal panel that had not been exercised, or any appeal that was pending before the panel on the date of commencement. In relation to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, the amendment proposed will commence on the date of assent to the proposed Act. In conclusion, this bill will bring real benefits to our system of administrative review. It will allow the tribunal to utilise its resources more effectively to hear more matters more quickly. It will, in short, improve access to justice in administrative matters. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire.
PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.50 a.m.], on behalf of Mr Bob Debus: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
New South Wales is the leading jurisdiction in Australia with respect to professional standards legislation. New South Wales has had professional standards legislation in place since 1994 and was followed by Western Australia in 1997. In August 2003, at a ministerial meeting on insurance issues, all States and Territories agreed to implement nationally consistent professional standards legislation. It was recognised that a national approach to professional standards legislation is one of a number of strategies to address the ongoing availability and affordability of professional indemnity insurance. Through the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, New South Wales also encouraged other jurisdictions to adopt a national approach to professional standards legislation. The standing committee agreed to a national approach on this issue at its meeting in August 2003.
Professional standards legislation facilitates the capping of occupational liability, while also protecting consumer interests through requirements for insurance and the implementation of risk management strategies and complaints and disciplinary procedures. In New South Wales there are currently seven schemes approved under the Professional Standards Act 1994. These schemes cover accountants, solicitors, engineers, surveyors and valuers. The Professional Standards Council is currently considering a draft scheme for barristers. The Professional Standards Amendment Bill will implement a number of changes to ensure that the New South Wales Act is consistent with the Victorian Professional Standards Act 2003 and with professional standards bills developed in other States and Territories, and will implement a number of improvements to the New South Wales Act suggested by the Professional Standards Council, which is the independent body that administers the legislation.
I now turn to the provisions of the bill. The bill amends the definition of "occupational association" to include associations that comprise members of more than one related occupational group. Increasingly, occupational associations have more diverse memberships that may include several related occupational groups. The bill extends coverage of the Act to liability arising from the negligence of legal practitioners in acting for clients in personal injury claims. This is consistent with the spirit of tort law reforms introduced by the Government in 2002 that limit the amounts that may be awarded for certain heads of damages. The Professional Standards Act 1994 currently contains provisions that extend schemes approved under the Act to partners, employees and associates of members of an occupational association. The bill broadens these provisions to extend schemes to officers of a corporation that is a member of an occupational association.
The operation of these provisions is also clarified so that they will apply to limit the liability of partners, officers, employees and associates that arises in connection with the liability of the member of the occupational association. The bill contains a number of important amendments to increase the flexibility in schemes approved under the Professional Standards Act 1994. First, the bill increases the flexibility for specifying different caps on liability in a scheme for different cases or classes. It also enables individual scheme members to apply for a higher cap than would otherwise apply to them under a scheme. These amendments recognise that members of occupational associations may offer different services or undertake different activities that attract different levels of risk. Secondly, the bill enables multiples, monetary ceilings and caps on liability within schemes to be expressed as a formula, instead of being limited to a single, fixed numeral. This enables different variables to be taken into account.
Thirdly, the bill enables different insurance standards to be set for members within an occupational association. Different standards may be set for different kinds of work or on the basis of any other differing circumstances that are relevant. The bill also removes the need for the Professional Standards Council to seek ministerial approval to conduct forums and establish committees to assist in the exercise of its functions. Instead, there will be a requirement for the council to include in its annual report details of any forums conducted and of any committees established during the reporting period. Finally, the bill contains a number of clarifying amendments. Firstly, provisions dealing with the relevance to the cap on liability of the amount payable under an insurance policy will be amended to make it clear that the amount payable under an insurance policy includes any excess payable.
Secondly, provisions enabling a cap on liability to be calculated as a multiple of the fee charged will be amended to clarify that if the multiple produces an amount less than the minimum cap, liability for damages will be limited to the minimum cap. The Act currently provides for a minimum cap of $500,000. The Professional Standards Amendment Bill builds upon and implements a range of improvements to a system that has generally worked well in New South Wales¯a system that has now been adopted by other States and Territories. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2004-05
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.54 a.m.], on behalf of Mr Carl Scully: I move:
Mr PAUL GIBSON
That the House take note of the budget estimates and related papers for 2004-05.
(Blacktown) [10.55 a.m.]: It is indeed a pleasure to speak on the budget that was brought down in this House by Michael Egan, the Treasurer, on 22 June 2004. The major winners in the budget include a record capital works program of more than $30 billion to be spent over four years. The budget also includes an extra $717 million for education and training for the coming year, which will fully fund the recent pay increases awarded to teachers and the continued reduction in class sizes as planned. Other major funding increases in the coming year include $707 million for health and hospitals, $350 million for passenger rail transport, $100 million for community services for children and $110 million for people with disabilities, older people and their carers. Of course, an additional 800 public school teachers will be appointed by the State Government during the year to help in the reduction of class sizes. I am a firm believer that the increases in teachers' salaries were totally justified.
The budget shows a deficit for this financial year of about $300 million, a very modest deficit indeed. If the mini-budget expenses are added to that, the deficit will be in the vicinity of $379 million. Bear in mind that after eight consecutive budgets in surplus that is a very good result for the Government. The Carr Labor Government has been one of the most successful governments fiscally in the history of this State. One has to remember that the underlying general government net debt stood at 7.4 per cent of gross State product [GSP] in 1995, and is now down to 1 per cent of GSP. By 2008 it is expected to be just 0.6 per cent of GSP. The State's net worth will reach $123.6 billion this budget year, the highest net worth of any government in Australia, Commonwealth or State. By comparison, in 1995, the State net worth was $790 billion. It is interesting to consider that only Queensland has a better balance sheet than New South Wales, and that for a long time New South Wales taxpayers have massively subsidised Queensland. I note that the Leader of the Opposition has added strength to the argument that New South Wales has been severely damaged by the Federal Government's shortcomings. I totally agree with him.
The State Labor Government will fund capital works with a record $29.902 million in funding over the coming four years. This is an increase of $4.787 million, or 19.1 per cent, on the $25.115 million expenditure in the previous four years. This huge investment in the future of the State is most welcome. In the coming year alone this new investment will total $7.463 million, comprising $3.614 million in the general government sector and $3.852 million in government business and utilities. That is more than $20 million invested every single day of the year in creating and sustaining jobs and improving the social fabric and economic strength of this great State.
Over the coming 12 months the Education and Training budget will be increased to more than $9.7 billion, representing an increase of $726.6 million, or 8.1 per cent, on last year's budget. This confirms our commitment to public education in New South Wales. Our State's teachers continue to be the highest paid teachers in the land, and I believe that is reasonable. In keeping with the promise we made, $462.5 million in funding will be spent over the next four years to employ additional teachers and provide additional classrooms to reduce class sizes in kindergarten to year 2. This year $45.6 million will be spent on supporting the State's 33,500 Aboriginal students. That will be money well spent because Aboriginal students' results are well below the State average and we must do all we can to improve that situation, not only as a State but also as a nation.
Over the coming year the New South Wales Government will pour record levels of funding into health services, reaching an all-time high budget of $9.97 billion. Families living in rural and regional New South Wales will also benefit from a boost of $181.5 million, a 7 per cent increase on last year's funding, to a record $2.78 billion for improved health care, which represents a 106 per cent increase in Health funding since 1994-95. The State Government is a government not only for people living in big cities but also for our rural brothers and sisters.
A very pleasing part of the budget is the increased expenditure for mental health services. A massive boost of an extra $68 million, an increase of 9.5 per cent, will bring the level of program expenditure for mental health services to a record $783 million in the coming financial year. Funding for mental health services in New South Wales has increased by 121 per cent since 1994-95. Additional recurrent funding of $428 million has enabled significant development in mental health care throughout New South Wales. The State Government is to spend $1.385 million to strengthen support for older people, people with disabilities, and their families and carers. This represents an increase of 8.6 per cent on last year's budget. I am proud to say that although the State Government, like all governments, has at times made mistakes, it has sought to address shortfalls that governments of the past have totally neglected.
A further $2 billion has been provided to NSW Police for front-line policing law enforcement initiatives for the coming 12 months. The budget represents a 6.3 per cent increase on last year's funding, and it means an additional $190 million this year for NSW Police. As the Minister for Police said yesterday, the level of crime in this State is the lowest it has been for many years. That is a direct reflection on the great job our police do, and also on the massive amount of funding that the Government provides for policing in this State.
A large expenditure item in the budget is the $2.75 billion for public transport, an increase of $180 million, or 7 per cent, on last year's budget. RailCorp funding includes funding for CityRail and CountryLink, recurrent programs, and a further $422 million for capital works. Additional funding of $354 million will be available for passenger rail services, demonstrating the Government's commitment to providing safe, reliable and clean transport for the people of New South Wales. Over the next six years approximately $2.5 billion will be borrowed to fund the Rail Clearways Program and the purchase of new rolling stock under a public-private partnership. This will be money well spent and will be very much appreciated by the people of this State.
The Department of Community Services [DOCS] will have a record budget of $903.7 million in the coming financial year. This represents a 12.5 per cent increase on last year's budget, and it brings major funding increases to DOCS key programs. Budgets in key areas have increased by up to 18.7 per cent, and this will have a significant impact on children and young people in need of care and protection. A highlight of the increased budget spending for DOCS is the continued rollout of its $1.2 billion five-year funding package announced in December 2002.
Many other areas have received increased funding in this budget, but I wish to refer to how the budget affects my electorate of Blacktown. With regard to major works, funding has been allocated for the construction of a new courthouse in Blacktown, with $3.4 million being provided this year to commence construction of the $4.4 million Blacktown court development. The Blacktown two-court complex will be expanded to a three-court complex, with additional facilities, including interview rooms and waiting rooms. The $4.4 million project will involve building a new courthouse on the existing courtyard in Kildare Road, with $3.4 million earmarked for construction in 2004-05. The court facility has been much needed for some time, and it is great to see it happening. Blacktown South Public School will receive funding for a long-awaited hall and canteen. Funding will also be provided for the establishment of a covered outdoor learning area.
A rolltotal of $25 million in funding will be spent on public transport in the Blacktown area, which represents a great investment for the future. This year a total of $13.1 million will be spent on local transport, with $25.476 million to be spent on local roads. An amount of $8 million has been allocated for stage one of the north-west transitway, which is one of the key initiatives of the budget. The construction phase will commence between now and 2005. An allocation of $34.6 million has been provided for 2004-05 to upgrade and improve road safety and travelling conditions in the Blacktown area. An amount of $820,000 will be spent on the proposed Blacktown cycleway between Prospect Reservoir and Blacktown railway station, and $250,000 will be spent on improvements to Main Street, Blacktown. The projects are part of a commitment we made to Blacktown council last year to provide $1 million to upgrade the main street of Blacktown. That will be money very well spent.
The budget once again builds on the Government's strong record on improving roads in the Blacktown area. A total of $4 million will be spent on important maintenance work on State and regional roads in the area, and Blacktown council will receive almost $2 million of State funds to help maintain its local roads. Updating Main Street, Blacktown is an important initiative. Some $400 million will be spent on rebuilding the Queensland Investment Corporation shopping centre in Blacktown. I am told that on its completion it will be the second-largest shopping centre in the nation. Because of that it will be necessary to spend money to improve the main street to ensure that it keeps pace with the new developments taking place in Blacktown and does not become a second choice for people who want to shop in the Blacktown area.
As I said, we have spent record sums of money on Health. I draw the attention of the House and the Minister to the aligning of Blacktown Hospital with Mount Druitt Hospital and the changing services in those areas. I have received representations from members of my electorate who are concerned that the children's ward at Blacktown Hospital may be moved to Mount Druitt. Blacktown today has a population of more than 300,000 people, whose average age is among the youngest in New South Wales. I place on record that we have a brand new hospital at Blacktown, and I have no doubt that if any area needs a children's ward it is Blacktown. I ask the Minister and those concerned to have another look at the situation. Rather than move the children's hospital from one of the youngest average-age areas in the State, I believe it may be better to keep the children's hospital at Blacktown and perhaps move some other services.
The Government has spent a great deal of money on roads in the Blacktown area. A bus transitway is to be built along Sunnyholt Road, and the Government has purchased a number of private properties on that road which will have to be demolished in order for the transitway to be built. The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] recently called for tenders for the removal of 50 houses. The tender was given to the lowest tenderer, who in turn retendered it, and the next tenderer gave the work to subcontractors. Union representatives went out and inspected the area last week and it was discovered that 47 of those houses contain asbestos and were being pulled down without any consideration of WorkCover provisions or safety precautions. When union representatives returned the following day most of the workers had disappeared. It has been alleged that most of those workers were illegal immigrants. I hope that the money provided in the budget for the RTA will ensure that if it tenders a job out it will maintain some control over the tender and make sure that everything is done properly. Not only were those workers not afforded proper health and safety precautions but they were being paid on a daily basis, with no superannuation contributions. The RTA can do better than that.
With regard to schools, recently a delegation of about 100 school cleaners came to my office to address the issue of their tenure of employment following the proposal that early next year the Government will call for tenders for school cleaning contracts. I remember quite well that when this Government was in opposition and my friend the Hon. Nick Greiner was Premier of this State he decided to put cleaning contracts out for tender, and the cleaners had a major concern about the security of their jobs. Premier Greiner gave them that security. Their contracts provided that their jobs would be guaranteed when the contract ended. When the contracts were called for in 1999 the same provisions were included in them: they would be guaranteed employment, and their jobs would be retained. Cleaners now tell me that the proposal that will be considered between now and some time early next year does not contain that component. I urge the Government to look at the cleaners' situation and to make sure that we give these people security of employment.
One thing that is never mentioned when we talk about cleaners in our schools is the passive security that they provide to the schools. Not only do they open the gates in the morning and close them late at night, but they also turn on the security alarms. They provide a passive security that I am certain would disappear if cleaners' employment were contracted out. These cleaners have been pushed fairly hard over the years and they maintain that it is reaching the stage where it is virtually impossible for them to do the jobs that they should be doing. I have been told that many schools in my area are not as clean as they used to be and that it is not the problem with the cleaners; the problem is the time that they are allotted in which to do their work. I hope that the Government and the Minister will look at this situation. If any government should be looking after these people it should be a State Labor Government. I hope that this Labor Government has a look at the situation and gives these cleaners—who have done a wonderful job over the years—the security of future employment that they deserve. Blacktown is a growing area. It is an area with great demands and an area that we can be very proud of. I commend the motion to the House.
Mr PETER DEBNAM
(Vaucluse) [11.15 a.m.]: In speaking to the budget I want to comment on two sieges that are under way on the streets of Sydney. The first is currently in place around a bank in North Sydney, where it is believed an armed robbery is in progress and there may be hostages in the bank. That again highlights the problem we have in New South Wales of violent, armed criminals running free in some suburbs, especially in the inner west of Sydney, and in particular engaging in armed robbery. I sincerely hope this incident—which again demonstrates the Carr Government's failed policing policies—is satisfactorily resolved, with both the armed robbers in custody and any hostages freed safely. Obviously every member would join with me in sincerely hoping the incident can be resolved safely for the bank employees involved.
The second siege is also on the streets of Sydney, and it involves 15,000 people from Clubs NSW marching against this Government. Those people are currently marching towards Parliament House; they will be out the front in a few minutes. It is interesting to note that, almost without exception, every Labor Party member who is listed to speak on the budget this morning is on the list of Labor caucus members who voted to review the clubs tax but did not have the guts to come into the House—the place where they represent their communities—and vote with their communities. Instead they buckled under to Sussex Street and voted with the Carr Government to impose this outrageous tax on the clubs of New South Wales. So when the 15,000 people reach the gates of Parliament House, members ought to understand that their anger and their concern is not focused on the Premier and Michael Egan, it is focused on the members of the lower House of New South Wales, the Labor members of Parliament who have imposed this tax on them—and that is going to be almost every Labor speaker in the House today.
I want to comment on a number of issues relating to policing and the budget, and I will do that by reviewing the year. It is disturbing to go back and see what has happened since the last budget was handed down. Very little has changed in New South Wales. There is a little more emphasis on the Government's spin, a little more emphasis on media manipulation, but very little has changed. Last year I made a number of speeches on the clubs tax, including a speech in September under the heading "Gaming Machine Tax".
I acknowledge the selfless efforts of community clubs in my electorate and across the State. I will also relay their concerns about the Carr Government's betrayal of clubs. I deliberately did not say Bob Carr and Michael Egan's betrayal because every member of the Carr Government, including the two Labor members in the Chamber this morning, must take responsibility. Since the State election there has been an outrageous and unprovoked attack on community service clubs in New South Wales.
That was in September, and nothing has changed. The Carr Government, including backbench members and every Labor member of this House and the other House, has continued to thumb its nose at clubs across New South Wales. It is no wonder that 15,000 people will march on the Parliament this morning to demonstrate against that tax. When I spoke in the budget debate last year I made a number of comments, and repeated Michael Egan's words, "This budget is every inch a Labor budget". I confirm that it is every inch a Labor budget. It is an outrage that we have to endure whenever the Treasurer comes into this House. I remind the House that the Hon. Michael Egan was actually thrown out of this House in 1984.
This is the twentieth anniversary of Michael Egan being thrown out of this House. If there is one thing we should have celebrated in the last 20 years, it is that. But Michael Egan, being the political animal that he is, managed to claw his way back into Parliament through the upper House, and he now manages to claw his way back into the lower House once a year to give us his Budget Speech—although this year he has done it twice, with two attacks on the community and two budget speeches. It should be remembered that the Budget Speech he delivers every single year and the budget papers are simply a fantasy, a fairytale. They bear little relation to the reality of budgeting in departments and to the actual figures that will be confirmed at the end of the year.
As I speak I can hear the cries of the community in the street, the 15,000 people who are now besieging Parliament, demonstrating against the Carr Government. I stress that they are not demonstrating against the Premier or Michael Egan; they are demonstrating against the honourable member for Campbelltown, who is at the table, members from the Central Coast and members from inner Western Sydney—all those who have betrayed their communities. During the budget debate last year I also referred to an article written by Paul Kelly headed "The Carr Formula for Crean". It was part of the Premier's campaign for Canberra at that time. I said that the Premier was doing it for two reasons. First, he was giving Simon Crean advice because he is a total hypocrite and, second, because he wanted to get rid of, and create some sort of debate about, Simon Crean. The Premier was successful: he managed to stab Simon Crean in the back. He was part of the campaign to get rid of him and we have ended up with that idiot Mark Latham in charge of the Labor Party now.
Mr Graham West:
Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance and the casting of aspersions on the Leader of the Opposition, who will make a great Prime Minister when the election is held on 9 October.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr John Mills):
Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr PETER DEBNAM:
The honourable member for Campbelltown betrayed his community, and obviously continues to betray his community, by pretending that Mark Latham will do anything for them. As I said, the Premier did that for two reasons. First, because he is a total hypocrite—he was giving financial management advice to Simon Crean when he has blown the New South Wales budget every year that he has been Premier; and, second, because he wanted to get rid of Simon Crean. The classic comment by the Premier in that article related to economics. He said, "Fiscal responsibility is the foundation of everything you do."
The nightmare we have in New South Wales at the moment, with the Carr Government attacking every single portfolio and squeezing the front line while protecting the bureaucracy, goes back to the lack of fiscal responsibility in New South Wales for every year that the Carr Government has been in power. I will refer in particular to the Police budget, but it also applies to every single portfolio. The Carr Government did not know how to manage the budget and did not require departments to manage the budget. It simply benefited from an extraordinary flow of revenue every year, mostly related to the property boom, and it spent that money.
In regard to the Police budget, last year I made the point that since the election the Carr Government had squeezed front-line policing. Nothing has changed. Here we are, 18 months later, and the Carr Government is still squeezing front-line policing. I also made the point that if one took all the Carr Government's budgeted revenue for five years and compared it to the actual revenue the Carr Government had taken over that five years, there would be an amount of $8.4 billion of additional revenue that was unbudgeted. That is additional, unexpected money that came into New South Wales Treasury over a five-year period.
Imagine what could have been done with that $8.4 billion; what could have been done to fix police stations across the State. Hundreds of police stations are in a state of disrepair. That $8.4 billion could have been used to repair, upgrade and replace police stations across New South Wales over that five-year period. But it was not; it was squandered. That $8.4 billion could have been used to repair the rail system that resulted in so many accidents and in the deaths in January last year. That $8.4 billion would have gone a long way to fixing the problems in our hospitals and schools. Instead, the money was squandered. That $8.4 billion of extra, unbudgeted revenue is a reality in New South Wales and it is an indictment of the Carr Government during its term of office.
The other point I made last year related to gun crime. I had raised this issue since April-May last year, and month after month the Carr Government—the Premier and the Minister for Police—dismissed it and said it was not a problem. Finally, in September-October a task force was established, but only after a number of people had died in gun battles in the streets of south-western Sydney. I might add that a year later Task Force Gain, and Bob Inkster in particular, have done a great job in cleaning up some of the mess, but the problem continues. I will return to that. The reason the Premier dismissed the issue of gun crime was that he is so far removed from the people of New South Wales. He gets into his limo in the eastern suburbs every day, drives into the city or wherever he is going, and hops out of his limo. He never sees real people, apart from those sycophants in his office who would do his bidding 24 hours a day. He is totally out of touch.
Again I can hear the cries of the clubs rally in front of Parliament House. There are 15,000 people crying for the Premier's blood. One of the real problems that I mentioned last year, and it remains today, is that probably in the order of 50 per cent of instances of crime are simply not reported. Only two crimes have high reporting rates. The theft of a car has a reporting rate of about 95 per cent because it is most people's second biggest asset and they want either their car returned or the money. The second crime with a high reporting rate is break, enter and steal, with a reporting rate of 70 per cent, mainly because a police incident number is needed for insurance claims. All other crimes have low reporting rates across the State. In fact, some are appallingly low. I have tried to encourage the Carr Government to undertake an education campaign to lift the reporting rate for all crime, but it has failed to do so.
There is no shortage of reports from the Auditor-General, the Productivity Commission and others to indicate that New South Wales does not compare well with other States, especially on clear-up rates. We have a major problem with unsolved crime, and I will return later to that issue. I referred last year to the underlying problem of the Premier's priorities. His first priority in relation to policing is obviously to publicise police successes, and that is good. However, he needs to keep in balance the resources that are applied to that priority. The second priority is to cover up police problems, which he does very well. He has established a secret police State under the Minister for Police, which is being effectively managed to clamp down on any information flow. I have put numerous questions to the Minister over recent months but the Questions and Answers
paper that was released today shows that almost without exception those questions have not been answered. The secret police State continues.
The Premier's third priority is clearly to reduce the perception of crime. There will be an advertising campaign in the run-up to the next election in which the Premier will tell the community that crime is not a problem. Crime is a problem on many streets in Sydney and New South Wales and the perception of crime issue simply demonstrates that the Carr Government is out of touch with real crime. The Government continues to push Operation Vikings, which is a media strategy rather than a policing strategy. Let us consider those priorities compared to the public priorities. The public priorities are, first, to get police back on the beat; and, second, to get faster response times. They are not getting faster response times or more police on the beat. The third priority is to solve crimes. The clear-up rate of crime has been falling for the past few years. Clearly, the public's fourth priority is to reduce crime. Except in the case of property related crime, which, because of the heroin drought, is increasing, it is fair to say that the majority of crime categories in New South Wales have increased since Bob Carr became Premier, and I will run through them in a few minutes.
Last year I mentioned a horrific story about a policeman and his family who were intimidated and run out of Boggabri. The offenders could not be caught; they were still at large and were intimidating the police officer. There was a repeat of that this year when an Aboriginal liaison officer was forced out of Redfern because he was subjected to threats. When the Government cannot protect police in the community there is a major problem. One must ask across the State: Who is happy with the police budget? I do not think many people are happy with it. Last year I spoke about John Lee in Maitland, who continues to suffer problems because of his video shop being under regular attack. I spoke about the problems in Lexington Place in the Premier's electorate.
Almost every suburb in every town and city across New South Wales continues to have major policing problems, whether they relate to crime, antisocial behaviour or public disorder. It is clear that the budget priorities for the Carr Government last year and this year are not front-line policing or criminal investigations. It let the number of detectives run down and it still has not taken dramatic action to increase substantially the number of detectives. The Government's priority is all about resources. A number of extraordinary situations in the police media unit in the past year clearly demonstrated that it was simply a propaganda unit. Those resources should go to the front line.
I turn to the squeeze on police resources. In May last year I highlighted a Haymarket murder investigation that was simply stopped or suspended because of the squeeze on resources. Strike Force Therapy was looking into an attempted murder at Haymarket in October 2002, but the investigation was suspended in April. In that same May I highlighted again the thugs with guns on our streets. I tried to get the Government to address that issue, but I failed. It was not until September or October that I managed to wake up the Premier and tell him that there was a problem, and he put in place resources for a task force. Back in May I was saying please adopt a five point plan: First, admit there is a problem; second, immediately double funding and resources for the investigation of shootings; third, implement a police strategy for random weapon searches of vehicles in crime hot spots; fourth, look at the reward system and improve it; and, fifth, reverse the current minimalist approach to charging and sentencing for unlicensed and unregistered guns offences. The response of the police Minister and the Premier was that it was a wacky five-point plan, and they did nothing. A lot of people died last year as a result of gun crime while the Minister did absolutely nothing at all. [Extension of time agreed to.
In June last year I highlighted the fact that the detective drought in New South Wales had reached a crisis. Post the royal commission, detective work was dirty work as far as the Carr Government was concerned; it ran down the number of police. The situation reached a real crisis in June when, as I indicated at that time, senior police were ordered by memorandum to accept undesignated—that is, untrained—detectives in crime agencies. They had fought against it for a long time but they were told to do it. That was an indication of the real problems, and it was highlighted again in the clear-up rates, which were falling. In June I also highlighted the Boggabri police officer who was forced out of town. As I said, the first responsibility of State government is public safety, and front-line police are our agents in the battle. When we cannot protect them we have a real problem.
We had a repeat of that in Redfern this year, after the riot, when an Aboriginal liaison officer was threatened and forced out of town. In December last year I talked about the real priorities for the Carr Government. On 7 December we had a very bloody Sunday with a number of shootings, at the same time as the Premier and the police Minister were indulging themselves in what I can only say was the most glamorous press conference I have seen under the Carr Government. The theme music from Star Wars
was playing in the background at a press conference to highlight a new helicopter for police. Clearly, it was simply an attempt to divert attention not only from the budget crisis but from the ongoing gun war on our streets. In December I also highlighted the Auditor-General's concern about the failure of NSW Police and the Government to progress key recommendations on police rostering, tasking and allocation. The Auditor-General said:
NSW Police has not addressed adequately the recommendations of our 2000 (Staff Rostering, Tasking and Allocation) report.
Specifically NSW Police has
_ not assessed the benefits of its civilianisation program
_ not defined what constitutes proactive policing which has limited its capacity to benchmark and measure the effectiveness of this program
_ not assessed options to allow the release of more police from support roles
_ not linked the roster system to intelligence data
_ not introduced activity based costing.
Those recommendations, which were made three years before December 2003, were the key to getting more police on the streets, but the Carr Government simply lost interest and failed to do so. On 23 December I issued a Christmas wish list for police. I called on the Government to belatedly approve the police budget to release the financial pressure on front-line police because, unbelievably, six months after the budget year started the Government still had not released budgets to police. I also asked the Government to deliver a much-needed increase in overtime funding for front-line police, to remove Labor's spin doctors from the police media unit and transfer the focus from media strategies to effective policing strategies. That appalling person, Ross Nielsen, was eventually removed from the police media a few months ago. He has now bobbed up as a spin doctor for Mark Latham, the best friend of the honourable member for Campbelltown. I am sure Mr Nielsen will do as much damage to the Labor campaign as he did to New South Wales policing in the two years that he undermined police in the police media unit.
Another item on the police Christmas wish list that I put to the Government was the amending of the police commissioner's contract to encourage the reporting of all crime, instead of the current requirement to reduce the perception of crime. I also asked the Government to release the long-overdue review of the promotions system, implement a review of promotions, reform promotions and investigate abuse of the existing system by senior officers. That has failed to happen. The report has been released but the Government has failed to reform the promotions system and to investigate abuses of the current system by senior officers. I also asked the Government to commence action to review and replace the 50 per cent of judges and magistrates who have displayed a clear bias in favour of criminals during trials and sentencing. Nothing has happened there. In January I raised the Productivity Commission report that expressed concern about several performance indicators in New South Wales, including crime rates and clear-up rates.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002 crime victims survey showed that New South Wales had a much higher victimisation rate per person than Victoria. It also confirmed that victimisation rates per 100,000 population provide a meaningful basis for comparing differences between the States. The reality of that survey is that it is simply safer to live in Victoria. That is the problem we have here. Earlier this year I also released an internal budget document from the Minister for Police. The memorandum, which is between Police and Treasury, stated:
The Minister for Police has discussed the various budgetary pressures facing NSW Police at recent meetings with the Treasurer.
The memorandum then refers to:
… specific strategies introduced to cut numbers impact this year. Treasury expects the final cost will be of the order of $30 - $35 million.
It then states that the final numbers will be determined, "having regard to the impact of the Minister's strategies to reduce numbers". The same paperwork we released also talked about deferring a number of police stations. While police were screaming for updated police stations, the Minister was deferring them. His paper deferred Griffith, Muswellbrook, St Marys and Armidale, and deferred educational facilities at Goulburn, a forensic research and investigative science centre, and computer upgrades. However, it allocated $550,000 to upgrade the ministry office. That is what the police Minister was all about. In March I raised shootings after another night of violence, including a shooting at Wetherill Park. I called on the Premier to change priorities and transfer funding from political stunts to front-line police. I noted that even in March the police budget was being squeezed, with police numbers being driven down, mobile phones being removed from police, overtime restricted, shifts reduced, police station upgrades deferred and so forth in terms of an ongoing budget squeeze.
In April I noted from the annual crime statistics that since the Premier was elected 32 of the 62 categories of recorded criminal incidents have increased substantially, especially violent crimes against the person. Taking the latest annual figures from the bureau, since the Premier was elected assault is up 66.5 per cent, sexual assault by 66 per cent, abduction and kidnapping by 39 per cent, robbery without a weapon by 30 per cent and robbery with a weapon not a firearm by 40 per cent. It is difficult to speak over the cries of the community outside Parliament—15,000 people protesting against the clubs tax. It sounds like there are some major concerns out there.
Other offences against the person were up 302 per cent; goods in custody up by 74 per cent; steal from person up by 74 per cent; fraud up by 56 per cent up; extortion and blackmail up by 200 per cent since the Premier came to office; arson up by 56 per cent; malicious damage to property up by 20 per cent; possession and/or use of other drugs up by 141 per cent; dealing and trafficking in other drugs up by 103 per cent;, importing drugs up by 250 per cent; offensive conduct up by 57 per cent up; betting and gaming offences up by 212 per cent; weapons offences up by 136 per cent; breach of apprehended violence order up by 105 per cent since the Premier came to office, and breach of bail conditions up by 406 per cent since the Premier came to office. The number of driving offences were not available because the Government was fudging the figures, and other offences were up by an extraordinary 409 per cent since the Premier came to office.
While the figures for all these offences were up, what was the Minister doing? In April I advised Parliament that the ministry was being expanded. The Minister for Police was spending $500,000 on police ministry office accommodation and he was expanding the ministry. At the time the Minister denied it. In May I talked about the Government slashing 350 jobs from the civilian side of NSW Police. The Minister denied that. At the time I also talked about Commissioner Moroney's delegations being withdrawn. Basically, the Minister denied that. We then released the information. Eight directives were issued with savings of $4.5 million to be achieved. They included the need to boost the Ministry of Police and abolish certain functions of NSW Police. A transfer of personnel was number two. Number three was transferring police properties to the Department of Commerce and establishing a heightened bureaucracy in the Ministry of Police. Number four related to the establishment of a committee to review all future requirements for funds, including Task Force Gain, which the Premier and the Minister had repeatedly said could have anything it wanted, yet the delegations specifically said Task Force Gain had to get its paperwork in quickly. Number five talked about reviews of the police structure in New South Wales, and no such activity taking place without the Minister's express written approval.
Number six provides that decisions taken by the commissioner's executive team, his senior management team, are to be subject to approval of the Minister for Police, so the commissioner cannot do anything that his executive team decides. Number seven provides that no position, either police or civilian, is to be evaluated, created or reclassified without the Minister's approval, and number eight set up a razor gang, the expenditure review committee, run by the much-esteemed Jane Fitzgerald, who has caused absolute havoc across NSW Police since she took on the job. That is what we were talking about in May. In May I also spoke to the Police Association and said that the budget was under threat from all directions. I highlighted the fact that the police were being squeezed to pay for the Carr Government's 2003 re-election campaign. I said:
It is not a time to squeeze the police budget. In the last three years, the world community has finally realised that terrorism is targeting every western democracy and police are very much in the front line in the war against terrorism in terms of intelligence gathering all the way through to emergency responses.
Today challenges confronting the New South Wales Police range from dealing with anti-social behaviour which drives local communities insane through to contributing to counter-terrorism strategies where the actions of your members could help to save thousands of lives.
It is not time to squeeze the police budget and it won't be in the foreseeable future. Policing is a higher priority than it ever was. Keep in mind you only receive 5 per cent [of the State budget]. You are a much higher priority than that.
Nevertheless, the squeeze continues. I spoke about clear-up rates. The latest figures from the Government show that only 13.5 per cent of robbery with a weapon not a firearm offences are solved within 90 days. Other figures show that of offences of robbery without a weapon, 11.8 per cent are solved; robbery with a firearm, 11.5 per cent; steal from dwelling, 8.3 per cent; arson, 6.3 per cent; car theft, 5.6 per cent; break and enter, 5 per cent and steal from person, 4.5 per cent. Most crimes in New South Wales are not solved, simply because the Government does not apply the resources or priorities to them. Redfern had a major problem with the riots and ongoing robberies. I highlighted that from Sunday 6 June to Saturday 19 June there were five days when only two robbery detectives were rostered in Redfern. There were five days with only one robbery detective rostered and four days with no robbery detectives rostered. Despite the fact that Redfern is the robbery capital of Australia, the Government has failed to properly resource crime prevention there.
Prior to the budget being delivered, the Police Association called on the Government to deliver better training and upgraded equipment and facilities for country police. The Government failed to do that. It budgeted to cut 480 effective full-time equivalent police numbers. It increased the Minister's staff from 11 to 14. It increased the Minister's advisers from 24 to 44. It increased the ministry budget by 109 per cent. It put in $500,000 for a new computer system for the Minister. Last year it spent $500,000 on the ministry fitout. It funded delayed police stations at Armidale, Chatswood, Griffith, Muswellbrook, Redfern, St Marys and Thirroul, but it highlighted as urgent 27 stations that were not funded—Bowral, Burwood, Camden, Cronulla, Campsie, Coffs Harbour, Corrimal, Dubbo, Ermington, Fairfield, Gunnedah, Granville, Leichhardt, Lismore, Macksville, Moree, Orange, Parkes, Port Kembla, Quakers Hills, Revesby, Richmond/Windsor, Tenterfield, Wagga Wagga, Warilla and Wyong. It simply highlighted them as being needed but did nothing about it.
The Minister for Police is determined to drive police numbers down below last year's record number by 700. I agree with the Government that last year police numbers were at record levels. I ask the Premier today why we cannot have record numbers of police every year, not only in election years. Last year the number hit 15,168. We want those police back. I have listed every local area command that has already lost police. Since last year 261 have been lost across the State. If the Premier continues with this strategy, another 453 will be lost in the next 12 months.
Mr JOHN BARTLETT
(Port Stephens) [11.45 a.m.]: I am pleased to speak today on the budget estimates and related papers for 2004-05. A healthy society needs three vital sectors: the public sector with efficient government, a private sector with effective business and a social sector of effective community organisations. Another way of looking at this is how Confucius did in book 9:16 of his analects, in which he stated:
Good government obtains when those who are near are happy, and those who are far are attracted.
Between 1977 and 2004 the population of Port Stephens doubled. Between 2 October and 6 October last year, at Peldoorn in the Netherlands, workers from the Soldiers Point area, which is in my electorate, won the final of the world's only international scheme that addresses the management of the environment and the enhancement of quality of life. The scheme was called Nations in Bloom. The town also achieved the gold award, and beat off heated competition in the finals from representatives Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. Representatives from Killarney in Ireland came second and representatives from Japan came third with a silver award. Last year's finals of Nations in Bloom was a real credit to the workers in the Soldiers Point area. They came away with an award signifying that their community was one of the best communities in the world in which to live. This year the mayor is taking a delegation to Niagara Falls. Again, they are finalists in a competition designed to determine the best community in the world in which to live. In Port Stephens we have much to be thankful for. There is always more to do, but we should give thanks for what we have in our beautiful environment.
To give a snapshot of Port Stephens, the population is close to 60,000, including approximately 7,000 couples with children and 6,000 couples without children. In the past five years Port Stephens has developed as a desirable place to live: the population has increased by 11 per cent, the highest increase in the Hunter Valley. In my contribution to the budget debate I will refer to funding for both the State and Port Stephens. New South Wales collects $15 billion in taxes and the Commonwealth collects $193 billion. In addition, GST of $12 billion, which neither Government will list in its accounts, is collected in New South Wales. The reason the New South Wales Government will not list the money in its accounts is that $3 billion of the GST collected in New South Wales goes to the other States, particularly Queensland. The Commonwealth will not list the money in its accounts because it says that all the GST collected goes to the States and, therefore, it is only collected on behalf of the States. In an article in the Australian Financial Review
on Monday 30 August, Macquarie University adjunct professor of economics David Collins said that while Queenslanders were $170 a head better off this year as a result of Federal tax reforms, Victorians gained only $48 each and New South Wales residents just $17. He said:
While the federal government collected $21 billion in GST from people in NSW and Victoria, it gave back $16.5 billion—a subsidy to the other States of $4.5 billion.
He went on to say:
Furthermore, the way the GST is divided among the states is based on "virtually crippling data deficiencies" that are acknowledged by the Commonwealth Grants Commission which advises on the annual split of $34 billion in GST revenue. The greatest criticism of all is that the Commonwealth Grants Commission is using data that just isn't good enough, so you come up with quite random results, and that is a very serious problem.
Professor Collins's paper, which was published by the Australian Tax Research Foundation, supports a claim that New South Wales is being underfunded by approximately $3 billion a year, which is diverted from the collected GST. The loss of such funding impacts on the services the Government can provide to the residents of New South Wales. A number of specific projects in the Port Stephens area were supported by the budget, which has allocated funding of $2.5 million for the redevelopment of Anna Bay School; $1.2 million for the upgrade of Soldiers Point Public School, which is a continuation of funding from the previous year; $590,000 for the relocation of the wader bird habitat at Kooragang Island; $1.1 million for the construction of seven units of public housing at Raymond Terrace; and $550,000 for the Manning bioregion marine park. That funding will be used by the Taylors Beach research facility to undertake research on the marine park. The establishment of a marine park in Port Stephens will result in growth in tourism in the area and ensure the future of Port Stephens.
In addition, Port Stephens received $260,000 to provide transport for people with access difficulties and $1.9 million—the last tranche of $203 million—for the Karuah bypass dual carriageways and bridges. I very much look forward to the opening of the Karuah project on 19 September. The electorate also received funding of $500,000 for the planning of a replacement for the Tourle Street bridge over the Hunter River, $3 million for stage two of the Nelson Bay Road dual carriageway from Bobs Farm to Anna Bay and the final payments in relation to Grahamstown Dam. That $25 million project is designed to increase the water supply in the dam by 50 per cent and raise the water level 12 feet, thus providing the Hunter with sufficient water capacity until 2040-50.
The Port Stephens area also received $35 million for an upgraded powerline to Nelson Bay. Nelson Bay will run out of power by the end of this year and will need temporary generators to maintain the power supply. That $35 million, which will come from EnergyAustralia, will get Nelson Bay over its power supply problems, which have resulted from the enormous population growth in the area. At present, in Nelson Bay alone approximately 600 units have been dealt with through the development application process or are under construction. As a result of that growth, services on the Tomaree Peninsula need continual upgrading.
There is always much to be done. I continue to work on obtaining funding for capital works projects, in the same way as all good local members. Those projects include the relocation of the Tilligerry police station to a more suitable site, the replacement of Raymond Terrace police station, a school hall for Irrawang Public School, an upgrade of Raymond Terrace Public School, the replacement of old demountables at Wirreanda Public School, extra funding for the marine park to allow for the eventual buyout of professional fishermen, which will be an expensive operation, the relocation of the ambulance station from its present site in Nelson Bay to the polyclinic, the installation of airconditioning and x-ray facilities at the polyclinic, the construction of stage three extensions in 12 months at Birubi Point Surf Club, an upgrade of Nelson Bay Road, Medowie Road and an upgrade of the Anna Bay to Salamander cycleway. They are only a few of the projects in the Port Stephens electorate for which I am seeking funding as the local member.
I turn now to the increases in State public sector spending between 1995 and 2004. Public transport funding has increased by 81 per cent since 1995. In 1994-95 funding was $2.6 billion; it is now $4.6 billion. That spending is the answer to those who ask where all the extra taxes are going. New South Wales now has the highest paid nurses in Australia and the State Government is increasing health funding by $570 million in 2004-05. One matter that has had a huge impact on the budget of New South Wales is the increase by 500,000, from 1994 to today, of the number of people presenting to emergency departments in State's hospitals. Those people cannot afford to visit doctors who do not bulk bill. That increase has resulted in a massive cost shift from the Federal Government to the State Government.
Since 1995 education funding has increased by 68 per cent. In 1994-95 funding was $5.2 billion; it is now $8.8 billion. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], New South Wales has the best literacy results for 15-year-olds of any Australian State. Like nurses, New South Wales now has the highest paid teachers in Australia. Since 1995 funding for police and fighting crime has increased by 79 per cent. In 1994-95 that funding was $1.06 billion; it is now $1.9 billion. We have record police numbers—more than 14,500 officers. As to taxation, 82 per cent is collected by the Commonwealth, 15 per cent by the States and 3 per cent by local government. There has been serious criticism that the State is running its first ever deficit in the nine years of the Carr Government. That is partly explained by the employment by the State Government of the equivalent of 246,000 full-time workers in 2001-02. That is an increase of 2.5 per cent, or about 6,000 people, over four years.
Almost 2,200 of those extra workers were employed in the health sector, 2,100 in the law and order sector, 1,200 in the community services sector and 300 in the education sector. This is the first deficit this Government has presided over in nine years of delivering budgets. That is the reason for the new property and poker machine taxes. What is the alternative to the introduction of those taxes if we are to provide the funds necessary to service the extra people being admitted to hospitals and to pay appropriate remuneration to the extra police officers and the 1,500 teachers we need without running a deficit budget? Ross Gittins wrote in the 10 September 2003 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald
California's … budgetary crisis is just the most extreme of the crises facing virtually all the US states. Between them, they have deficits totalling $125 billion…
There is, however, a qualification to the rule that politicians will spend every dollar that falls into their hands. As the '90s boom progressed, the states became confident the good times were here to stay, so they cut rates quite heavily…
…it was only a matter of time before the bursting of the share-market bubble and the slowdown in the economy left the states up a creek. Their revenue has fallen, their spending hasn't, and now they face budget deficits equivalent to 20 or 25 per cent of their annual revenues.
One cannot run deficit budgets year after year. The Government has introduced eight surplus budgets, and is the first Government to do so in this State. This year it has introduced a deficit budget, although it is hoped that surplus budgets will follow. Ross Gittins continues:
Kentucky has released lesser-offence prisoners up to a year early. To fund Oregon's plan to cut its school year by a month, its teachers agreed to work for two weeks without pay.
Primary and secondary school teachers have received lay-off notices in more than a dozen states. In Oklahoma teachers have driven buses, mopped floors and cooked cafeteria food as support staff have been sharply reduced. In parts of Colorado, schools have shifted to a four-day week.
That is the alternative this State would face if the Government were to run budget deficits rather than budget surpluses. Port Stephens tourism operators were heavily involved in promoting reform of public liability and negligence laws because they were threatening their businesses. The Chief Judge of the District Court, Reg Blanch, said that the number of statements of claim lodged had fallen from a record 20,784 in 2001 to just under 8,000 last year, with an even sharper reduction in country areas. That is the result of the amendments the Government has made to public liability and negligence laws. Tourism operators in my electorate are not happy with the insurance premiums they are now paying, but at least they can afford them, and it appears that the constant increases in premiums has ceased. Justice Blanch went on to say that he was convinced that the Government's reforms, which capped payouts and made it harder to sue, were directly responsible. He said that he expected the backlog from 2001 to clear by the end of the year. [Extension of time agreed to
Many of the cases lodged in the Port Stephens area are filed at the Newcastle and Maitland District Courts. Since 2001 there has been a 50 per cent decline in the number of civil liability cases filed. Last year, only 455 new civil cases were filed at the Newcastle District Court compared with 768 in 2002 and 1,300 in 2001. The Port Stephens businesspeople who came to the public liability summit and who have followed this issue for a number of years can rest assured that we have had an impact on this problem, which had the potential to put them out of business.
I will now refer to some of the businesses in the Port Stephens area that are doing extremely well. The operators of the major smelter at Tomago celebrated its twentieth anniversary last September. The plant upgrade being undertaken at a cost of $210 million will boost aluminium production from 460,000 tonnes to 630,000 tonnes annually and the end product is exported through the port of Newcastle. Tomago Aluminium employs about 1,000 people and generates revenue of more than $1,100 million for the local and Australian economies. A survey conducted last year by Tourism NSW found that the Port Stephens region is the most popular tourist destination outside Sydney. It attracts more domestic tourists than Byron Bay and the Snowy Mountains. Tars Bylhouwer, the tourism manager for Port Stephens, stated:
Tourism is the Port's biggest industry—worth more than $250 million a year—offering growing employment opportunities the more popular the destination gets...
We get about 1 million visitors a year which doesn't include day trippers — there's about 1 million of them...
That is having an enormous impact on other sectors of the Port Stephens economy. The increase in the number of passengers passing through the Newcastle airport is stupendous. It services about 200,000 passengers a year, and in the next 12 to 18 months that number will increase to about 500,000. It is the fastest growing regional airport in Australia. In fact, patronage is increasing so quickly that the Port Stephens Council and Newcastle City Council, which own it, have just lent the facility $10 million for a major upgrade, including 600 more car parking spaces. The airport is an income and employment generator that will bring great benefits to the Hunter region. Jetstar's and Virgin Blue's new services are bringing tourists directly from Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. We now have a wonderful tourism hub and I congratulate those who had the foresight to take over the airport from the Commonwealth and to develop it.
A Tomago-based engineering firm has won a contract deal on the joint strike fighter program, which is worth a potential $20 million. Varley Engineering has been contracted by aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin to design, manufacture and test a landing fixture for the new-generation fighter jets. Managing director Jeff Philips, whom I know, said that the company was tendering for more work on the joint strike fighter project and was hoping to win further contracts. A $180 million golf course estate is to be established in Medowie, and the project is expected to create approximately 140 jobs. The development includes an 18-hole championship course and 450 home sites. Drainage issues in the area are of concern. However, the water catchments to be provided around the golf course should be able to accommodate water drainage from those homes, which is probably a first for the Port Stephens area.
The whale and dolphin watching industry attracts many visitors to Port Stephens. Some 200,000 people a year go out on dolphin-watching cruises and about 50,000 people a year go out on whale-watching cruises. The industry has taken up the slump that used to occur in Port Stephens in the middle of the year. The whales travel up the coast in the winter period of June, July and August and return to Port Stephens in August and September. The whale watching generates a huge amount of tourism in the area during that period.
Port Stephens, like Sydney, continues to enjoy a huge property boom and property values that in my view are simply not sustainable. I am very pleased about the provision for first home buyers, but a young man born in the Nelson Bay area basically has lost his birthright and risks becoming alienated because he could never afford to buy into Port Stephens, around the Nelson Bay central business district, or in surrounding areas, because property values in the area are now totally out of his reach. Properties in the Port Stephens area have fetched more than $4.5 million. Property sales are well and truly beyond the reach of the local young people who aspire to buy into the area.
Ampcontrol opened a state-of-the-art $3 million heavy industry workshop and corporate headquarters at Tomago, a project that is delivering 25 new full-time jobs. The RAAF base at Williamtown now employees around 3,000 people, it rents 1,200 homes in the Port Stephens, Newcastle and Maitland area, and it is a prime generator of income for the Port Stephens economy. The RAAF base is a good corporate citizen and it is a pleasure to have it in my patch.
I now turn to the conservation issues affecting Port Stephens. The marine park is now at the stage where we are determining the areas to be recommended for sanctuaries, professional and recreational fishing, and recreational fishing only. Tourism in Port Stephens now accounts for more than 2,000 employees, taking into account accommodation, hospitality and food venues. When we can market the Port Stephens marine park to the world, with its dolphin and whale watching and its environment in general, the future of Port Stephens and the surrounding areas will be extremely good.
Port Stephens has many volunteers. There are around 85 local council 355B committees, which do everything from looking after reserves to looking after the Port Stephens parks and gardens. Work is under way on a $3.6 million project to clean up abandoned oyster leases in Port Stephens. At its peak, Port Stephens had 1,600 hectares of oyster leases under production. Today, only 630 hectares of oyster leases are being worked, producing $4 million worth of oysters a year. The approximately 1,000 hectares of leases that are no longer being worked have been abandoned. The State Government has had to step in with its $3.6 million project, and work has already begun on cleaning up the first 350 hectares of derelict oyster leases, allowing that part of the waterway to be used for recreational purposes.
Oyster farmers must now make security arrangements to cover any possible future rehabilitation work on their leases. In other words, in future the State Government will not step in and carry out clean-up programs on oyster leases. Areas such as Salamander Bay, North Arm Cove, Swan Bay, Karuah and Pindimar will be restored as a result of the project. At its peak, the Port Stephens oyster industry produced 45,000 bags of oysters annually, worth $20 million in today's terms. It can therefore be seen that the industry is struggling with its marketing. Hunter Water has done a tremendous job at Karuah. The effluent from the Karuah community is now used to water crops, which will eventually become stock feed. The $123 million Karuah bypass will be opened on 19 September, the only date upon which people will be able to walk across the bypass. I welcome everyone to join the walk across the new Karuah bridge.
Mrs SHELLEY HANCOCK
(South Coast) [12.15 p.m.]: I could speak at length about a number of issues relating to the previous budget and this year's budget—issues I have spoken about previously in this House. Some of those issues include disturbing cuts to important programs in the South Coast in electorate. I refer to programs such as the vacation care program conducted by Havenlee School, which is a school for disabled children, the Helping Hands Mental Health Volunteer Program, mature workers programs, and Adult Training, Learning and Support [ATLAS] programs. I spoke to ATLAS providers in my electorate last week, and they expressed deep concern about those cuts. I also refer to cuts to the provision of a teachers' aid at Sanctuary Point primary school, which runs a unit for behaviourally and emotionally disturbed students. Funding cuts at that school will see a teachers' aid removed from the school, which means that a teacher will be working in quite difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Today, however, I want to focus on some of the problems in the schools in my electorate and how disappointed I was with this budget in that regard. I believe that the budget handed down recently has betrayed teachers, students and school communities with respect to school infrastructure. This is tragic, given the recommendations of the Vinson report, which revealed a damning insight into schools throughout New South Wales with regard to school infrastructure. Many months ago I chaired one of the Vinson inquiry meetings in Milton. One of the final comments on the Vinson report reads, "Maintenance and refurbishment of the education estate has been neglected and fitfully managed." The report also refers to "substandard conditions in which teaching and learning are being attempted".
This independent Vinson inquiry into public education in New South Wales was wide-ranging and involved a number of local meetings throughout the State in which teachers, parents and students were asked for their comments on a number of issues so that submissions could be prepared for Professor Vinson. As I said before, I was asked to chair one of those meetings in Milton during which Milton Public School was rated the second worst in this State. I will leave my comments on Milton Public School until the end of my contribution.
I speak firstly about Culburra Public School. This school is situated in a growing area of the South Coast electorate, a growing area that necessitated the provision and construction of a new school at Callala, which was much publicised before and at the time of the State election. Obviously the previous member worked hard for that facility: I give him credit for that. However, in the face of Callala Bay school's new facilities it seems that Culburra Public School has been ignored and left behind in term of infrastructure. These problems, which can be easily solved as the work does not involve a huge expenditure, are a very serious threat to our primary schoolchildren and in this particular case kindergarten children.
Apparently a block of land was purchased for a teachers' car park almost a year ago but planned works to upgrade, seal and provide formalised ingress and egress to and from that car park were not provided. The school has now been told that an upgrade will not be provided, and nothing is provided for that purpose in the budget. I went down to have a look at that car park and I was absolutely stunned, to say the least. I had seen many schools both before I was elected and after my election but I have never seen a school quite in the state that this school is in, or with quite so dangerous traffic management, because it simply cannot be undertaken. There is no formalised car park; there is no sealing of the car park; and there are vehicles manoeuvring into canteen areas and crossing footpaths which are used by kindergarten students.
The staff and the principal are doing their very best to try to organise children but in the afternoon and in the morning one can imagine the chaos that is occurring there. Because the car park is not sealed it often turns into a muddy patch of dirt and the safety problems are compounded. I have received a number of letters from parents at Culburra Public School who are disappointed that they have made a number of submissions in the past regarding this car park and, to date, they have been ignored. A tutor at the school, Frank Landers, writes:
Each Thursday I attend the Public School at Culburra as a Volunteer Tutor. I have been very concerned on parking my car in the car park to see children walking behind vehicles to get into the school grounds.
I have witnessed occasions when a child was almost knocked down by a reversing car that was unable to see the child behind them.
I believe that the government and Education Department have a duty of care towards these children and that they
should be able to safely enter the school grounds without such traffic hazards.
A letter from a parent, Gary Melleuish, states:
The 'car park' is an absolute disgrace, it is little more than a dirt paddock next to the school that turns to clay mud each time it rains. There are no lines marked and parking is an ad hoc situation. This puts children in an extremely dangerous situation of having to walk behind reversing cars…
A letter from Kathy Thompson, whom I met with on the morning I went to Culburra Public School, states:
I understand that submissions and numerous letters (have been written to the education department regarding capital works funding for this particular car park) however now it appears as though we have been misled and will not receive the capital works funding to commence and complete our new proposed carpark.
As a parent of a 5 year old kindergarten child, I am constantly at the school dropping off and picking up my son. The chaos that ensues outside Culburra Public School is something that Government should be ashamed of.
* There is NO pedestrian crossing;
* There is NO safe car parking …
* There is NO definition between kerb and road with no guttering;
* There are NO speed bumps or the like to slow traffic down;
* There are NO walkways or safe access to and from school for the children.
These letters go on and on. Another lady writes:
I am NOT overdramatising this situation. Should you ever be able to witness the morning and afternoon total chaos outside the front of Culburra Public School one would hope that you would act quickly in rectifying what is an accident waiting to happen.
There have been several ' close calls' …
On the day that I went to Culburra Public School a parent told me of an extremely close call that almost resulted in a fatality when a very small child—I think a year 1 student—was hit by a car. The child was taken away by ambulance. The car park has been an ongoing issue for the school and there have been representations made by the local Federal member, Joanna Gash, to the education Minister Brendan Nelson. Brendan Nelson writes in a letter to the Minister for Education and Training, Dr Refshauge:
I also urge you to give priority to the project to upgrade the front entrance of the school to improve vehicular access and provide a safe drop off zone for students.
Brendan Nelson has a number of things to say in that letter. Suffice it to say, this is not a difficult problem to solve. This is not a costly problem, but I am wondering where the Minister is on issues like this when representations have been made to him by the local Federal member, by myself, by the Federal Minister for Education, and still we have a car park that is potentially going to be the cause of problems, perhaps fatalities, for primary school aged children. It is a serious situation at Culburra Public School and I call on the Minister to urgently intervene.
I refer now to the second school in my electorate, about which I have spoken and about which my colleague the honourable member for Bega has also spoken on numerous occasions¯the now famous, or infamous, Ulladulla High School. I think everybody has heard about the problems at Ulladulla High School. I note, Mr Acting-Speaker, you are probably almost going to sleep now because you have heard of so many of those problems at Ulladulla High School. It has certainly been the focus of media attention in a big way not only locally but nationally. The school was opened in 1976 for about 240 students. At the time of that opening I was a very young teacher at the beautiful school that was Ulladulla High. Enrolment at the school has grown now to more than 1,200 students. There have been some permanent additions to the school but, basically, the school population has outgrown its ageing infrastructure. We have heard the stories about sewage overflowing through playgrounds and bubbling up through grates. We were told these sorts of stories at a very large public meeting earlier this year, and this situation is something we should not have to accept.
The Minister has spoken in this House about technology and literacy, which we must aspire to, but when we are talking about sewage bubbling up through grates in school changing rooms and flowing across the playground then something is wrong. It could not be said that the problem could not have been foreseen, for that was not the first occasion it occurred. This happened on several occasions when I was teaching at Ulladulla High School. It was not rare to arrive at school and to see barricades around certain areas—whether the gymnasium or the toilets—because of a sewage overflow. There was an enormous amount of controversy before something was done—and I believe it is a bandaid solution—to put exploratory cameras into the sewerage systems and make some provision to ensure the problem does not happen again. I think we would all be mortified to hear those sorts of stories again in the House.
But these are bandaid measures and at Ulladulla High School there are still 18 demountable classrooms. I have spoken in the House before about demountable classrooms. In fact, I was pleased to support the motion of the honourable member for Port Macquarie on 18 September last year when he moved that this House acknowledges that the learning environment of a permanent classroom in regional New South Wales is a better learning environment than a demountable classroom. Basically, the member was seeking support for the statement that a permanent classroom is better than a demountable classroom. I would have thought there would have been bipartisan support for that motion, but imagine my surprise—a fairly newly elected member at that stage—to see members opposite first voting for the motion and then being whipped into action and having to come back, shame-faced, and vote against the motion, effectively saying that permanent classrooms were not better than demountable classrooms.
Earlier this year I spoke about demountable classrooms and their effect on students and teachers, especially at Ulladulla High School. Every school throughout the State would have their own problems, but I have never seen a school with problems as bad as those at Ulladulla. It is symptomatic in schools in rapidly growing areas, such as Culburra Public School. One cannot provide good teaching and learning outcomes with demountable classrooms. They are noisy, too hot or too cold and do not provide the kinds of learning outcomes we expect in our State public schools. I am proud to have been a teacher in the public school system, but this situation cannot continue.
The parents and citizens association of Ulladulla High School was promised ongoing meetings and plans for a new high school, to get rid of the demountable classrooms once and for all, to see light at the end of the tunnel and an end to the struggle they had fought for so long. However, some inappropriate discussions took place between the parents and citizens association and the Department of Education and Training, which resulted in little progress and a continuation of the problems. Demountable classrooms were even placed on the Ulladulla school oval. It is scraping the bottom of the barrel to place demountable classrooms on playing areas when they should be used for physical education. Approximately 500 or 600 people, comprising the parents and citizens association, the school community, parents, teachers and students, attended a rally to plead with the Minister to find a solution, but nothing has been forthcoming.
I was extremely pleased to learn that this year's budget included stage two funding for Milton Public School. I was pleased that stage one funding was included in last year's budget, although I would have preferred stage two funding at that time. When the budget was handed down I immediately rang the principal and the president of the parents and citizens association to convey to them that very good news. The Vinson inquiry into public education had found that Milton Public School was the second worst school in the State, so some action was expected. Stage one was to commence in 2002 with work to be completed in 2004, but the only action has been the scar through the school oval in preparation for work to commence.
This year's budget includes an allocation for stage two, but the incompetence of the Department of Education and Training has resulted in a $2 million blow-out in the budget, and everybody seems to be scuttling, taking cover, trying to find answers or blaming Shoalhaven City Council because of conditions it has imposed with respect to the consent. However, some of the conditions related to safety and to a car park with more than 18 parking spaces, because the school has more than 50 teachers. One of the conditions relates to safety in Thomas Street, which is close to Milton Public School, where parents are forced to park in a manner that impacts on the safety of children who cross the street on their way home.
Despite parents engaging in consultation 12 months ago and having positive expectations, they are now disappointed, to say the least. The Department of Education and Training has now suggested stage three funding to include safety provisions for the enlarged car park but, in the meantime, children have to cross roads that are unsafe and attend school in an unsafe environment. I am very disappointed with the Government's response to Milton Public School, which has been rated the second worst school in the State. It has leaking, second-hand demountable classrooms, holes in walls, unsafe conditions, deplorable staffrooms and administration centre—all very old buildings.
A public rally was held last week at Milton Public School. I had expected that only 10 to 20 parents would attend the rally because it was held at short notice, but 300 to 400 parents, students and members of the Milton school community turned up to express their extreme anger and outrage. Again I ask the Minister to urgently intervene to ensure that all funding is made available to enable the upgrade of Milton Public School to be completed in one stage. I could highlight the problems in all schools in my electorate, including problems with toilets, demountables and leaking classrooms—a deplorable situation that this Parliament is not properly addressing.
I could have spent my time talking about the Princes Highway, about which I have said a great deal. Suffice it to say that the NRMA launched a document only a few days ago to vindicate all the comments we have previously made about the Princes Highway by confirming that it is the most unsafe highway in the State. Petitions were organised through the Illawarra Mercury
, and I have presented petitions to this House. There has been so much community representation about the Princes Highway that I would have expected some response from the Government, but there has been none. In response to the petitions yesterday the Minister for the Illawarra simply stated that it was a Federal Government problem. Again he blamed the Federal Government.
The Princes Highway is a State road, and the State Government should take some responsibility, particularly in view of the 26 deaths on the highway last year and 24 deaths up until June this year. These types of road traumas cost the State $40 million a day. We must rethink our policies on road funding in this State. People have referred to cost shifting from the Federal Government, but quite a lot has been shifted to local government. This State should have a lot of money in its coffers, and I ask the question that is asked by people throughout my electorate: Where has all the money gone? [Time expired
Mrs KARYN PALUZZANO
(Penrith) [12.37 p.m.]: It gives me pleasure to address the House today on the budget delivered by the Treasurer, Michael Egan, in the autumn session. It is no secret that the New South Wales Government has been hit hard by Prime Minister Howard's cruel cuts. The Federal Government's Grants Commission is robbing New South Wales taxpayers of $3 billion each year. Even the Leader of the Opposition, in one of his more enlightened moments, admitted on the Sally Loane program, "Look there's no doubt that New South Wales went backwards in the last Grants Commission round." He went so far as to call the Federal Government's own Grants Commission "unfair".
It is unfair that every person in New South Wales is propping up the economies of other States. It is unfair that this year every resident in New South Wales will send $122 to Queensland. I have actually done the maths, which might be of interest to crossbench members and their constituents. This year the constituents of Willoughby will send $5,397,768 to taxpayers in Queensland; the constituents from the Southern Highlands will send $4,736,772 to taxpayers in Queensland; the constituents of Ku-ring-gai will send $5,483,046 to taxpayers in Queensland; and the residents of Pittwater will send $5,377,394 to taxpayers in Queensland. With such figures, one would think the Leader of the Opposition would be jumping up and down, phoning his Liberal colleagues and urging Prime Minister Howard to give New South Wales a fair deal. But, no! The Leader of the Opposition's response was, "We are in a situation where we have to live with it." That is a shame.
Today I will not dwell on the Federal rip-off of New South Wales. I shall discuss the positive news of the 2004-05 New South Wales budget that delivered massive increases to front-line services. With these cuts we have delivered massive increases to front-line services in New South Wales. In particular, I will talk about the constituents in my electorate of Penrith who have benefited from this Government's budget. In Penrith thousands of young people are beginning their working lives. Many of them have studied at the University of Western Sydney, which is a wonderful institution. Others are in apprenticeships, and still more work in large and small businesses. I visited some of those small businesses last week, including Hair Logistics, which is a warehousing company in Penrith, and the Cottage Lane Coffee Shop, where I served coffee last week. The Cottage Lane Coffee Shop, which is an outstanding small business, has been there for eight years and employs local people.
Wherever in Penrith these young people come from, be it Kingswood, Leonay, Cranebrook, Jamisontown, Glenbrook, Lapstone, Emu Plains, Emu Heights or South Penrith, and wherever they may work, they have one thing in common. The similarity is that today, thanks to the Premier, these people are one step closer to owning their own home. As outlined in the mini-budget and reinforced in June, this Government has eliminated stamp duty for nearly all first home buyers in New South Wales. I have spoken with many of these young people in Penrith, who will now start a new life in their new home, thousands of dollars better off. I have also spoken to local real estate agents, who told me that for the first time in many, many years they have first home buyers coming through the door rather than investors. Let us compare that with what the New South Wales Liberals wanted to do, which is reduce stamp duty by 10 per cent. That would be great for people who can afford multimillion dollar properties—none of them would be located in my electorate—but it would do little for the people of my electorate or the vast majority of people in New South Wales.
I shall now address the other announcements in this year's budget. The Premier has made no secret that health care is the Government's number one priority. To emphasise this fact, this year's health budget will reach an all-time high of $9.7 billion, plus an extra $600 million in capital spending. This represents an increase of more than $700 million on last year's budget. That is a substantial increase by anyone's measure. In the electorate of Penrith, this saw more than $1 million in this year's budget go towards the construction of a new emergency department at Nepean Hospital. The total cost of the project is $9.7 million, and it had funding allocated in previous budgets. I am happy to report to the House that I visited the new emergency department on its first day of operation; I was delighted with this project.
The main emphasis of the project is that it was designed by the users. Clinicians, nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and the architect got together as a team and designed the new emergency department. One important aspect of the new emergency department is the computer tracking system that came on line on 1 July, when the new emergency department began operating. The staff are exceedingly proud of a number of features that make the new department a wonderful facility, which means nothing without the staff who operate it. As I said, I visited the new department and spoke to the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. The volunteers who work in the emergency department were busy on the first day assisting with the transition from the old emergency department to the new emergency department. I can say, with just a hint of bias, that Penrith can lay claim to some of the finest doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in Australia.
Other features in the health budget for the Penrith electorate include $3.6 million to reduce long wait elective surgery lists, with a further $2.7 million to reduce access block; and $1.6 million to enhance mental health services by opening a further three acute beds in the Pialla unit and by improving community health services. I have been contacted by a number of users and workers in the mental health unit at Nepean Hospital, and there is a great need for those three new beds. Another important aspect to health in Penrith was an announcement last year—it had been announced a few years ago but it is coming on line in this budget—of a new cancer care centre at Nepean Hospital. The hospital has had a cancer centre for 10 years, but last year the Government announced funding of $1.4 million to upgrade the centre. Currently, the cancer centre provides more than 32,500 cancer treatments a year.
Last year I visited the centre with the Premier, and I looked at what an investment of $1.4 million would do for the facilities for the 90 staff and for the families of Western Sydney. The upgrade means better treatment, and better treatment close to home. When I meet people at my pollie-in-the-park and community meetings I often tell them that during the time I have lived in Western Sydney and in Penrith in particular I have seen Nepean Hospital grow from a district hospital with a gum tree in its car park—people used to park underneath the gum tree—to a state-of-the-art teaching hospital. The gum tree might not have survived, but we have a cancer care centre and a number of other facilities at Nepean Hospital. For many years people in Western Sydney who needed cancer treatment hopped on a train, if they did not drive, and travelled to the inner-city hospitals. Many years ago my father-in-law had to do that. Now his wife is undergoing treatment at the cancer care centre at Nepean Hospital, which is two minutes from her home. She is able to get community transport to the centre to undertake treatment.
As a qualified radiographer I know that improvements to radiography during cancer treatments are welcomed. I am impressed with the changes that will be made to the radiation planning area. The $1.4 million expansion of the Nepean Hospital cancer care centre will deliver an expanded clinic space, allowing the medical profession to see more patients, and an expanded pathology collection area. As my mother-in-law is experiencing, cancer treatment involves ongoing pathology collection. Expansion of the pathology collection area will increase the services provided in the centre. Upgrades to staff and patient amenities include extra toilets, and an improved reception area will increase the comfort of patients and reduce waiting times. As I said, I visited the centre last year after the $1.4 million expansion was announced. When I visited the centre with my mother-in-law I saw the upgraded main reception area, which increased her comfort. When she walked in she could sit down and talk to someone, which was terrific for her as a user.
The centre has additional tutorial rooms for use by staff to discuss patient care. As I said, radiation is a vital part of health care in cancer treatment. It is interesting to note that in the 12 months up to June 2003 the centre provided 32,500 cancer treatments, including 4,900 chemotherapy treatments and 11,500 radiotherapy treatments. So the $1.4 million upgrade previously announced recognises the urgent need for an extra radiotherapy treatment area. As I said, one interesting aspect of the new emergency department at Nepean Hospital is that it was designed by the users. The staff can stand in one section and see the short stay beds, and they can look around and see the paediatric beds. They can also look into the distance but still have some of the resuscitation beds in their line of sight. Anyone who had visited the old Nepean Hospital emergency department, which had not been designed by users, knows that the new department is a very different place. The overall look and usability of the space has been enhanced.
On my visit on 1 July I saw also the short stay area, which has brand new recliner rockers for patients who are undergoing treatment but do not require a bed. There are two secure rooms in the emergency department. With the correctional facility for women at Emu Plains and the John Morony Correctional Centre for men and women just outside Penrith, there is a need for secure rooms for patients from those centres, and two such rooms have been provided. There are also two isolation rooms that can be fully shut down. Patients who are contagious can be put into those rooms, which have a separate oxygen system. Those are just a few of the improvements in the new emergency department. It was a job well done by the clinicians, the nursing staff and the allied health professionals who got together with the architect and designed it.
This year the Carr Government will increase spending on mental health by almost a quarter of a billion dollars. That figure includes $6.8 million to fast track urgent additional mental health beds; $4.6 million to further develop the role of mental health services in the community; and $2.5 million to enhance the child and adolescent mental health service. This year's mental health budget also includes expenditure for 50 beds and a new acute mental health unit in Wyong, a new 14-bed acute mental health unit in Liverpool and more beds for outer Western Sydney. Since coming to office the Carr Government has increased health care funding in Penrith by more than 140 per cent, and I applaud it for these massive increases.
Education is also at the top of the New South Wales Labor Government's list of priorities of the. This year we will spend close to $10 billion on continuing to provide our students with the best chances to get ahead. Of this massive figure, just under half a billion dollars will be spent on employing extra teachers and reducing class sizes from kindergarten to year 2. As members of this House will no doubt recall, this was a major election commitment and one that this Government intends to honour in full. Last week I visited Braddock primary school and spoke to a kindergarten teacher who said it was wonderful having only 19 students.
Two local schools in Penrith will receive increased funding allocations, which will allow them to complete capital works. Glenbrook primary school will receive more than $1 million extra to continue the construction of new classrooms, a new library and a new administration area. The Premier and I recently visited Glenbrook primary school to meet with the new principal, David Brown, and discuss the improvements. The library was being rolled out on that day. We spoke to staff and students who were eager to see all buildings completed. They had just moved into their classrooms. Their library was to come on line in a few days and construction had commenced on the new administration block. An amount of more than $250,000 will allow Penrith Public School to complete construction of its new school hall, canteen, covered outside learning area, car park and toilet block. Luke Rooney, a Penrith winger and an international and State representative, attended Penrith Public School and his name is on the school roll.
These improvements, which are taking place in every electorate in the State, mean nothing unless we have the teachers ready to impart their knowledge to the students and facilitate learning. As a former teacher I know the difficulties of the job—staying up late to mark work and complete reports—but I also know the immense joy the job brings to my constituents who are teachers. That is why I am so happy that New South Wales teachers will continue to be the highest paid teachers in Australia following the Government's commitment to fully fund their 12 per cent pay increase entirely through Treasury.
As well as the important areas of health and education, the Treasurer also announced major increases to other front-line services that will benefit my electorate of Penrith. This year's State budget delivered a win to the 2,800 train commuters who use the Emu Plains railway station each day. Approximately $1.8 million has been allocated to upgrade the commuter car park at the railway station. The facility will have an additional 200 parking spaces, closed-circuit television cameras for increased security, set down and pick up zones, bus shelters, bicycle lockers and new security lighting. This year the New South Wales Government is borrowing more than $2.5 billion, which represents the biggest ever increase in passenger rail history. Of that amount, $1 billion dollars will be used for rail clearways and $1.5 billion for new rolling stock. This year alone the Carr Government will spend $350 million more on passenger services in New South Wales.
I cannot finish my contribution today without discussing the bus reforms that were announced by the Premier as late as yesterday. These massive reforms for Western Sydney will see fares brought into line regardless of the distance or the company. Those of us who have lived in Western Sydney for a long time have always wanted to see blue paint on our buses. We do not have blue paint but we heard the huge announcement that will see passengers across the Sydney metropolitan area paying the same fares to travel the same distance regardless of destination or operator. The people of Penrith are jumping with joy. These fares represent a fairer deal for families in Penrith and in the greater west. I commend those announcements.
While rail and bus are important, the roads need to be safe. One longstanding issue of concern in my electorate has been Lapstone hill on the Great Western Highway. In this year's budget the Treasurer announced an allocation of $2.6 million to complete safety improvements on this stretch of road. Features of the safety improvement project include widening the westbound carriageway, extending the central median barrier, resurfacing the existing pavement, and repairing the block barrier on the southern side of the highway.
I also commend the Government for investing more than $2 billion in policing and law enforcement in this budget. An amount of $1.1 million will be spent on housing projects in my electorate. This budget continues the New South Wales Labor Government's commitment to provide a massive increase in funds to essential services, such as health, education and police, while at the same time offering massive financial relief to first home buyers in New South Wales. It is a budget I am proud to support, and I commend it to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Malcolm Kerr.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 12.57 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.
Murrumbateman Public School
Petition requesting re-establishment of Murrumbateman Public School, received from Ms Katrina Hodgkinson
Mature Workers Program
Petition requesting that the Mature Workers Program be restored, received from Ms Clover Moore
Skilled Migrant Placement Program
Petition requesting that the Skilled Migrant Placement Program be restored, received from Ms Clover Moore
Gaming Machine Tax
Petitions opposing the decision to increase poker machine tax, received from Mr Greg Aplin
, Mr Steve Cansdell
, Mr Steven Pringle
and Mr Andrew Tink
Luna Park Development Application
Petition opposing the latest development application for Luna Park, received from Mrs Jillian Skinner
Castle Hill Residential Aged Care Facility Development
Petition opposing a proposed development of a residential aged care facility at 42-46 Darcey Road, Castle Hill, received from Mr Michael Richardson
Pacific Highway Speed Limit
Petition requesting reduction of the Pacific Highway speed limit at Wardell to 70 kilometres per hour, received from Mr Steve Cansdell
Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass
Petition requesting the construction of a Pacific Highway bypass for the coastal plain of Coffs Harbour, received from Mr Andrew Fraser
Windsor Traffic Conditions
Petition requesting funding for construction of a bridge across the Hawkesbury River, from Wilberforce Road and Freemans Reach Road, connecting to the bridge into Windsor, and the rescheduling of the current roadworks program, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Old Northern and New Line Roads Strategic Route Development Study
Petition requesting funding for implementation of the Old Northern and New Line roads strategic route development study, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Coffs Harbour Aeromedical Rescue Helicopter Service
Petitions requesting that plans for the placement of an aeromedical rescue helicopter service based in Coffs Harbour be fast-tracked, received from Mr Steve Cansdell
, Mr Andrew Fraser
and Mr Thomas George
Breast Screening Funding
Petition requesting effective breast screening for women and maintenance of funding to BreastScreen NSW, received from Mrs Jillian Skinner
CountryLink Rail Services
Petitions opposing the abolition of CountryLink rail services and their replacement with buses in rural and regional New South Wales, received from Mr Steve Cansdell, Mr Andrew Fraser
and Ms Katrina Hodgkinson
Murwillumbah to Casino Rail Service
Petition requesting the retention of the Countrylink rail service from Murwillumbah to Casino, received from Mr Neville Newell
Albury Electorate Policing
Petition requesting an increased physical police presence in the Albury electorate, received from Mr Greg Aplin
Petition requesting the fast-tracking of plans to build a dam at Dunoon, received from Mr Thomas George
Horticultural Industry Water Restrictions Assistance
Petition requesting assistance for the horticultural industry to cope with water restrictions, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Water Carting Restrictions
Petition opposing the decision by Sydney Water Corporation to restrict the operating times for water carters and not allow Sunday cartage, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Water Tank Subsidy
Petition requesting that the water tank subsidy be extended to rural residents of Baulkham Hills, Hawkesbury and Hornsby local government areas, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Hawkesbury Electorate Sewerage
Petition praying that funding be provided to construct a reticulated sewerage system for Glossodia, Freeman's Reach and Wilberforce, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Lismore Fire Service
Petition requesting the provision of a permanently staffed fire service in Lismore, received from Mr Thomas George
Social Program Policy Subsidy
Petition requesting that the social program policy subsidy be extended to residents in the Hawkesbury local government area, received from Mr Steven Pringle
Grafton Agricultural Research and Advisory Station
Petition opposing the closure of the Grafton Agricultural Research and Advisory Station, received from Mr Steve Cansdell
Petition opposing any proposal to sell State Forests, received from Ms Katrina Hodgkinson
Cat and Dog Meat Sale
Petition requesting legislation banning the sale of cat and dog meat for human or animal consumption, received from Ms Clover Moore
Sow Stall Ban
Petition requesting the total ban of sow stalls, received from Ms Clover Moore
Hawkesbury-Nepean River System Weed Harvester
Petition requesting the purchase of a weed harvester for the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system, received from Mr Steven Pringle
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Reordering of General Business
Mr JOHN BROGDEN
(Pittwater—Leader of the Opposition) [2.28 p.m.]: I move:
That the General Business Notice of Motion (General Notice) given by me today [Designer Outlets Centre, Liverpool, Closure] have precedence on Thursday 2 September 2004.
The Government's failure to rezone the Orange Grove designer outlets centre at Liverpool has resulted in 450 people losing their jobs. In addition, 60 businesses that have spent millions of dollars on fit-outs and stock have been forced to close because the Premier's Government chose to support Westfield over Western Sydney. The Premier, the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, the assistant Minister and the member for Fairfield betrayed 450 workers and 60 businesses and rolled over for big business. They had the opportunity to choose between Westfield and the workers, and they chose Westfield. What does the Premier say to Katrina Hayek, the manager of Rima Shoes, a mother of three with a mortgage and a car loan to repay who now finds herself unemployed? What does the assistant Minister say to Jim Choo-Mas, who turns 26 today and faces the prospect of losing his house and his car because the Government did not rezone the development? What does the Minister say to Eva A-Tell-J, who has been fortunate enough to obtain a part-time job but must now travel from Fairfield to Birkenhead Point for three hours' work a day?
The Premier misled the people of New South Wales about his knowledge of the Orange Grove scandal, publicly claiming he knew nothing when the opposite was true. The Orange Grove affair has been a web of lies, deceit and half-truths. The Labor Party has deliberately spread misinformation. The Premier tried to hide the fact that his chief of staff, Graeme Wedderburn, met with Westfield's Mark Ryan. Graeme Wedderburn deliberately tried to hide the fact that Emilio Ferrer, the deputy chief of staff of the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, was at his infamous meeting with the assistant Minister.
This motion should be debated tomorrow because the workers of Orange Grove, whose jobs and lives have been destroyed because of the lies and deals of the Labor Party, deserve a chance to have their stories heard and to get answers from the Government. They deserve a chance to hear from the silent member for Fairfield about what went on in his telephone conversations with the assistant Minister. Bring on the debate! Let the people of New South Wales know about the deal the Premier did for his mates at Westfield, the way his lackey, the assistant Minister, delivered the goods for him, and the very difficult situation the member for Fairfield finds himself in. [Time expired.
Mr CARL SCULLY
(Smithfield—Minister for Roads, and Minister for Housing) [2.30 p.m.]: The Government agrees with the motion to reorder general business.
Motion agreed to.
VARIATIONS OF PAYMENTS ESTIMATES AND APPROPRIATIONS 2003-04
Mr Craig Knowles,
by leave, tabled variations of the receipts and estimates and appropriations for 2003-04 under section 26 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, arising from the provision by the Commonwealth of specific purpose payments in excess of the amounts included in the State's receipts and payments estimates to the Department of Community Services.
Mr Craig Knowles,
by leave, tabled variations of the receipts and estimates and appropriations for 2003-04 under section 26 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, arising from the provision by the Commonwealth of specific purpose payments in excess of the amounts included in the State's receipts and payments estimates to the Roads and Traffic Authority.
Mr Craig Knowles,
by leave, tabled variations of the receipts and estimates and appropriations for 2003-04 under section 26 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, arising from the provision by the Commonwealth of specific purpose payments in excess of the amounts included in the State's receipts and payments estimates to the Department of Health.
Mr Craig Knowles,
by leave, tabled variations of the receipts and estimates and appropriations for 2003-04 under section 26 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, arising from the provision by the Commonwealth of specific purpose payments in excess of the amounts included in the State's receipts and payments estimates to the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
DESIGNER OUTLETS CENTRE, LIVERPOOL, CLOSURE
Mr JOHN BROGDEN:
My question without notice is to the Minister for Western Sydney. Given that the Minister ignored the social and economic welfare provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and rejected departmental advice to rezone Orange Grove, how does she explain to the 450 Orange Grove workers and their families that she chose Westfield over the workers?
Ms DIANE BEAMER:
As I said yesterday, I made my decision on strong planning grounds, without influence. Let me quote some senior planners in New South Wales and their response to the section 69 report. The Deputy Director-General of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources [DIPNR], Dr Sam Haddad, who is the most senior planning adviser to me and the director-general, said:
The section 69 report in my view is not an adequate report for the purpose of providing good public policy advice.
The deputy director-general described the report as inadequate. And even Gary Prattley, the senior DIPNR planner who endorsed the section 69 report, said to the inquiry:
You could equally draw the opposite conclusion from the written material in the report.
He said it was not a good report, that it was ill-conceived and inadequate. As I have said, I made my decision on sound planning grounds, in line with our centre's policy, in line with State environmental planning policy, and in line with—
Mr Andrew Tink:
Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. The question was about the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The Minister needs to answer why she has not taken into account section 79C—
Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Epping will resume his seat.
Mr Andrew Tink:
Order! I call the honourable member for Epping to order for having defied the direction of the Chair.
Ms MARIANNE SALIBA:
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. What is the Government's response to community concern about drug use in the community?
Mr BOB CARR:
I am pleased to announce to the House that levels of heroin use have fallen dramatically in New South Wales over the past few years. That is due to effective intelligence-based policing, our comprehensive Drug Summit response, and the Australian heroin drought. While we rely on Customs and the Federal Police as our first line of defence against this poison, the New South Wales Police Force deserves some credit, and members opposite ought to give it some credit.
Order! I call the honourable member for The Hills to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
Last year New South Wales police made 694 seizures of heroin. Members on both sides of the House should give them a bit of credit and support for that. Last year the State's police, whom the Opposition attacked, closed down 212 drug houses. They were assisted by the extra powers we gave them over drug houses. Credit should be given where it is due. A report by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre commissioned by the Government in November 2002 confirms that the number of current regular heroin users in New South Wales has dropped substantially. These are significant findings. The report found that in 2002 there were approximately 19,900 regular heroin users in the State, 58 per cent fewer than two years earlier. This is the very good news. The biggest decrease is in the younger age group.
The report also shows that drug-related harm is on the decline, with heroin deaths cut by 67 per cent and ambulance call-outs to overdoses cut by 55 per cent. The report attributes these improvements to the decline in heroin supply. There are two lessons we can draw from this. First, our tough law enforcement approach has made it harder for users to obtain drugs, forcing many of them to give up the habit cold turkey or seek treatment. Second, when those users do seek treatment, we have ensured that they have somewhere to go. As a result of the Drug Summit and the initiatives that came out of it, $400 million in extra spending has been invested to help people with a drug habit to beat that habit.
Order! The honourable member for Swansea will come to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
We have been able to offer, for example, 4,000 extra places in methadone treatment; 3,000 extra in-patient detoxification places a year, with more to become available shortly in the Hunter and the Illawarra; and a record 889 residential rehabilitation beds, some funded by the Commonwealth. While all this is very encouraging, a new threat is emerging from so-called party drugs. The use of drugs such as speed, crystal methamphetamine and gammahydroxybutyrate [GHB] is disturbingly high, particularly among people in their twenties. Because these drugs can be manufactured in illegal laboratories in Australia, it is up to us to choke off supply. I am happy to say that there has been an upward trend in the detection and seizure of clandestine laboratories in Australia. The total weight of amphetamine-type drugs seized in 2002-03 in New South Wales over the previous year has also increased.
The key is to target the raw chemicals, the so-called precursor substances, which are the ingredients for these poisons. That is why we have tightened the law to make it even harder for drug criminals to buy those precursor drugs. We plan to take it even further. The sale of the most serious precursor drugs will now require end-user declarations and a 24-hour delay after a sale has been made. Other precursors not currently regulated will also now require end-user declarations when sold to non-account customers. This will mean that those who make illicit drugs will not be able to buy these chemicals unless they disclose their identity. This will help police trace and cut off this illicit supply.
The proliferation of clandestine drug laboratories also poses a big risk to children. The environment of an illegal laboratory is dangerous; the chemicals used are susceptible to fire and explosion and chemical fumes pose serious health risks. In November and December 2002 backyard drug laboratories exploded in Blacktown and Miller. In July 2003 a drug laboratory in St Mary's blew up and killed the criminal chemist working inside. For these reasons the Government will increase penalties for criminals operating such laboratories who endanger the health or safety of children by exposing them to illicit drug manufacturing or to chemicals being stored for that purpose. In addition, we will introduce new penalties for those who exploit children by using them to supply drugs to others. This repugnant practice must stop.
Another insidious phenomenon has been the rise of GHB, or gammahydroxybutyrate. Common street names include liquid ecstasy, fantasy, GHB or grievous bodily harm. It is a risky drug. It can lead to convulsions, respiratory collapse, coma and sometimes death, particularly when mixed with other drugs, including alcohol. It is, of course, a prohibited drug in New South Wales. But there are some chemical substances which are used in industry that, when digested by the body, actually turn into GHB causing death and injury to a number of users. That is why the Government will list these substances as prohibited drugs under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act to ensure that their possession and supply are prohibited, punished and deterred, while protecting legitimate industrial users.
Another emerging threat is high purity crystal methamphetamine. This dangerous substance has been accompanied by the use of ice pipes. These are instruments that crystals are placed in, heated and inhaled. Ice pipes are designed for this purpose and have no other uses. It is already an offence to have possession of an ice pipe for use in the administration of a drug. Now the Government will make it a gaolable offence to sell or supply ice pipes commercially or to display ice pipes in a shop for a commercial purpose.
These reforms will be part of a broader package targeting the manufacture and supply of these so-called party drugs in this State—part of our plan to respond to the changing patterns of drug crime as they emerge. We have made strides in bringing heroin use and heroin deaths under control. We are attacking the notion that cannabis is some sort of soft drug that is relatively harmless. Now we have got to hammer the message that party drugs are dangerous and unacceptable. Their manufacture and use will be met with the full force of the law. I thank the House for its attention.
DESIGNER OUTLETS CENTRE, LIVERPOOL, CLOSURE
Mr JOHN BROGDEN:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Western Sydney. Why has the Minister continually said that she has not been lobbied by anybody when AMP, an equal partner in Westfield Liverpool complex and a proponent of a rival factory outlet to Orange Grove, used Julian Brophy, a former staffer to the Deputy Premier, to exert influence over the Minister and her office?
Ms DIANE BEAMER:
They exerted no influence.
DESIGNER OUTLETS CENTRE, LIVERPOOL, CLOSURE
Mr PETER BLACK:
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. What is the Government's response to community concerns about matters raised in the New South Wales Court of Appeal on 25 August about tenancy arrangements at Orange Grove?
Mr BOB CARR:
It is certainly a very interesting case and it answers one of the matters touched on a moment ago by the Leader of the Opposition. It is, in fact, an action brought against Mr Gazal by someone he mentioned—someone who has gone to court, a tenant at Orange Grove, against Mr Gazal. I will come to that in a moment. I must say getting this question from the honourable member for Murray-Darling causes me to reflect for a moment on the terrific news about rainfall patterns at Broken Hill, which I want to share with the House: rain, and plenty of it. Broken Hill has received more than 47 millimetres since the falls began on Friday night; Hay got 23 millimetres in the 72 hours to 9 a.m. this morning; Cobar got 15.6 millimetres—
Order! I call the honourable member for Albury to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
Ivanhoe got more than 33 millimetres, Condobolin got 15.4 millimetres and, I am told that by Monday the Little Topar Hotel, which had only two weeks of water left, had four years' worth of water in its dam.
In reply to our old friend the honourable member for Lachlan, I am not saying the honourable member for Murray-Darling produced the rain in his electorate. I am not that naive. But in so many respects he is a miracle worker and some of his electors may have got that impression. This talk about rainfall reminds me of yesterday's debate and it is an opportunity for me to say something more about Orange Grove. By the way, was not the Opposition a flop yesterday? All the noise is designed to retrieve a little, but if members of the Opposition were lawyers they would be the last advocates one would hire.
I want to talk a little more about this very dodgy development application [DA] and the shonky developer who conned 60 leaseholders and hundreds of workers because they are the victims of Nabil Gazal, and matters raised in the courts confirm that absolutely. Members might remember that yesterday I said would it not be interesting to see some leases. Well, I have got some information about leases to share with the House, if the House will be patient.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party has come to life. Spiderman! He gives diet and exercise a bad name because he uses it for base political purposes, not to lift the level of fitness in the community and produce good will and harmony but simply to make a strike for high political office. Nabil Gazal offered these people leases knowing the leases were doomed because of court action. He signed them up and he did not tell them his dodgy council approval was under challenge. So they signed the leases, but he ignored what I will establish is something of a legal obligation—to share with those people, as they signed those leases in good faith, information about the DA and its status. Government members of the upper House committee have asked Mr Gazal to hand over the leases to prove or disprove this contention. The Opposition worked overtime to conceal Mr Gazal's deceit of his tenants: they voted down that Government call for the presentation of those leases.
Let us have a look at some of the leases. Last week on 25 August a lawyer representing one of the tenants had this to say about Mr Gazal in direct reference to the court action involving Gazcorp. Mr Abboud, speaking to Justice Sheller, said this:
I act for Reimer Collections—
the name mentioned a moment ago—
also a tenant in the centre. The tenants in these centres are all corporate citizens and don't know all the rules. They are just normal businessmen who were approached to take up leases which they did … and they proceeded in the normal course of business. They didn't know anything else.
You can see there has been communication between Westfield and Gazcorp, but no evidence to suggest these tenants have been informed.
You have a landlord who is receiving rent and who is proceeding with legal action, and I don't think there is any evidence before your Honour to suggest he has been sharing advice with these tenants, or explaining consequences wand ramifications. For all we know, the landlord might be saying – "Everything will be fine".
The tenants' lawyer, Mr Abboud, continued:
We don't come here in support of the landlord, because it is quite clear that all the tenants will end up suing the landlord. We are not on the side of the landlord.
There you have it in the court: Nabil Gazal has deceived those tenants. They were not told about the legal action threatening the lease, threatening the operations, when they were induced to sign up. A lawyer representing these tenants—one of the tenants named by the Leader of the Opposition—said that in the court. There is no evidence that these tenants have been informed of the risk to Mr Gazal's dodgy DA.
We had an inadequate performance yesterday so we have a bit of shouting and table thumping today. If the House needs more evidence of Mr Gazal's deceit of the tenants, let us go to the Australian Retailers Association, which has been at the centre for weeks trying to help the tenants out, that is, when Mr Gazal was not throwing them and others off the site. He does not want anyone to be able to offer assistance to find a new job in a legal zoning. He did not want businesspeople to be given a fresh start in legally zoned premises elsewhere. No, Mr Gazal kept them in the dark every step of the way. He did not tell them the court action against the dodgy DA started back in June last year.
I have got something to say about the Leader of the Opposition and his link with North Coast developers, but that will wait until I am ready. Mr Gazal did not include any disclosure of this in the leases he held out and people signed. He did not tell them of the court decision in January or in March this year because it was all part of a sly plan to blackmail the Government into retrofitting his development with a rezoning. But the Australian Retailers Association did have some breakthroughs. Six traders contacted the Australian Retailers Association. They have all been formally interviewed in person and this is what they told the association. In its report to the Government dated 30 August the Australian Retailers Association concludes:
All (leaseholders) had been given a disclosure statement as required under the Retail Leases Act 1994. No statement contained any information about pending legal action that the centre was in breach of the zoning laws. The owners knew of the pending legal action at this point in time.
None (of the leaseholders) were advised of the pending legal action until about March 2004. Even then the owner had an ambivalent attitude towards the challenge.
The developers are under legal challenge, there is no legitimate zoning, they sign up people in these leases, but they tell them nothing—no disclosure. In the last 24 hours the Government has sighted copies of some of the leases Mr Gazal offered his tenants. The legal branch of the Cabinet Office looked at them this morning and says there is no mention of the court action against Mr Gazal's dodgy DA in the leases or in the disclosure statements. Remember that the court action was started against Gazal in June last year.
Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
That means any lease offered by Mr Gazal after that date should have included a disclosure about the court action. The leases the Government has seen were issued by Gazcorp after the commencement of legal proceedings. These leases do not have a single word to say about the court challenge to Mr Gazal's vulnerable DA. Yesterday I challenged Mr Gazal to hand over the leases, to make them public. Last week in the Court of Appeal Mr Abboud, representing Reimer Collections, confirmed that his client had never had this discussed by Mr Gazal—never had it pointed out; never had the warnings or the disclosures made. The leases the Government has seen, Mr Abboud's client, Mr Abboud's representations in court and six traders presenting to the Australian Retailers Association all say they were deceived. So the ball is back in Mr Gazal's court. If he made honest and full disclosure to all the tenants at Orange Grove, then he should show us the leases where that appears—bring them here today. But we know, or we suspect, that Mr Gazal will remain silent on this.
I am further advised by the Cabinet Office that where a lessor fails to disclose critical information like a pending court action against a vulnerable or challenged or dodgy DA, he has possibly breached both the Trade Practices Act and the Retail Leases Act 1994 and may well be in breach of contract as well. What are the penalties? There are damages for misleading and deceptive conduct, damages for unconscionable conduct and damages for breach of lease. There may even be penalties for false representations or misleading conduct in relation to land. But all he cared about was an opportunity to blackmail the Government, using these vulnerable people, into getting a retrofit planning approval.
Well, the Minister would not bend the rules for Mr Gazal. She made a decision on sound planning grounds. She based her decision on the State environmental policy concerned with centres policy, on two court decisions—now three—and the State Government's longstanding centres policy, I should add, a policy supported by the Greiner Government and the Fahey Government as much as by this Government, and, I can reveal to the House in an address to the Property Council of Australia on 13 August this year, supported by the Leader of the Opposition himself. I crave your silence. He said this about the centres policy, talking about the planning of Sydney—the need to get rational planning frameworks for a city of 4.5 million people, with 1,000 new people coming every week. The only way to make a city of such sprawl, such size, work is a centres-based policy for the metropolitan basin. He said:
So we are becoming very centres focused. We have to continue to drive that policy. It is good policy at work...
That raises the question: We will make an exception, he says, of centres policy for one person and one person alone, and that is Mr Nabil Gazal. That is where he stands. The Opposition says that the centres policy is the only way Sydney can work. We are going to have a metropolitan strategy based on centres policy. "It is good policy at work". We must have a centres policy, but because Mr Nabil Gazal is who he is, we will make an exception in his case because Liverpool council is so convincing and persuasive—one of only two to be dismissed in the State. We will make an exception because of a request from them.
Order! The honourable member for Southern Highlands will come to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
We are not making an exception. We are applying the rules and we are applying them fearlessly in all these cases. I thank the House for its attention.
DESIGNER OUTLETS CENTRE, LIVERPOOL, CLOSURE
Mr JOHN BROGDEN:
My question without notice is to the Minister for Western Sydney. Now that the Minister has confirmed that she and her office were lobbied by Julian Brophy and AMP, contrary to her earlier public statements, how many meetings or other contacts took place between the Minister, her office, AMP and Mr Brophy, and what was discussed?
Ms DIANE BEAMER:
I have never met nor been influenced by the people named by the Leader of the Opposition.
LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL AND BULKY GOODS RETAIL OUTLETS
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning. What is the Minister's response to community concerns about apparent contradictions in two recent court matters involving Liverpool City Council and bulky goods retail outlets?
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
Yesterday's chapter was the story of the dodgy development application [DA]. Today we have the tale of two sites. For one site, it was the best of times; for the other site, it was the worst of times. At almost exactly the same time that Westfield was taking Orange Grove and Liverpool council to court, Woolworths was taking a company called the Warehouse Group and Liverpool council to court over an almost identical matter.
Order! I call the honourable member for Bega to order.
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
The Woolworths court case is less well known but I can assure honourable members that it is very relevant. Like the Orange Grove court case, the Woolworths court case was all about retailing prohibited goods in a bulky goods zoning. The site in question is on the corner of the Hume Highway and Sappho Road at Warwick Farm. It is a place called the Homemakers Centre. As the crow flies, it is almost exactly two kilometres from the Orange Grove site, and both sites are equidistant from the Liverpool central business district. The only advantage this site might have in planning terms over the Orange Grove site is that it is literally within close walking distance of Warwick Farm railway station.
Woolworths took the Warehouse Group to court because it was selling goods that were not permitted in a bulky goods zoning. The Warehouse Group had an approval that was very specific. The council had given it an approval which listed in the consent the permissible uses that one finds in the council's planning instrument for bulky goods. The council also thought it was important enough not only to list the things one could do but also to put another condition in the consent in a section that defined those items that were "strictly prohibited from sale". That list of prohibited goods included clothing, footwear and sunglasses; manchester and linen; and grocery items, including cosmetics and toiletry products. That is, the council took the time specifically to list items which were prohibited for sale at Warwick Farm but which were or could be sold, with council approval, at the Orange Grove outlet just two kilometres away.
Let us put that contradiction aside for a moment and ask how consistent council's actions were in these two matters. Here is the council faced with two court matters about almost identical issues over alleged illegal uses on two different properties, but with identical zonings. They were two kilometres away from each other and all of that was happening in the same time frame. The court cases were happening at the same time or certainly near enough to the same time for council officers to know precisely the relationship between the two matters. The Woolworths judgment was handed down on 19 December 2003, just weeks before the Orange Grove matter was heard in the Land and Environment Court and less than two weeks after Liverpool council's decision to rezone Orange Grove in its report of 8 December 2003.
In fact, the issues before the court in these two matters are so closely linked that the judge in the Orange Grove case used the Warwick Farm case in his judgment; he quoted extensively from the Warwick Farm decision. The question is pretty simple: If the judge was able to make the clear link between these two identically zoned sites, why did the council not make the same link? Unlike the court, the council's response to these two matters was very different: two sites, one council and two very different results! We all know that in the lead-up to the Orange Grove court case Liverpool council resolved to apply for a rezoning. By 8 December 2003 Liverpool council knew that it was on a hiding to nothing in the looming court case. It knew that its dodgy DA was about to be smashed to pieces in the Land and Environment Court. As we all now know, it decided to jump in and fix the problem by a retrospective rezoning.
Yet with the Warwick Farm site the council chose to do nothing. For Orange Grove the council sought to pre-empt the court case by retrofitting a rezoning to an illegal development application. For Warwick Farm, just down the road, with identical zoning and a court case running, the council made no attempt to pre-empt or help out in any way, shape or form. It made no attempt to do for Warwick Farm what was being done for Orange Grove. As I said, two sites, one council and two very different decisions. The opportunities were clearly there. Council considered both the Orange Grove site and another site at the Cross Roads for rezoning for the factory outlet centres on 8 December 2003. It is interesting to pause for a moment and look briefly—because we may have to come back to this—at the council report of 8 December, which is about 10 pages long. The report, which is allegedly about two sites, stated:
Council has received an application from AMP Henderson Global Investments to rezone land at the Crossroads site at Liverpool to allow the development of additional bulky goods retail.
The report, which is all about the Cross Roads site, goes on for almost 10 pages with maps and plans. One finally finds four paragraphs, in round figures, at the back of the report, adding Orange Grove to this report clearly as an afterthought. All the environmental and economic assessments in the report are about not Orange Grove but the Cross Roads site. The only commentary on the Orange Grove site is the rather quaint paragraph, which states:
In addition [to all the Crossroads matters] it is recommended that we amend the schedule of the LEP to list the existing DFO centre operation at Orange Grove as an outlet centre to resolve any ambiguity and to provide clarity in defining the current use.
That is the substantive documentation for a council to validate a decision to rezone a site. There is no mention of a court case and no economic analysis. So the opportunity was there, but I might add—
The Opposition has introduced a bill in the upper House to save Orange Grove. When the work is done to analyse it, why not chuck in the Cross Roads as well? Why not include some others? If the Opposition breaks the centres policy, why do it for one person? Why not do it for the lot? What deals has the Opposition done?
Mr Andrew Tink:
Point of order: The upper House bill says what the Minister opened. That is what it is about.
Order! The honourable member for Epping will resume his seat. I place him on three calls to order.
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
As I said, the opportunity—
Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order.
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
The question is a simple one. The honourable member for North Shore will have her turn soon enough. The council considered two sites on 8 December. Why did it not just make it a job lot and throw in the Warwick Farm site as well? It was all in the same time frame. Indeed, the decision on Warwick Farm was handed down two weeks later. Why not do three if the council was already doing two?
Mr John Brogden:
Have you got time to open them?
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
Raising one's voice and behaving like a child is not a substitute for decorum.
Order! I call the Leader of the House to order.
Mr CRAIG KNOWLES:
Documents at Liverpool council reveal a facsimile dated 15 July 2004 from the then owner of the Warwick Farm site to the general manager of Liverpool City Council about the subject of factory outlet stores. The reply by the current planning boss, Phil Tolhurst, to the former owner is also dated 15 July 2004. The owner told the general manager that he owned the Homemakers Centre from 1991 until recently. Over the years he was continually advised by Liverpool City Council—and his tenants were threatened with prosecution—that factory outlets were an unlawful use and that they would not be approved as a use in this zoning, nor would an application to change a zoning be supported by the council. The owner of the site then asked a very simple question of the Liverpool City Council, and it is this. He asked the general manager of Liverpool City Council:
Could you advise why the Orange Grove site in the same zoning was treated differently and approved and an application for rezoning retrospectively supported by council?
We would all like to know the answer to that. He got an answer from the manager of city development, Phil Tolhurst, on the same day. The reply said this:
Under the Liverpool local environmental plan 1997 outlet centres are currently not separately defined and not permitted within 4B industrial special zone.
If only the council had said that to the applicant in November 2002 or, more appropriately, when that application was lodged in June 2002. Like I said, two sites, one council and two very different results.
GAMING MACHINE TAX
Mr ANDREW STONER:
My question is directed to the Premier. Why does he refuse to listen to the club movement, representing 2½ million members, about his savage club tax increases, when all it took was a phone call from Westfield for him to spring into action to close down Orange Grove?
Mr BOB CARR:
I thought I was going to miss out on a question on pokies. The Leader of The Nationals has not let me down. Each and every year, for one reason or another, people cry poor and then one looks at the data to see how valid the complaint was.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
In 1995 the temporary casino opened and pokie revenues were going to collapse because, for the first time in Sydney, we were going to have a legal casino. Despite the temporary casino opening, pokie revenues went up $140 million or 6.6 per cent. In 1997 pokies went into hotels, and the clubs said it would cost them hugely. Instead, at the end of that year, despite the clubs saying it would cost them $418 million—a financially destructive act for clubs—what happened? Revenues went up by $120 million or 5.3 per cent.
Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
In November 1997 the permanent casino opened. Clubs NSW predicted a 15 per cent drop in revenue. What happened in 1998? Revenue went up 8.8 per cent. In 2000, pokie numbers were capped for 12 months. Clubs NSW said it would put smaller clubs into financial strife. What happened? Revenues went up 4.8 per cent or $130 million. In 2001, the freeze was extended. Clubs NSW predicted no facilities would be built or extended. Instead, revenues went up $100 million. In 2002, the cap was made permanent and a three-hour shutdown was introduced. David Costello predicted, "It will be pretty horrific for the clubs." What happened? Revenues went up $90 million.
The Opposition should answer this. Why has it not promised to reverse the tax increase? It has not, and it cannot. It has not promised to reverse it because it has promised to lift the vendor duty and that leaves it no room to do anything about poker machine taxation. The Opposition says, "What are you doing about poker machine taxation?" But it is not going to reduce it. It is very nice to see—and I am sincere in saying this—some of the expansion plans being produced by clubs around the State to take place in the next 12 months. I am particularly impressed by the expansion plans of one of the State's largest clubs, Revesby Workers Club, which is not sacking workers and not scaling back operations, but has committed itself to a $90 million expansion.
Mr Ian Armstrong:
Point of order: If the clubs were healthy why do small clubs in my electorate—
Order! There is no point order.
Mr Ian Armstrong:
—have to be propped up by the local shire?
Order! I call the honourable member for Lachlan to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
I daresay that the clubs the honourable member mentioned are in a very informative advertisement in the paper today that says they are not paying increased tax. This $90 million expansion plan is terrific. It will provide 750 new car spaces, 90 hotel rooms, 50 strata units and a massive refurbishment, all reported on the front page of the Torch.
I thank the Opposition for confirming in this House today that it is committed to retaining every cent of the Government's tax policy on pokies.
CASINO TO MURWILLUMBAH RAIL LINE
Mr NEVILLE NEWELL:
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. What is the latest information on the Casino to Murwillumbah passenger rail line?
Order! I call the honourable member for Lismore to order. Question time has proceeded so far without undue interruption. However, members are now becoming raucous. The Premier will be heard in silence.
Mr BOB CARR:
Members of the Opposition ask whether we will accept Federal Government money. That is one of the issues I want to canvass in what I hope is an informative answer to the honourable member's question. He has been doing a superb job.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
In the April mini-budget, faced with Commonwealth Government cuts of $1.7 billion over five years, the Government could no longer afford the investment of $150 million over the next decade to maintain what is, in effect, a line with one-third of the State's timber bridges.
Order! I call the honourable member for Lachlan to order for the second time. I call the Leader of The Nationals to order. I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order for the second time.
Mr BOB CARR:
The honourable member for Tweed has taken this matter up with the Federal Labor candidate for Richmond, Justine Elliot, and with Federal Labor.
Mr Andrew Stoner:
They cannot do anything.
Mr BOB CARR:
They will when they win. We will see what the Deputy Prime Minister has been doing and saying about this in a moment. On 20 August Federal Labor came up with a policy, an agreement, that offers the State $150 million over 10 years in Commonwealth funding—enough for CountryLink to fix the line.
Order! I call the honourable member for Murray-Darling to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
This was reported at length in the local media and I assure the honourable member for Wakehurst that I am not using this as a prop. I know he will come down hard if I attempt to use this as a prop. I just want to quote what was said in the Daily News
with the announcement of this policy. The Daily News
The Labor announcement said under an agreement with the NSW Government an additional $15 million will be made available from the Federal Government to New South Wales each and every year for 10 years to be injected into transport on the North Coast.
This extra Federal Government funding, which makes up for the cuts from that side of politics inflicted on the State, will enable the restoration of the rail service.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the second time.
Mr BOB CARR:
Larry Anthony, who is apparently the member for Richmond, said this was a stunt. Within 24 hours the State Leader of the Opposition dashed up there, rushed to his Federal colleague's aid and said, as quoted in the Daily News
on 24 August:
It is absurd to suggest Federal funding is needed to reopen it.
Within hours of the Leader of the Opposition's statement, the Deputy Prime Minister offered Federal funding to reopen the line. He contradicted the Leader of the Opposition, carved him up. He offered $15 million for one year—but the principle was there. The Leader of the Opposition says it is absurd to expect Federal Government funding and John Anderson says, "Here's $15 million. That is one year's funding."
Order! I call the honourable member for Lismore to order for the second time.
Mr BOB CARR:
The Leader of the Opposition then altered his argument and boasted shamelessly to NBN news: "The cheque's in the mail. It's all over. The Commonwealth cheque is in the mail." The next day Peter Costello saw what the Deputy Prime Minister offered and countermanded it and John Anderson withdrew the one-year offer. The Leader of the Opposition says, "The cheque is in the mail", Peter Costello intercepts it and the cheque becomes confetti.
Mr Andrew Stoner:
Point of Order: The Premier is misleading the House. There is $30 million on the table. He failed to mention that Labor's offer undercuts Pacific Highway funding from the Federal Government by $300 million.
Order! There is no point of order involved. I have extended an extraordinary degree of latitude to the Leader of The Nationals. He will resume his seat.
Mr BOB CARR:
He has got it all wrong. His brain is all spaghetti. I will try to sort it out for him. The Deputy Prime Minister makes the offer, the Leader of the Opposition changes his line. One day he says to expect Federal money is absurd, and the next day he says the cheque is in the mail. Peter Costello withdraws the offer, the cheque is torn up. The offer is withdrawn, the offer is dead. To paraphrase John Cleese, this offer is no more, it has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. It is a stiff, bereft of life, it rests in peace. It has kicked the bucket, it has shuffled off its mortal coil, it has run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-offer! The offer is dead! The parrot is dead!
Larry Anthony is about to join Peter King on one of Tony Abbott's "make work" schemes. On Thursday last week the Deputy Prime Minister thought, "The offer has been withdrawn by the Federal Treasurer. I'll go up there and I'll convene a summit on the railway." So he went up there, looking very grave and earnest, and summoned a summit. Unfortunately for him, a great fighter for the community barged in. Our friend and colleague the honourable member for Tweed arrived and had something to say. And what he had to say was this: he walked in and presented this agreement.
Mr Thomas George:
Point of order—
Order! I remind the honourable member for Lismore he is already on two calls to order. I call the honourable member for Penrith to order.
Mr Thomas George:
I take the point of order on relevance. I have been a member of this House for five years and that is the greatest lot of lies I have ever heard in this House.
Order! The honourable member for Lismore attracted my attention when he said his point of order related to relevance, but what he then said did not relate to relevance.
Mr BOB CARR:
All the leadership of the North Coast is at the summit, and our colleague walks in with this agreement. He has impertinently got the letterhead of the Prime Minister, and with my permission he has got my letterhead, and it states:
Agreement on North Coast Transport
The Australian Government and the New South Wales Government hereby agree to the following plan to improve transport on the Far North Coast.
What is the Australian Government's commitment? It states that the Australian Government agrees to provide $15 million a year, indexed annually—clever thought—for 10 years to the New South Wales Government for North Coast transport infrastructure. Down further it states the New South Wales Government commitment: We agree to take the money—indexed annually—and invest it in the Casino to Murwillumbah rail link. Next to "For and on behalf of the Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales" is "Bob Carr, Premier", signed, and a space for John Anderson, Deputy Prime Minister, to sign. Thoughtfully, the honourable member for Tweed put the agreement under the nose of the Deputy Prime Minister. Even more thoughtfully, he gave him a blue biro. The tension mounted, the cameras rolled, and the nation waited. And the nation is still waiting because John Anderson refused to sign.
Order! I call the honourable member for South Coast to order.
Mr BOB CARR:
There is the agreement—a legal document, letterheads appropriately decorated—still waiting for a signature. But the story gathers pace. Only yesterday, with five hours to go before the Federal Government entered caretaker mode, there arrived on the steps of this Parliament House the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
Mr Thomas George:
The meeting was arranged last week.
Mr BOB CARR:
That is a further revelation. Everything gets mysterious when you look at it. The meeting was arranged last week! It might have been arranged last week, but it was held yesterday with five hours ticking away before the Federal Government entered caretaker mode. The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia comes into Parliament House to see our Treasurer and our Minister for Transport Services to suggest to them not what the local member wants: a legally binding agreement, money for 10 years, fully indexed.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
It is the State's responsibility.
Mr BOB CARR:
He accepted it is a Federal responsibility.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the third time.
Mr BOB CARR:
They are not interested in listening to the member opposite. They are interested in hearing what the Deputy Prime Minister had to say in the meeting yesterday. The Deputy Prime Minister said he could not sign the agreement, he would talk in terms of one-year funding and he wanted it to be in the form of an informal agreement. I am advised it was a meagre offer for one-year funding. That leaves us $120 million short.
[Interruption from gallery
I want them to pay up the full amount. The people in the gallery want the Federal Government to pay the full amount.
[Interruption from gallery
Everyone, especially the local member, wants them to sign up to the full amount, every cent, indexed annually, to enable the State Government to restore the Casino to Murwillumbah rail link. That is what we want.
[Interruption from gallery
Mr BOB CARR:
After hearing this strong and compelling case, people hitherto silent in the gallery have voiced their spontaneous agreement. Like everything else I have revealed to the House, that is a great tribute to the persuasive power of the honourable member for Tweed.
GAMING MACHINE TAX
Mr GEORGE SOURIS:
I direct my question to the Premier. How does he justify spending up to $1 million of taxpayers' money, which is desperately needed in the health system, on a blatantly misleading advertising campaign aimed at destroying the clubs movement?
Mr BOB CARR:
First, I did not; and, second, I look forward to any submission the honourable member has to make about the recent expenditure of $100 million by the Howard Government on the eve of the Federal election.
GREENHOUSE GAS TRADING SCHEMES
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
I direct my question to the Minister for Energy and Utilities. What is the latest information about greenhouse gases in New South Wales?
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
I thank the honourable member for her question.
Order! I have placed a number of honourable members on three calls to order. Those calls will remain in place until the end of question time.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
Climate change is the most serious threat we face as a society. We are experiencing the longest drought on record, the second warmest winter on record has just ended, and we face another summer under the threat of devastating bushfires. Unfortunately, Australia produces the highest per capita greenhouse emissions in the world. That is why the Carr Labor Government has decided to introduce a first for Australia—
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
This Government has introduced one of the first greenhouse gas trading schemes in the world. Under the scheme, electricity retailers and key large consumers are required to meet targets that increase progressively until 2007. To do that they can either acquire abatement certificates by buying low-emission generation, by implementing procedures that result in reduced electricity consumption or by engaging in carbon sequestration. The scheme has been in place for a year. I seek leave to table the report of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal entitled "NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme—Operation of the Scheme and Compliance during 2003", dated June 2004.
Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the second time.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
This report contains very good news for New South Wales. I point out that 31 companies are involved in the scheme, nine of which signed up voluntarily to the stringent requirements. That demonstrates that business operators understand their environmental responsibilities and that the New South Wales greenhouse scheme has broad community support. The companies that have volunteered include Boral, Carter Holt Harvey Wood Products Australia, Hydro Aluminium Kurri Kurri, Norske Skog Paper Mills, One Steel NSW Pty Ltd, One Steel Trading Pty Ltd, Orica Australia, Port Kembla Copper and Visy Paper. In the first year, up to 6.6 million certificates were issued—
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order for the second time.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
That is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 6.6 million tonnes and taking more than 1.5 million cars off the State's roads. The scheme has been a spectacular success. Last year, the participant companies submitted 1.1 million certificates to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, the scheme administrator, to meet their obligations.
Order! I call the honourable member for Upper Hunter to order for the third time.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
The scheme has attracted significant corporate participation and New South Wales is the first State in Australia to go down this path. This Government went alone because it realises the importance of this issue. The tragedy is that the Federal Government's recent energy white paper completely ignored it. The Federal Government has done nothing about the Kyoto protocol and it has not supported a national trading scheme, nor has it done anything to expand renewable energy targets. Despite the fact that the drought has not broken and water is becoming less plentiful, the Federal Government is ignoring this problem. The New South Wales Government is now leading a State working group established to implement a national emissions trading scheme. The Australian Capital Territory has passed the relevant legislation and, hopefully, the other States will soon follow suit. It is a pity that the Federal Government has totally ignored the issue. New South Wales leads Australia in this very important area. Climate change is probably the most important issue facing this country, but the rabble opposite could not care less about it.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Pensioner Excursion Tickets
Ms TANYA GADIEL
(Parramatta) [3.36 p.m.]: This matter is urgent because transport is the key to access, service and opportunities. Extension of the pensioner excursion ticket across the metropolitan area, irrespective of who operates the service, will address this inequity. Pensioners and seniors deserve to be treated with the same dignity wherever they live. This matter is urgent because older residents in my electorate have waited long enough to share the benefits enjoyed in the northern and eastern suburbs. This matter is urgent because Sydney has endured a system of transport apartheid for too long. Thanks to the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and his Minister the Hon. Bruce Baird the former Coalition Government legislatively enshrined a raw deal for the residents of Western Sydney. That is why he opposes the reforms passed by the Government and minor parties last session and why the Opposition cannot support the basic premise that people's bus fares should not be determined by an accident of geography.
Mr Barry O'Farrell:
Point of order: The honourable member is not only wrong on facts, she is also lying, because my constituents do not get access to those fares.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Ms TANYA GADIEL:
The Sydney Morning Herald
has referred to the Premier as Robin Hood for righting this Coalition wrong. I guess that makes the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai the Sheriff of Nottingham. This matter is urgent because the residents of Western Sydney have waited long enough for a fair go and they should not have to wait any longer.
Gaming Machine Tax
Mr ANDREW STONER
(Oxley—Leader of The Nationals) [3.38 p.m.]: Today marks the first day of operation of the unsustainable tax increases imposed on New South Wales clubs. It also marks the return of our victorious athletes from the Olympics Games in Athens. Many of those athletes have been sponsored by the New South Wales clubs movement. If these Labor Government tax increases are allowed to remain in force over the next seven years, rising to a high of 49 per cent of gross turnover, clubs will not have the capacity to sponsor athletes. That will mean gold medals down the drain. I bet the Premier will be at the tickertape parade basking in the reflected glory of the athletes who have been supported by our clubs.
This motion is urgent because today more than 10,000 people marched from Hyde Park to Parliament House to protest about the most iniquitous tax increase ever introduced in this State. It is urgent because those people included communities from around the State—from Dubbo, Tamworth, Albury, Inverell and Revesby. Every member of this place should support this motion and their local clubs. The motion is urgent because the clubs industry stands to lose 24,000 jobs over the seven years of this tax, 3,500 of those jobs in country areas, where we cannot afford any more job losses under the Carr Labor Government.
Order! The honourable member for Coffs Harbour will cease interjecting.
Mr ANDREW STONER:
The motion is urgent because already 1,500 jobs have gone from clubs in New South Wales. It is urgent because what is at risk under a Labor Government is a lifestyle of sporting facilities, donations to charitable groups and other worthwhile causes, and an entertainment industry that provides affordable meals for pensioners and entertainment for seniors. The motion is urgent because the Premier persists with a disgraceful attack on the clubs movement in New South Wales, including draconian royal commission type legislation with inquiry powers, and a deceitful advertising campaign costing almost $1 million, money that would have been far better spent on keeping open the code red emergency departments right around Sydney. That $1 million has been spent on blatant political advertising by the Premier and Michael Egan.
Order! I call the honourable member for Swansea to order. I call the honourable member for The Hills to order.
Mr ANDREW STONER:
The motion is urgent because the Government's advertising campaign is full of lies. At least 10 of the clubs listed in the advertising campaign as paying less tax under the new proposal have been closed. The advertising campaign is full of lies and holes. It also understates tax revenue to the State Government by $300 million, because the Government has conveniently ignored the transfer of GST funding from the Federal Government. The motion is urgent because the Premier and the Treasurer have refused to talk with their former Labor colleague the president of the clubs movement, which represents 2.5 million club members throughout the State. The motion is urgent because 100,000 individually signed letters addressed to the Premier were delivered to this place. I have just a handful of those letters, and I now table them. This arrogant Premier is refusing to listen to the people of New South Wales and the club members of this State.
This motion is urgent because 34 members, behind closed doors in the ALP caucus room, called for a review of this clubs tax. The Premier then manipulated the numbers, and threatened and abused certain of those members. It is urgent because the Liberal-Nationals Coalition has given those members, on at least two occasions already, the opportunity to vote for a review, to vote with this side of the House. Do you think they would cross the floor? Not on your life! Not on your life, Bob, because you threatened and bullied them. I am giving them the opportunity today to support this motion, which calls for a review, as it did in the ALP caucus room. I challenge the members of this House to cross the floor and vote with the Coalition. [Time expired.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Parramatta be proceeded with—put.
The House divided.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
PENSIONER EXCURSION TICKETS
Ms TANYA GADIEL
(Parramatta) [3.51 p.m.]: I move:
That his House applauds the decision to extend the pensioner excursion ticket to all modes of public transport across metropolitan Sydney.
Transport is the key to providing access to the full range of services and opportunities. The basics of daily life—shopping, medical appointments, visiting family or joining in community activities— usually require some degree of travel. Where this travel can be done using public transport there is a wider benefit to the community, as each car off the road reduces congestion and pollution. The pensioner excursion ticket [PET] recognises these needs and benefits. It provides all-day travel through the metropolitan areas served by CityRail and State Transit. Using this ticket people can travel on trains up to the Hawkesbury or west to the Nepean. They can use State Ferries on Sydney Harbour or Sydney Buses through the northern beaches, eastern suburbs and inner west. One ticket provides unlimited daily travel on all of these services.
For $1.10 the PET provides seniors and pensioners with great value travel over a large part of Sydney. Using the CityRail network the benefits are even greater. The $2.20 and $3.30 PETs enable people to travel as far as Dungog, Lithgow, Goulburn and Bomaderry—once again, all-day unlimited travel using just one ticket. When the PET was first introduced it was a limited off-peak ticket. Back then it cost 60 cents but it could be purchased only after 9.00 a.m. When Barrie Unsworth was the transport Minister he removed the timing restriction to make it an all-day ticket, and the price remained at 60 cents. That was the last major change to the PET, a major step by a Labor Government to improve access to services.
The Greiner Government retained the PET but increased the cost from 60 cents to $1. The cost then remained unaltered until the introduction of the goods and services tax, which brought it to the current $1.10. In the middle of last year the Minister for Transport Services, Michael Costa, announced two significant inquiries into the State's public transport system. The first was the Parry inquiry into sustainable transport funding; the second was the Unsworth review of bus services. The PET received a significant degree of attention from both inquiries. One focus of the Parry inquiry was how fares contribute to the costs of providing public transport services and how service quality should relate to fare increases. The Unsworth review was interested in achieving consistency in service delivery across publicly and privately operated buses while maintaining a sustainable bus industry.
During the consultation phases of both reports the idea of restricting access to the PET was canvassed. Presenting these options highlighted the key role played by the PET in the community. After considering community views the Government decided last year to retain the ability for seniors and pensioners to use the PET and to keep it as an unlimited all-day ticket. The work of the Unsworth review continued with a strong focus on ways to develop a real bus network in metropolitan areas. This work highlighted the disparity in fare levels and fare products across different parts of Sydney. The Unsworth review proposed the PET be extended to all public transport across the metropolitan area. To achieve this it recommended a flat $2.50 PET to replace the existing $1.10, $2.20 and $3.30 PETs. It reiterated that the PET should remain available to pensioners and seniors and should remain an unlimited all-day ticket.
Yesterday's announcement of fare harmonisation across public and private buses is a key step in providing fairer public transport access across Sydney. As the Premier noted, it will see passengers across the Sydney metropolitan area paying the same fare to travel the same distance regardless of destination or operator. Extension of the PET across the metropolitan area will target the benefits of fare harmonisation to a section of society most deserving of attention: our pensioners and seniors. At the moment the benefits of the PET are limited to those lucky enough to be living in an area served directly by State Transit or by CityRail. Because of the way in which this city has grown, most suburbs developed since the 1950s are in areas served by private bus operators. Great swathes of the metropolitan area, the north-west, the south-west and the Sutherland shire are predominantly served by private bus operators. In Western Sydney, State Transit does not operate any services west of Parramatta.
Once people get to the CityRail network they have access to the PET. The issue is to get people to the rail network in the first place. A number of bus operators serve my electorate of Parramatta. Companies such as Harris Park Transport Company, Baxters and Hopkinsons run services into Parramatta. This means that pensioners and seniors have to purchase a return private bus ticket on top of the PET ticket that they can buy at the station. At the moment a pensioner catching a 609 service from Northmead to Parramatta station pays $2.40 for a return ticket and then $1.10 for the PET at the station. This makes a total cost of $3.50. With the $2.50 PET that same person will pay $2.50 for the extended PET, making a saving of $1 for the trip.
This is not only about the cost, it is also about the convenience: the convenience of buying one ticket for all public transport travel. But, most importantly, it is the access that this ticket provides. It is the ability to travel for $2.50 across the metropolitan area by train, bus or ferry. The price of a transport ticket will not be a barrier to being able to use community facilities or government services. Similarly, access to community and recreational opportunities will be equally available. At $2.50 it is still very good value. The Unsworth review noted that in Melbourne the comparable 60-plus ticket costs $2.80.
Obviously, half of their concessions will still be available for shorter distances such as trips to the local shops, where full access to the transport network is not required. The PET is a great product that is understandably popular with the pensioners and seniors who use it. The extension of the PET to private bus operators will make a real difference to the everyday lives of many more people across Sydney. It is fair and necessary that this opportunity for affordable public transport be extended across the metropolitan area. This is a great initiative. Only a Labor government would address such inequities in public transport.
Mr PETER DEBNAM
(Vaucluse) [4.00 p.m.]: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion, but I almost choked with laughter at the last comment by the honourable member for Parramatta. It sums up why we are debating this issue today. She said only a Labor government would deliver this. The only one reason the Government was forced to do so was that it was a Coalition election commitment last year. I am not sure where the honourable member for Parramatta was at that time, but Labor had to follow the Coalition in its announcement of this proposal prior to the last election. The Coalition had to drag Labor kicking and screaming to the election to do this for the people of Western Sydney.
Having had the Public Transport shadow portfolio in the run-up to the election I can assure honourable members that the Carr Government has been a dismal failure for the entire nine years that it has been in office. It has betrayed the people of Western Sydney. The Coalition put this proposal up prior to the last election, and the Government has been forced to adopt it. But even now it is talking about not implementing it until next year. Indeed, the Government has not done its homework so that it can deliver on its implementation, and I shall deal with that shortly. First, I point out the blatant hypocrisy of the Carr Government in following up on a Coalition commitment. Thankfully, it has finally happened and presumably it will be finalised 10 years after the Carr Government came to office.
While the Coalition is generally supportive of the extension, I raise a number of issues of concern. I shall address two major problems, the first relating to extending the availability of the pensioner excursion ticket [PET] before the smart card technology is ready. I watched Minister Scully fumble with that issue year after year, and the smart card technology still will not be in place in the time outlined. Its introduction is long overdue, and it is still being messed up under Minister Costa. Even the Government agrees that it will not implement the smart card technology until 2007, but I will not be surprised if it drags on longer than that. At the moment it is being trialled with school students on private buses, and it will not be phased in to the rail-bus-ferry network in Sydney until at least 2006. Judging by the way the Government has implemented every project in this State, especially public transport, it will probably not even be introduced in 2006.
Until this technology is in place across the network there will not be compatible ticketing systems across the various transport modes. Trains, State Transit buses and Sydney Ferries all currently use magnetic stripe tickets. However, most private buses issue paper tickets, although some already have smart card type systems. The current differing ticketing systems used by private buses and government-operated trains and buses are not yet compatible with each other and will not be compatible for some time. This means that pensioners buying their tickets at a train station will have magnetic stripe tickets that a private bus is not equipped to read. Alternatively, pensioners who purchase their tickets on a private bus will be given paper tickets that cannot be used for the gates at a railway station.
These problems raise a number of questions. How will the tickets be validated across each transport mode? Will a pensioner have to show one ticket to obtain another compatible ticket when changing transport modes? How will this affect auditing requirements when proper validation means are not yet available? This is a major area that the Government simply has not addressed. As usual, it has rushed out a press release without doing the homework. I shall explain why the Government made the announcement this week. We should remember that the smart card system will not be fully operational across Sydney for at least another two to three years. This means, at least in the interim, that we are still confronted with the problem of trying to implement a pensioner excursion ticket across the entire metropolitan area, even though the old incompatible ticket systems will still be in use. Although it is a good idea to extend the PET across the metropolitan area—it was the Coalition's idea—it is clear that the Government has not actually thought through its implementation and is not prepared for it.
The second major concern relates to the funding and contract models. I raised this issue when the Government pushed through the last legislation relating to bus contracts. I said that the Government simply had not finalised arrangements with the private bus companies, and it still has not done so. Implementing the new pensioner excursion ticket across the metropolitan area involves its extension to private bus networks. For this to be implemented, appropriate funding and contract models must be in place to enable private operators to offer the PET. If they are not in place, the PET cannot be extended. The Government has said that the PET will be extended from 1 January 2005, but details relating to the contract and funding models for private bus operators still have not been finalised. I raised that issue in this House earlier this year, last year and the year before that.
This will affect the pricing of other bus tickets and the extension of the PET, and whether they will be finalised and in place by 1 January next year nobody knows. Based on the history of public transport in this State under the Carr Government I can pretty well guarantee that they will not be finalised by that time. Under the Carr Government buses, trains and ferries have been a total disaster. As we are all aware, the Carr Government rammed through its bus reform legislation before the winter recess. I raised this issue in that debate, and said that the Government needed to finalise the contract and funding models. Three months later the Government still has not done so.
The Government may be attempting to extend the PET before the appropriate contractual and funding arrangements are in place and before it has done its homework on the smart card. It simply will not work. The Government has made the announcement this week simply because of Orange Grove; it desperately needed a diversion. The honourable member for Parramatta was dragged into the issue. She was obviously not briefed on the background, and what a disaster it was. She made no reference to the dismal history, the sorry saga of this issue, let alone the smart card introduction. This was an attempt to divert attention away from Orange Grove, but it has not been successful. Orange Grove will continue to dominate this Government and will clearly be the downfall of the Premier in the near future.
I stress that the Government was only ever going to adopt this proposal because the Coalition was delivering for the people of Western Sydney. The Coalition put the proposal forward prior to the election and the Government was dragged kicking and screaming to agree with it prior to the election. The Coalition has kept up the pressure, so the Government must do it. It cannot continue to betray the people of Western Sydney for another four-year term. It is obvious that Minister Costa has merely dragged out my media releases from prior to the election, and announced another one. It is intriguing that over the last 15 to 18 months since the election Minister Costa has released one of my media releases after another, whether it was to do with clean, reliable, safe trains, the bus system, extension of the pensioner excursion fares, or remedying the disaster in Sydney Ferries. Minister Costa is merely going back through his register of my media releases and announcing them as his policies.
We must also acknowledge what Minister Costa is doing because it is clear that he has not done his homework. He has no intention of actually delivering for the people of New South Wales. He hopes to be moved out of the Public Transport portfolio into Treasury before he is asked to deliver on this issue. He is winding down public transport because he wants to take over from Michael Egan as Treasurer. Everything he has done in regard to public transport in the last 18 months has been about positioning himself to take over from that ridiculous fellow who purports to be Treasurer. That is where Minister Costa wants to go. Treasury would not allow him to do it unless he could demonstrate that he was actually clawing back money from public transport, just as Michael Egan and Minister Scully did, year after year. That is what we are seeing from Minister Costa now. We have fewer trains on the tracks. We will not see train services reinstated, but merely some knee-jerk reaction in the run-up to the election on the pretence that he is reintroducing services.
At the moment we have a disaster in the ferry system, with declining patronage. In the run-up to the State election I do not know how many times I made the point that the State Transit Authority was a total financial basket case. In the last few months before the election the Government had to pump in $30 million to keep the State Transit Authority alive until election day. That was the doing of the former Minister for Transport. I say that without getting into his safety disasters in rail. What is happening here is the introduction of Coalition policy at some time in the future, not according to the Government's time scale.
Ms PAM ALLAN
(Wentworthville) [4.10 p.m.]: What an embittered performance from the honourable member for Vaucluse! If the honourable member does not like it, he should give us back the buses. I do not think the Vaucluse electorate deserves these buses after a performance like that. I would hate to read the diaries of the honourable member for Vaucluse, because I think they would be absolutely full—
I listened to the honourable member for Vaucluse in silence. I ask him to extend the same courtesy to me. His diaries would be full of things that were never achieved—all those incomplete tasks on which the honourable member issued press releases when he was the shadow Treasurer, shadow Minister for Transport and shadow Minister for Police. The honourable member looked back on the pensioner excursion ticket and tried to claim credit for it. I have news for him, and it shows how little he appreciates the interests of people living in Western Sydney. This has been an outstanding issue of concern for my constituents for more than a decade at least. That is why I am thoroughly delighted that the Government has decided that from January next year it will deliver this important pensioner excursion ticket.
Elderly people in my electorate have been lobbying for decades to ensure that this excursion ticket is provided for the residents of Western Sydney. It is important for me to mention Len Gough in particular. Len, who is about 81 or 82 now, is still an active member of the Parramatta Traffic Committee. He represents me on that committee, and he may also represent the honourable member for Parramatta. He has played an outstanding role over the years. Len first came through my door probably more than 10 years ago to talk about the extension of the pensioner excursion ticket across the Sydney metropolitan area and to the other parts of the CityRail infrastructure in Newcastle and Wollongong.
The inequitable access to the pensioner excursion ticket was so glaringly obvious that it was appalling that governments of both political persuasions had effectively ignored it. I congratulate Minister Costa on acting on the recommendations of former Premier Barrie Unsworth—the pensioner excursion ticket [PET] was an important part of his review as well—and making it not only a pie-in-the-sky promise but an absolute commitment that from January next year the PET will be available to all commuters. It is big news for my constituents. Of course, we have rail services and people have been able to take advantage of the PET on the rail system. However, unlike people in the Vaucluse electorate, the people of Western Sydney do not have access to public buses.
For many, many years—indeed, for as long as private buses have been feeding our railway stations and shopping centres—people have not been able to access that affordable pensioner excursion ticket. For example, at present my constituents in Wentworthville who catch the 7.11 a.m. bus service from Fitzwilliam Road at Toongabbie to Wentworthville station pay a return fare of $3. Then when they get to the train station they can use the $1.10 pensioner excursion ticket. From January next year the total fare will be $2.50. That gives them an amazing opportunity to travel in an affordable fashion throughout Sydney and on the rest of the network. I note that the honourable member for Vaucluse, having made embittered and less than generous statements, has decided to depart the Chamber.
Mr Peter Debnam:
Point of order: Clearly the honourable member for Wentworthville is misleading the House on several points. First, this is Coalition policy. The honourable member has failed her constituents year after year.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr John Mills):
Order! There is no point of order. I base my ruling on Decisions From the Chair
. The honourable member for Wentworthville may resume her speech.
Ms PAM ALLAN:
The spurious points raised by the honourable member for Vaucluse will mean that members opposite remain in Opposition for a very long time. They are not addressing issues of real concern, as this urgent motion does. This motion addresses a concern and delivers a positive outcome for people who have been wanting this for many, many years. It is appropriate that the honourable member for Baulkham Hills will speak in debate on this motion. He represents a marginal seat. Indeed, I have been told that the Liberal Party is concerned about the future of the electorate of Baulkham Hills because it will pick up areas of Winston Hills and Northmead from the Wentworthville and Parramatta electorates. Members of those communities, who have been clamouring for it for decades, are the very people who will benefit from the extension of the pensioner excursion ticket. Only the Carr Labor Government has the capacity, the willingness and the commitment to deliver it. I hope that the comments of the honourable member for Baulkham Hills are slightly more generous than those of his colleague.
Mr WAYNE MERTON
(Baulkham Hills) [4.15 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the extension of the pensioner excursion ticket [PET] simply because it is Coalition policy. It was our policy prior to the 2003 State election. Indeed, a Coalition government would be a little more generous than the Government in that we would extend the pensioner excursion ticket to allow all senior cardholders, including self-funded retirees, to retain access to the pensioner excursion fare. We would be prepared to broaden the base. It is proper, adequate, quite reasonable and completely just that the people of Western Sydney should be entitled to pensioner excursion tickets for day travel across all public transport. That is and will continue to be Coalition policy.
Ironically, when the Coalition wins government on that great fourth Saturday in March 2007 it may still have to implement the policy because the Labor Government will still be worrying about the detail, sorting out contracts with private bus companies and organising automatic ticket machines so that the policy will work. To put it simply, the Government has panicked. The pressure relating to Orange Grove is too hot so it has looked for a diversionary tactic. The people controlling the falling, decaying remnants of a sad, tired and worn out Government have looked for a diversion and instigated a tactic as a way out of that situation. So the Government decided to wheel out the PET. That it should do that is ironic.
Even more ironic—this is a measure of how insincere and opportunistic the Government is—is the fact that the honourable member for Wentworthville eloquently said that she had been fighting for an extension of the PET during the nine years the Labor Government has been in office but was unable to achieve that. Suddenly, when there is a crisis and a diversionary tactic is necessary, extension of the PET becomes government policy. For nine years the Government has betrayed the people of Western Sydney. Members opposite should not think they have betrayed only the people of Western Sydney as far as the PET is concerned; it goes a lot further. The people of Baulkham Hills will not get a lot of joy out of this, apart from the provision of private buses which will no doubt help them.
The honourable member for Penrith may well snigger. The Penrith electorate enjoys the benefits of a rail line, which is something the people of north-western Sydney only dream about. Their hopes were cruelly and maliciously raised by the Labor Government in 1998 when it promised the north-west rail link, which, coincidentally, was to have been finished in five years time. The reality is that last week the Government claimed that it has just worked out the route and is still doing more planning. That broken promise was shattered on the rocks of reality. If the Government were fair dinkum about providing transport to western and north-western Sydney construction of that rail link would be under way. If Government members think that is bad enough, another legacy of the Government is the lost and broken opportunity and the shattered promise to build the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link, which is now the Epping to Chatswood rail link.
So all those people who live in Western Sydney, those people whom the honourable member for Penrith purports to represent, have been betrayed by the Labor Government. What has the honourable member done about it? Did she raise her voice in anger, or did she sit in the party room and just take the party line? What positive action has she taken? How many times has she complained about it? Will the same 34 Government members—I saw some of them, including the honourable member for Parramatta, outside today playing their old tricks again, sidling up to the club people saying, "We support you"—who supported the clubs at a party meeting some time ago but who had a road to Damascus experience and voted to betray them also betray the people of Western Sydney? The Government's treatment of the transport needs of the people of western Sydney is similar to its treatment of the club industry.
I have been told that anyone who is not in a hurry and who is game enough can get a train from Hurstville to Sydney at a cost of $2.30. When this provision is implemented that cost will rise by 20¢. The initiative is a great idea, because it was part of our policy. The difference is that we were fair dinkum and intended to implement it. The challenge now is for the Government to do so. Its track record on transport for western and northern Sydney is abysmal. If I were a member of the Government I would hang my head in shame and resign.
Mrs KARYN PALUZZANO
(Penrith) [4.20 p.m.]: I support the motion. In the past few weeks a lot has been said about reforms to the bus industry. My electorate of Penrith will be part of the expanded bus contract region. It would not have been possible to introduce the new pensioner excursion ticket without the legislation allowing new contracts. The honourable member for Vaucluse, the former shadow Minister for Transport, voted against that bill. That shows the depth of his support for the people of Western Sydney. The new contract region will extend from Penrith to Blacktown, from Windsor to Warragamba. There will be a couple of operators, one being Westbus. From January next year all bus services in this area will be planned and operated under one service contract, allowing better co-ordination and delivery of services. The annual contract will be performance based, with clear service standards, reporting requirements and the penalties and incentives necessary to maintain a passenger focus.
Like the honourable member for Wentworthville, I have worked actively for a number of years for better public transport. The honourable member for Parramatta has done the same. Western Sydney has public transport in the form of rail, and links to the rail service are provided by private bus operators. For years there has been inequity of fares for those living in Cranebrook, Kingswood, Lapstone, Glenbrook and Blaxland. There is even an inequity in the existing pensioner excursion ticket. Members opposite would not know that at the moment people from Penrith can buy pensioner excursion tickets after 9 o'clock. They usually catch the 9.05 train. If they buy the same excursion ticket from Lapstone, Glenbrook or Blaxland, they pay $2.20. The trip on the 786 bus from Cranebrook to Penrith station is a four-section trip so a pensioner excursion return costs $3.00. After 9 o'clock pensioners buy separately a $1.10 ticket at the railway station. With the extension of the pensioner excursion ticket, one ticket costing $2.50 from Cranebrook will cover the bus and train trip.
I will welcome them on the day they can buy a ticket for $2.50. They will be able to get on the bus at Cranebrook and then catch the train at Penrith, change at Strathfield, go to Newcastle, get on the Stockton ferry and have a picnic at Stockton Beach. I will welcome pensioners like Grace Selway from the Penrith Pensioners Association. I will be there with Thelma Anderson from the older women's network, and with Paul Travaskis from the Blue Mountains transport group. Over a long period these people have been asking for change, and the Carr Government has delivered for them.
The Parry report highlighted the need for fare reform. The Unsworth report stressed the need for a real bus service network. As I said, the Premier announced yesterday that the Government supports a move to align fares between private and public bus operators from January next year. My constituents in the Penrith electorate will benefit greatly, even those travelling locally. People travelling from Cranebrook to Penrith Panthers have to catch two buses—the 788 to Penrith station and the 794 to Panthers. The total cost of those trips is $4.80. With the $2.50 pensioner excursion ticket, pensioners and seniors will save $2.30 on the round trip.
The service changes resulting from reform of the bus network will be gradual, reflecting the need for proper planning and community consultation. A real bus network requires not only co-ordinated planning and operations but also co-ordinated ticketing. Therefore, fares and ticket reforms are a high priority of the Government. The Government is making it clear that inequities in fares and ticketing are things of the past. The extension of the pensioner excursion ticket is a demonstration of its commitment to Western Sydney and its commitment to fair access to government services and community facilities. I commend the Government for this initiative and look forward to my constituents receiving this early benefit of the reform of the bus industry.
Ms TANYA GADIEL
(Parramatta) [4.25 p.m.], in reply: As Government speakers have highlighted, there has been a system of transport apartheid in this State for too long. The Labor Government has addressed that, and I am proud to be a member of a government that has sought to address those kinds of inequities. Transport is the key to accessing services and opportunities. The extension of the pensioner excursion ticket across the metropolitan area, irrespective of who operates services, will address such an inequity. As other speakers from this side of the House and I have said, pensioners and seniors deserve to be treated with dignity irrespective of where they live.
I thank honourable members who have contributed to the debate. The honourable member for Wentworthville highlighted the fact that this initiative has been a long time coming. She referred to the constituents in her electorate who have ensured that it has finally become part of government policy. I thank the honourable member for Penrith for outlining the betrayal of Western Sydney by this mob opposite. I also thank the honourable member for Baulkham Hills for telling us that the extension of the pensioner excursion ticket was supposedly a Coalition promise at the last election. As the honourable member for Penrith has already said, members of the Coalition voided that election commitment earlier this year when they refused to vote in support of the Passenger Transport Amendment (Bus Reform) Bill. No matter what they say, the important thing is what they do to address these inequities. Members opposite did nothing. They had the opportunity to implement a fair policy but they chose not to.
Mr Peter Debnam:
Point of order: It is this sort of self-delusion on the part of the honourable member for Parramatta that explains—
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr John Mills):
Order! I ask the honourable member for Vaucluse to state which standing order the honourable member for Parramatta has breached. There is no point of order.
Ms TANYA GADIEL:
This mob opposite can make all the promises they want during an election campaign. I cannot remember how many promises they made during the campaign, but they were all underfunded. I remember now what they were going to do! They were going to introduce pot plants or something. That was pure genius. I have saved the best for last. I thank the honourable member for Vaucluse for his glowing endorsement of this Carr Government policy. I thank the honourable member for his endorsement of the Hon. Michael Costa as a future Treasurer. I am sure he will be thrilled and will send flowers later to the honourable member for Vaucluse. He claimed the Government was implementing a policy the Coalition wanted to implement.
If that is the case, why did the Coalition vote against the Passenger Transport Amendment (Bus Reform) Bill? Why did it vote against having this debate today? What does the Coalition have against the pensioners and senior citizens of New South Wales? I am not aware when the Coalition announced this policy during the election. Perhaps it got caught up with the Coalition's announcement of funding cuts to the Department of Community Services. Perhaps if the honourable member for Vaucluse were the leader he would have got the point across. He agrees because he knows that he would have made people aware of this policy, regardless of the Coalition's ability to deliver it. I thank him for his support.
Motion agreed to.
CROWN LAND LEASEHOLDS
Matter of Public Importance
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI
(Murrumbidgee) [4.30 p.m.]: I ask the House to note as a matter of public importance the issue of Crown land leaseholds. This matter has become an important issue across New South Wales, particularly in country New South Wales, since the introduction of the Crown Lands Legislation Amendment (Budget) Bill, which was cognate with the Appropriation Bill. The Crown lands legislation was passed by both Houses and assented to some months ago. The Coalition did not oppose the bill as it was cognate with the Appropriation Bill, but the changes introduced by the legislation have presented many problems for landowners across country New South Wales.
Generally, ownership of Crown land is a complex issue that needs to be simplified. Given the cost to the Government of the administration of Crown land, it is appropriate that lessees have the opportunity to purchase it. Whilst the Coalition does not oppose the concept of freehold leases on Crown land, it would be an understatement to say that the New South Wales Government has botched the job. A moratorium has now been placed on further increases in rents. The rents on parcels of land, which are generally not of great value, have already increased from a minimum of $50 to a minimum of $350. Because of the disastrous results of the changes brought about by the legislation, a moratorium has also been placed on the freeholding of Crown land.
I am critical of the Government's approach. It has had plenty of time to consider the changes and their impact on lessees of Crown land. In particular, I refer to parcels of Crown land that are not of great value, such as enclosure permits. Many farmers have enclosures on their properties. I know people near Hay and Carrathool in my electorate who have 6, 10 or 12 enclosures on their properties. They were happy to pay a rent of $50 for each enclosure, but now they are required to pay a minimum of $350. That is a 700 per cent increase, a huge increase in anyone's book.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
It is a hangover from past times.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
As the honourable member for Coffs Harbour said, it is a hangover from past times when these parcels of land were reserved for future roads and other purposes. The landholders have been doing the Government a favour by managing the land. It is outrageous that they are now forced to pay a 700 per cent increase in rent. The Minister for Lands and the Department of Lands should have known the impact of the proposed changes. The changes were introduced and suddenly the landholders started getting huge bills. Everything blew up and the Government has now introduced moratoriums and thrown the whole issue of Crown land rents into further chaos. Further, lessees have been given the opportunity to purchase parcels of Crown land. Many of these small parcels of Crown land—half an acre, an acre, a couple of acres, perhaps 10 acres—are not of high value. Pursuant to the legislation, the lessees have been given an opportunity to purchase them.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
At what cost?
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
My office made inquiries of our local Department of Lands office and was told it would cost approximately $3,000 to freehold parcels of land that are worth only hundreds of dollars, perhaps $1,000 or $2,000. That amount covers the costs of valuation, a surveyor and a solicitor, as well as departmental and land title office costs. Most of the costs involved are State government fees. If a landholder wishes to buy a small parcel of land that has been leased for the past 100 years, even though it may be worth only a couple of hundred dollars, he is expected to pay $3,000 in conveyancing costs. That is outrageous and hardly anyone would take up that offer. If the land were worth many thousands of dollars a landholder could justify spending $3,000, but when the value is minimal it is an extraordinary and ridiculous amount of money to pay.
The rent on the land has increased by 700 per cent and to purchase the land would cost many times its actual value. The lessee is left with a third option: to fence off the land. It would be ridiculous to fence off an acre of land in the middle of a property and then expect the Department of Lands to manage it and keep burrs and feral animals off. From the beginning the New South Wales Government, the Minister for Lands and the Department of Lands have botched this up. The problems were foreseeable and they should have considered the issues more carefully. I can suggest a couple of solutions. For example, if a lessee wants to purchase a parcel of Crown land, perhaps the cost of conveyancing should be no more than 50 per cent of the value of the land. I do not say that there should be no conveyancing costs, but that they should be relative to the value of the land. If a parcel of land is worth $400, the conveyancing costs should be no more than $200.
Alternatively, rather than go the whole hog with freeholding, which includes valuations and surveying, there is the option to offer qualified title. The Government has options available to it to overcome these problems. The Coalition supports the concept of allowing lessees to purchase Crown land that is not of significant value for the State, such as heritage or conservation value. But many parcels of Crown land do not hold such value and the sale of the land would reduce the administrative burden on the State. The Minister for Lands has justified the 700 per cent increase on the basis that it costs $350 to administer each lease. I believe there are 45,000 leases in the State. At $350 per lease, that would total $18 million in administration costs.
Instead of being a member of Parliament, perhaps I should contract out the administration of those leases. If it costs $16 million or $18 million, this Government is in serious trouble. This is an opportunity for the State Government to impose an additional tax on the people of New South Wales. The Government probably wondered how these people could get away with paying only $50 a year, so it increased the charge to $350 a year. This is another tax grab by the New South Wales Government. It has now created a disaster and forced the Minister to announce a moratorium so he can go back to the drawing board. It is another example of this Government's bungling. How many moratoriums will we have? I suggest that Ministers carefully think through any measures before they are implemented to ensure that these mistakes are not made in the future. This has caused much anxiety. The Government should get it right in the first place.
Mr NEVILLE NEWELL
(Tweed—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.40 p.m.]: The Crown land estate accounts for around half of all land in New South Wales, including one-fifth of the land area in the eastern and central divisions. The estate includes Crown lands held under lease, licence or permit; community-managed reserves; lands retained in public ownership for environmental purposes; lands within the Crown public roads network; and other unallocated or vacant Crown lands. The State has about 72,600 licences and permits. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee struggled to remember the number of leases. We have about 14,800 leases and 30,000 reserves, as well as many thousands of hectares of unallocated Crown land.
Crown land is a valuable public asset and it is essential that it be managed wisely to maximize the social, environmental and economic benefits to the State. It requires efficient and sustainable management practices to ensure that it is there for the use and enjoyment of this generation and future generations. The system of managing Crown land had its origins in colonial times and it is no longer suitable for achieving the best outcomes from this important public asset. The Government's recent Crown land reforms are designed to improve its management. The reforms introduce modern management practices that are in line with the broader community's needs and expectations. Underlying these measures is the recognition of the value of publicly owned land, wherever it may be. The reforms introduce more efficient and sustainable management practices for this and future generations. In implementing the reforms the Government recognises that New South Wales taxpayers need to be adequately compensated for the private, discretionary use of public land. That principle was enshrined in the Crown Lands Act, which was introduced by the Coalition Government.
The taxpayers of New South Wales quite rightly expect to be compensated for the private use of Crown land, whether it be for commercial developments, jetties and waterfront structures or any other use. The Government is committed to ensuring that rents received from the use of Crown land reflect its market value. Taxpayers should no longer be required to subsidise the private enjoyment of Crown land. That is why the Government has increased the minimum rents charged for the use of that land. Rents now reflect the average cost of administering the leases and licences allowing such use of public land. Notwithstanding that, the Government has ensured that bona fide pensioners and community, sporting and charity groups will continue to receive a 50 per cent rebate on rents payable. Hardship provisions already enshrined in the Crown Lands Act will also still apply.
Furthermore, licence and leaseholders can appeal against rent redeterminations. The Government is aware of the concerns relating to enclosure permits. It has had discussions with New South Wales Farmers to ensure that rents reflect the private benefits received. The Government is also developing ways in which to streamline the process of purchasing enclosures that no longer need to be kept within public ownership. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee made a number of comments about enclosure permits and the concerns that have been raised. The Minister for Natural Resources hopes to be in a position to make an announcement on this issue in the not too distant future.
As I said, the Government wants to ensure that New South Wales taxpayers get a decent return on their assets. However, it is also committed to ensuring that not-for-profit groups and those experiencing hardship are not adversely affected by these changes. It understands that some of these much-needed reforms involve difficult decisions. It is expected that some in the community who have been effectively subsidised by the broader community will complain. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee has undoubtedly been approached by a number of people in that position. These decisions must be made and strategies must be pursued if we are to ensure that the State's Crown reserve system continues to serve the broad needs of the community. As the honourable member for Murrumbidgee will concede, the State needs resources to maintain and improve its public reserves, showgrounds, war memorials and community halls. We must ensure not only that we manage the Crown reserve system efficiently but also that we have the financial wherewithal to do so.
The honourable member acknowledged the rent and freehold moratorium and, as I said, the Minister will make an announcement about those issues in the not too distant future. The Minister is doing a good job of consulting and working with stakeholders to ensure a good outcome for all concerned. The moratorium will enable further discussions to be held. That must be acknowledged as the Minister moves to reform the system to cater for everyone's needs. Some people may see this as an opportunity to complain, but I ask them to recognise that the State cannot continue to allow some people to benefit to the detriment of taxpayers in general. My electorate has a number of marine leases that have been affected by these reforms. Changes were implemented some time ago and I have had no complaints. Concerns have been raised about potential increases in rents, but it was established that the increases had been in place for a long time. The fear related to a further increase, which was not contemplated. One newspaper article argued that there would be further increases, but that suggestion was dismissed and concerns were allayed.
Underlying the reforms of our Crown land system is the Government's acknowledgment that we can no longer afford to treat Crown land as an infinite resource. We need efficient and sustainable management practices that will serve not only this but future generations, and the changes we have introduced will go a long way towards ensuring that we have a Crown land management system that is able to obtain a decent return for the private usage of publicly owned land and will, in turn, free up precious resources to be spent on improving community infrastructure located on Crown land. That is the important point we have to keep in mind.
The former Coalition Government introduced the Crown Lands Act 1989, and I acknowledge the need to enshrine in legislation the need to obtain a fair return from those public assets. We are moving to ensure that that principle is acted upon. I thank the honourable member for Murrumbidgee for introducing this matter of public importance and giving us the opportunity to place on record some aspects about the moratorium and other changes that are to take place.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour) [4.50 p.m.]: This is nothing more than an obscene tax grab by the Government on drought-affected farmers and landholders right across New South Wales. I commend the honourable member for Murrumbidgee for bringing this motion before the House, and I condemn the honourable member for Tweed for his lame defence of the Treasurer's grab under this budget. If the cost of administration is the problem with these fees, the simple solution is to rub the lines out on the 45,670 enclosed land permits, let the farmers continue to manage the leases, as they have done for many years, redeploy the administrators into regional New South Wales and retrain them in assisting farmers and others to understand the draconian legislation the Government has introduced in relation to native vegetation, water, and every other issue affecting farmers in New South Wales.
The Government has sought conversion to freehold land at the minimum rate. Given the minimum rate of, for example, $1,000 a permit, around $46 million would be added to the State's coffers. As the honourable member for Murrumbidgee said, when solicitors costs and transfer costs are taken into account, the people who have enclosed permits on their land would be faced with an estimated additional cost of $150 million. If those people decide they cannot afford the $3,000 to $5,000 cost of conversion, and they are forced to pay the $350 annual fee, around $16 million to $20 million per annum will go back to the State Government. As the honourable member for Murrumbidgee said, if all the Government has to do is hit a button on the computer and send out a bill each year to the farmers and property owners who look after the land, what a great way to earn $16 million! The Government could have the lease fees administered by private enterprise for probably $150,000 or $200,000 a year, because it simply involves sending out bills to farmers. After I issued a media release explaining the costs involved in the new fees, Minister Kelly wrote:
It was also announced that the new fees would be phased in over three years so that annual increases are restricted to $100.
I urge the Minister to tell a farmer who is "hanging in" in the worst drought we have ever seen, "It's only another $100 a year." The Minister went on to say that he had negotiated the moratorium with the New South Wales Farmers Association. It is not surprising that the people of rural New South Wales are up in arms about this, as they are about the closure of the agricultural research stations. I suggest that what has happened is that Mark Latham has picked up the phone and said, "I am trying to win a Federal election here. We have got to do something." So Bob Carr has told Tony Kelly, "You slap a moratorium on the research stations, slap a moratorium on the enclosed land permits, and we will have a decision on 10 October. That decision will come back on 10 October, and there will be no difference." Consultation will be said to have been done, and the people of regional and rural New South Wales will have to pay this huge cost for so-called administration. It is an absolute joke!
A farmer at the rally in Grafton explained to me that his property contained a sliver of land in the middle of it that was of no use to him. Obviously, at some stage his neighbour had converted the enclosed land permit there, which included a Crown road, and the farmer was left with the little sliver of land. The farmer said to me, "It's no good to me; it's on a piece of open country. All I can do is fence it. It is going to cost me money to fence it, and then I have to maintain it—for what reason?" I challenge the Minister to rub the lines out.
A farmer from Bellingen told me that the enclosed land permit on his property abuts State Forests land. If it abuts State Forests land, why does the Government not hand it over to State Forests? If the farmer cannot use the land, why does the Government not fence it and give it back to State Forests? This is nothing more than a cash cow. It is obscene. It is an impost on people in regional and rural New South Wales by a government that is desperate to get cash because it has bankrupted this State. It is laughable. The Minister can fix it with the stroke of a pen, by signing a letter to rub the lines out, and negotiating the position with landowners across New South Wales. If that occurs, we will have a situation that is acceptable.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI
(Murrumbidgee) [4.55 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Tweed and the honourable member for Coffs Harbour for their contributions to this debate. I echo the honourable member for Coffs Harbour's comment that this is yet a further grab for cash on the part of the Government. We know that the Government is in financial crisis, and that it saw this as a great backdoor opportunity to grab another $15 million or $16 million, together with the Land Titles Office fees and all the other State Government fees.
I know of the case of a fellow in the electorate of Lismore who owns 35 acres of land and pays about $300 in council rates. About half an acre of his property is enclosed by a road, and for that reason he is expected to pay $350 to the State Government. That is just one example of the unfairness of the new system. As the honourable member for Tweed said, the former Coalition Government introduced a policy that ensured a fair return on public assets, such as many areas of Crown land. But it is ridiculous to suggest that half an acre of Crown land on a person's property in Lismore should attract a fee of $350 and that that is a fair return. As I said earlier, in towns such as Carrathool and Hay in my electorate there are many examples of one and two acres of particularly rocky ground that is of very little agricultural value; indeed, the land might be worth only a couple of hundred dollars. The proposal that those property owners will now have to pay $350 to retain their leases is far in excess of a fair return on public assets.
We agree that a fair market rental should be paid on Crown land that has a significant commercial value. However, the angst that has been generated by this legislation relates to the approximately 45,000 parcels of land that are of very little value. During the current drought people are being asked to pay a 700 per cent increase in fees, in many cases for land that does not offer much in return. As the honourable member for Coffs Harbour said, it is a very convenient moratorium in the lead-up to the Federal election. Even the Minister for Lands recognises the political damage caused by the Government's decision, as does the Minister for Primary Industries regarding the closure of agricultural research stations. But I think we can rest assured, based on the history of this Government, that come 10 October the moratoriums will be off and the research stations will be closed; the $30 million cut to the budget of the Department of Agriculture—now the Department of Primary Industries—will be in and the bill will be in the mail. Not only will they get the $350 bill from July, they will then get the—
Mr Neville Newell:
Point of order: The honourable member for Murrumbidgee is not being entirely truthful here in talking about the western lands leases. There has been a moratorium on western lands leases for the past three years, but the honourable member is trying to make out that it was introduced just a few weeks ago. The honourable member is misleading the House.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews):
Order! I uphold the point of order. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee may continue.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
It was a moratorium on these new rent increases, particularly affecting enclosure permits. But that is where the political damage was occurring to Labor and that is why they introduced the moratorium. Come 10 October those bills will be reissued and they will get the second quarter as well, just to add insult to injury. But the bottom line is twofold: this Government has mismanaged its finances over nine years, it finds itself in a huge black hole and now it has to find these backdoor ways of generating additional revenue. On top of that, the second thing is that it has totally bungled this whole procedure. Get it right in the first place from now on, please.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews):
Order! It being before 5.15 p.m. with the leave of the House, I propose to proceed to the taking of private members' statements.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
MILITARY ROAD, NEUTRAL BAY, TRAFFIC ARRANGEMENTS
Mrs JILLIAN SKINNER
(North Shore) [5.01 p.m.]: I am going to talk about an incident that occurred in my electorate this morning and the consequences of that incident. I refer to the robbery of St George Bank in Neutral Bay and how it has demonstrated the need for another traffic route besides Military Road. According to police, the bank was broken into overnight. The robber, or robbers, waited until staff arrived at about 9.15 a.m., when police were alerted. It is believed that two bank staff were trapped inside and one or two bank robbers were involved. It is believed they escaped through a hole they had drilled in a wall to gain entry to the bank.
The road was blocked off from around 9:15 a.m. until about midday because police followed their duty, as they should, to clear and secure the area to make sure that the public was safe. This caused traffic chaos. I had telephone calls from a number of people in the area. I live within a street of this place and members of my family use this bank. I know the area extremely well; it is very busy at all times. It is busy particularly on working days when many people run businesses and there are also people out shopping in the local streets. As well, there is a constant stream of traffic along Military Road. The blockage of the road meant that all the traffic had to take back routes to Mosman and The Spit heading north and also heading south to the city. This diversion of traffic happens when there is an accident or when peak traffic crawls almost to a standstill, which is just about every weekday morning during peak traffic time when people drive to the city or travel west towards Macquarie University, Parramatta, Epping, to other points west and to points north. People also head up the freeway towards Newcastle.
It does not matter who is involved, they wring their hands when incidents like this occur because there is absolutely nothing that can be done to avoid the traffic pandemonium it creates. That clearly indicates the need for a second route from the lower North Shore to the northern beaches, a route such as the tunnel proposed by the Liberals before the last election. This situation shows the stupidity of the Government's plan to widen Spit Bridge by two lanes. This would not have helped today's traffic jam, it would have made it worse. I have called on Mosman councillors to refuse to provide conditions of consent for the extra Spit Bridge lanes proposed by the Carr Government. A report commissioned by the council when the bridge widening was first suggested found that the proposal would not reduce traffic congestion and air pollution during peak hours or when the bridge opens for water traffic. There was 100 per cent opposition to the plan in the council and in the broader community when it was first considered and nothing has changed that will enable council to come up with conditions that will make it more acceptable, which Carr Government Ministers Craig Knowles and Carl Scully are now demanding.
I presented petitions to this Parliament that contained over 6,500 signatures of people opposed to the proposal, which was foisted on the area without community consultation. Many people have pointed out that the widening of the bridge will only move the problem further along Spit and Military roads into my electorate, the single benefit being a two-minute reduction in contra-peak traffic at peak times. The allocation of $35 million to a project that will make traffic problems worse not better is scandalous. I know every member of this House could think of something far more worthwhile to do with $35 million. It is an absolute scandal to throw good money away on this proposal, which will not solve any of the problems but only make the situation worse. Mr Scully's press release issued just last week claimed that the bridge widening will create no significant environmental impacts, but I wonder what the residents of suburban streets around Mosman will say when even more cars rat-run to escape the inevitable traffic jams such as happened today. And what will businesses lining Spit and Military roads say when clearways are extended and their livelihoods are affected? All local politicians signed an open letter to the State Government asking it to stop this silly proposal, and the Federal Government has offered $500,000 as a joint funding proposal to the State to find a long-term solution.
Mr PAUL GIBSON
(Blacktown) [5.05 p.m.]: Tonight I speak on a topic regarding young drivers that is the subject of vigorous debate in my electorate, in the community and also in the media. There is a campaign in place saying that the State Government should create tougher measures to prevent P-plate drivers driving at night, carrying passengers or driving vehicles that are too powerful. The call for restrictions on young drivers relies on research evidence from the United States, Canada and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the call relies on rhetoric and emotion. The matter has not been subject to careful consideration based on a full appreciation of the facts. In jurisdictions that do have curfews, such as New Zealand and various states of America, people are able to obtain driving licences at a very young age: in New Zealand at 15 and in some parts of America at 14. To my knowledge, there is no country in the world that has a curfew applying to any driver over 16½ years of age.
In New South Wales our licensing is directed towards the latter years of the teenage cycle, and people cannot drive on their own in New South Wales until they receive their first P-plate. To do that a person has to be 17 years of age. So our system is possibly better than that in New Zealand or in America to begin with. The experience in New Zealand has been reported fairly widely. Back in the mid-1980s New Zealand could have been thought of as a Third World nation as far as road safety was concerned. Even on last year's figures, just under 500 people died on New Zealand roads; in New South Wales the figure for the same period was 540. Our population is growing towards being three times larger than New Zealand, so any way one looks at the facts of the case, to compare us with New Zealand is really a total nonsense. In New South Wales we have had 40 years' experience of graduated licensing. We were the first in the world to bring in such a formal licensing system.
In July 2000 the Staysafe committee recommended that New South Wales move to a new licensing system. It is now a four-year journey from the time drivers get their L-plates until they get a fully fledged licence. We had the first crop of fully fledged drivers in July 2003. It will be interesting to look at the statistics to see if there has been an improvement. Unfortunately, the Roads And Traffic Authority is three years behind in collecting the statistics so we will not have those figures for some time. Tonight I want to put to bed some of the myths about young drivers. Before I do so I wish to refer to three studies carried out in New Zealand as follows:
… the results from surveys of driving behaviour have consistently shown a willingness among young drivers to breach the conditions of [the graduated driver licensing scheme] (Begg & Stephenson, 2003)
Over two-thirds of drivers report breaking at least one of the conditions on a restricted licence (passenger restrictions, night time curfew, or BAC greater than 0.03) (Begg, Langley, Reeder & Calmers, 1995)
About one third (1/3) of young drivers report breaking the passenger restriction at least weekly.
About one sixth (1/6) of young drivers report that they break the night time driving restriction at least weekly. (Frith & Perkins, 1992)
One life lost on the road is one too many. We must aim for zero. However, the latest statistics from 2001 show that there were 258,561 licence holders in the 17-year to 20-year age group. Fortunately, there were not hundreds of young people killed; there were 30. I accept that it is 30 too many, but it represents 0.01 per cent of all licence holders in that age group. We must be sensible and look at the statistics. I accept that there are more young people killed as passengers in cars, but the drivers may have been 40, 45 or 50 years old. We must keep in perspective the fact that according to the latest Roads and Traffic Authority statistics, of the 258,561 licence holders aged 17 to 20 years the number of young people killed on our roads represents 0.01 per cent. Before we talk about curfews, we should properly examine the statistics and go from there.
[Private members' statements interrupted
DESIGNER OUTLETS CENTRE, LIVERPOOL, CLOSURE
Mr JOSEPH TRIPODI
, by leave: I wish to make a personal explanation. Today in the upper House Mr John Ryan, under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, told a fictitious story, which Mr Gazal has apparently passed on to him. I wish to place on the record that this story is completely untrue, baseless and absolute nonsense.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
[Private members' statements resumed
COWRA PRISONERS OF WAR BREAKOUT SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY
Mr RUSSELL TURNER
(Orange) [5.12 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the wonderful celebrations held at Cowra from Wednesday 4 August to Sunday 8 August to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Cowra breakout. First, I shall recall some of the events of the Cowra breakout. At 2.00 a.m. on 5 August 1944, 1,064 Japanese prisoners of war broke out of the Cowra complex, which also held Italians who were not involved in the breakout. During that night and the following day 234 Japanese prisoners of war died, either by being shot or by committing suicide rather than be recaptured. The lives of five Australians were also lost in that breakout.
Numerous ceremonies were conducted to commemorate the event. Indeed, four of the original prisoners of war travelled from Japan to Cowra to commemorate the breakout. A further 200 people travelled from Japan to take part in the events over those four days. A very strong media contingent was present to record the commemorations, and I understand that this production will be shown during prime time in Japan, where it is expected that it will be seen by approximately 200 million viewers. Also present for the events were one of the original guards and his family. An article from the Cowra Guardian
A ceremonial table was installed at Cowra's Japanese War Cemetery in July in preparation for its official unveiling tomorrow, August 5 as part of the Official Commemorative Program for the 60th Anniversary of the POW Breakout.
The granite table has been donated by the Urasenke Foundation, the official high-level tea ceremony organisation of Japan.
Founded 400 years ago, the Urasenke Foundation is based in Kyoto, Japan, but has branches all over the world.
The table will be used during Japanese ceremonies which are officially held approximately six times a year at the Cemetery, as well as in unofficial ceremonies which can take place as often as every fortnight.
The presentation will take place as part of the Service of Reconciliation from 8.30 am on August 5.
The Urasenke Foundation will also hold a tea ceremony demonstration at 3.30 p.m. today at the Cowra Civic Centre.
The tea ceremony was one of the events that I attended, and I do not think the tea will be a big seller: I drank it but I did not enjoy it. However, it was an honour to be part of the ceremony. Another demonstration of Cowra's commitment to the reconciliation program and the fact that the Japanese were part of its history is the wellkept Japanese War Cemetery, which is adjacent to the Australian Cemetery, the resting place of an Australian contingent of soldiers. The Japanese garden, which is well known in Cowra, was built basically from donations by the Japanese Government and is meticulously maintained. The peace bell outside Cowra council chambers is the only peace bell outside Japan. I congratulate Cowra council and the committee, led by Lawrence Ryan, on putting on a first-class celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Cowra breakout.
Ms ALISON MEGARRITY
(Menai—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.17 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Orange for advising the House of the recent commemorations in Cowra. I lived in Cowra for a couple of years when I was a small child. I visited that site and remember the sobering experience of seeing the graves. However, I had the more pleasant experience of seeing the magnificent wattle trees, but I do not know whether they are still there.
Mr Russell Turner:
Ms ALISON MEGARRITY:
I recently saw a large wattle tree in my own electorate and I was reminded of the first time I saw that magnificent display so long ago. I remember hearing stories of the myriad experiences of people who lived in Cowra at the time of the breakout, stories of terror. I know that Cowra has come a long way since the mid 1960s, as evidenced by the reconciliation process and the recent Cowra commemorations. Indeed, it has come a long way in many respects. The wine industry was not there when I was growing up, and the Cowra community has taken advantage of many opportunities. I am pleased that it has embraced the reconciliation process and commemorates this tragic incident, which, most Australians would acknowledge, highlights the clashes between different cultures and the horrors of war, from which we can all learn.
ADVANCED MEDICAL INSTITUTE AND MR BROWN
Mr PAUL LYNCH
(Liverpool) [5.19 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the unsatisfactory dealings experienced by Mr Brown, a constituent of mine, with an organisation that calls itself Advanced Medical Institute [AMI]. Earlier this year Mr Brown observed an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph
placed by AMI. Part of the relevant advertisement read as follows:
Sex for Life. Comprehensive Treatment Program for Men and Women
For men it continued:
Problems gaining or maintaining an erection? It's not your fault! It is possible you have a vascular problem and it can be fixed with our latest treatment options including: needle free—tablet free, discreet nasal delivery system.
Mr Brown made an appointment after seeing the advertisement, and attended an AMI office. He was interviewed by a man in his 30s who said he was a doctor. Quite extraordinarily, the first thing the doctor wanted to know in relation to Mr Brown's physical difficulty was whether he had tried to have sex with anyone other than his wife. That was put in colourful and florid terms, with the use of a well-known four letter word. Mr Brown was angered at this suggestion and firmly indicated that he was married. The doctor expressed some surprise that Mr Brown had not explored that option. The doctor then very quickly suggested that AMI had a product that would be of use to Mr Brown.
Mr Brown was then shown down the corridor to another room in the AMI office. In this room was a woman in her 20s. She did not describe herself as a doctor and certainly did not seem to Mr Brown to be one. She offered Mr Brown the AMI product, which was a nasal injector. The product cost $2,000 for 12 months. When Mr Brown expressed his dissatisfaction at this the woman then moderated her demand to $160 for six weeks. As Mr Brown understands it, the product is not available from pharmacists or doctors; it is available only through AMI. Mr Brown was totally dissatisfied with this experience. Needless to say, he had no further dealings with AMI. Mr Brown has a number of concerns in relation to these events. I should add that he has, in a professional sense, a pharmaceutical background. First, it is a pretty basic principle that doctors cannot prescribe something in which they have a financial interest. In this case the product is prescribed by an AMI doctor, is an AMI product and can only be obtained through AMI.
Mr Brown is also curious as to whether the product has an ARTG number from the therapeutic goods administrator. He suspects that it does not. That poses doubts about how thoroughly side effects have been investigated. If it is allocated an ARTG number it would be gazetted, listed in MIMS
and available to general practitioners. Apart from these problems, Mr Brown is concerned about other issues. Having obtained medical treatment for a similar condition a number of years ago, Mr Brown was acutely aware that there were a number of other possible treatments. None of these were even mentioned, let alone discussed by AMI. This seems, at least, inappropriate. Indeed—and this one of Mr Brown's greatest concerns—the whole emphasis was upon selling the product. It was a high-pressure sales pitch. At the very least, it was inappropriate.
Mr Brown was sufficiently concerned complain to the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC]. He was most perturbed by its response. It simply wanted to conciliate the complaint. This completely missed the point. Mr Brown was pursuing a public interest complaint against AMI to prevent it from treating other prospective clients in the same unsatisfactory manner that it treated him. Mr Brown, in his words, regards AMI as a scurrilous operator. AMI is, of course, no stranger to controversy. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] announced in July that it had instituted proceedings against AMI and two other parties alleging misleading and deceptive conduct concerning advertising and promotion of the nasal spray form of treatment for erectile dysfunction.
This is the case that involved Ian Turpie and received a degree of media coverage. The case is not concluded so I will make no detailed comment on it except to note that the ACCC alleges that AMI breached section 52 of the Trade Practices Act. The ethical issues raised in Mr Brown's complaints are quite significant. They are also not new. In 1998 a committee under the chairmanship of Merrilyn Walton was commissioned by the then Minister for Health to conduct an inquiry under the Health Administration Act into impotency treatment services. One of the recommendations of the inquiry was as follows:
The Committee recommends that all medical practitioners providing treatment to patients suffering from erectile dysfunction follow guidelines which focus on quality and responsible patient assessment, diagnosis, monitoring and care rather than on the sale of medication.
The report also argued that the failure of a medical practitioner to follow this recommendation would be evidence of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The report also recommended:
The New South Wales Medical Board and the Health Department should remind practitioners of their obligations to discuss with their patients the complete range of options available to treat erectile dysfunction.
Again, failure to do that because of commercial considerations could constitute unsatisfactory professional conduct. The report also stated:
Medical practitioners have a professional and legal duty to disclose any financial interests they have in the provision of any form of treatment, or in the sale of any pharmaceutical or related product.
These issues are not new. I ask the Minister for Health to ensure, either through the HCCC or another more appropriate mechanism, that Mr Brown's complaints against AMI are properly investigated and appropriate action is taken.
LANE COVE TUNNEL
Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN
(Willoughby) [5.24 p.m.]: I express community concern about the future of the Naremburn community following Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] plans in relation to the Lane Cove tunnel project. Specific plans regarding a proposed bike track and additional footbridge and/or bike bridge across the highway at Willoughby Road, adjacent to the car park of the Naremburn shops, were revealed to shopkeepers and community leaders only a few weeks ago. The local community supports the principle that bike tracks should be made available where appropriate. However, the proposed location and path of this specific proposal at Naremburn are not acceptable in their present form. Furthermore, no firm assurances have been given to the shopkeepers in relation to the impact on their businesses, given the uncertainties regarding construction duration and also the impact post construction.
Many community organisations and local residents rely on the current pedestrian footbridge, given its close proximity to the Naremburn Community Centre. I know that it is used regularly by members of the Naremburn over-50s group and by parents with prams dropping their children off at the community preschool, not to mention local residents accessing the shops on foot. I understand that the replacement pedestrian footbridge to facilitate the bike bridge will have additional steps and there will be serious safety issues. I have also learned anecdotally that the new bridge will cost in excess of $1 million. That expense is exorbitant, given the level of community concern and lack of apparent support for the specific proposal. I am also concerned about the permanent impact on the aesthetic environment.
Since being made aware of the proposals, the Naremburn community has sought answers to the following pertinent questions: Why were these plans not part of the original environmental impact statement [EIS] process as required by established guidelines? Why were these plans not adequately brought to the attention of the community consultation liaison group [CCLG] until it was presented as a fait accompli? Why were relevant stakeholders, such as shopkeepers, nearby residents and the biking community, not consulted? Following intense local concern about safety issues for pedestrians, bike riders and motorists, the impact on the commercial viability of the Naremburn shopping centre and the impact on residential amenity and the local environment, I called a meeting on Friday 27 August 2004 to discuss the way forward.
The meeting was attended by the Naremburn shopkeepers, representatives of the Naremburn Progress Association, members of the CCLG from the Naremburn community, ward councillors from Willoughby Council, council officers, members of the local biking community and representatives from the construction company Thiess John Holland. Regrettably, the RTA declined to attend, notwithstanding repeated requests. It has become increasingly apparent that on this occasion the RTA has failed to adhere to its own guidelines and established processes and design in relation to this section of the Lane Cove tunnel project. As a result of these serious community concerns, the meeting resolved that a working committee be established comprising local shopkeepers, community representatives, CCLG members, ward councillors, council officers, Bikes New South Wales and Thiess John Holland to come up with alternative routes. This working group will present the alternative plans to the RTA.
The meeting also resolved that I write to the Minister for Roads expressing the community's outrage that the RTA and the State Government have not followed proper and established processes and design in relation to the EIS concerning Naremburn, and as a result the future of the Naremburn shops and the residential safety and amenity of the local area is at risk; and that I also advise the Minister of the formation of this working group so that the RTA accepts that the proposed plans at the Naremburn shops are still negotiable, given that proper processes have not been followed to date. I am able to report that I have accordingly written to the Minister for Roads and asked to meet with him to discuss this matter further. I hope he will agree to allow the working group to present its alternative solutions to the RTA. At the very least, this working group should have the opportunity to present an alternative set of solutions which are in the best long-term interests of the local community.
Concern was also expressed at the meeting about residents not being informed of other Lane Cove tunnel project works throughout the Naremburn suburb, including the erection of transparent sound barriers. The meeting therefore also resolved that greater effort be made to keep local residents advised of ancillary project work throughout Naremburn so that they may have the opportunity to provide feedback within the established CCLG process. I take this opportunity to thank Thiess John Holland for attending the meeting. I know the community looks forward to working with it constructively during this process. I also know that it took on board many of the issues that were raised at the meeting, but at the end of the day its scope to alter major features of the project is limited. Whilst I understand that it has some scope in relation to design issues, it is required to meet contractual obligations as dictated by the RTA. It is therefore imperative that the RTA, through the Minister for Roads, agrees to allow the community to put forward its own suggestions, as should have been the case right at the beginning of the process.
Had adequate processes been adhered to from the outset, the community may have been able to have an input at the appropriate time. However, I am confident that it is not too late. Naremburn is a very tight-knit community. I have the opportunity to witness this at first hand, given that my electorate office is located there. We have the opportunity to prevent what could potentially be an irreversible blight on the suburb, which will cause pain for local businesses, make the streets less safe for pedestrians, bike riders and motorists alike, and damage the urban environment. I know that the locals are keen to progress this matter, and I ask the Minister to direct the RTA to at least consider the alternatives that the working group puts forward.
YARRAMALONG SCHOOL OF ARTS CENTENARY
Mr PAUL CRITTENDEN
(Wyong) [5.29 p.m.]: Last Friday night it was my pleasant duty to attend the centenary ball of the Yarramalong School of Arts. A lot of preparatory work had gone into this august celebration over the past 18 months. Members of the centenary committee are Jenny Piper, Yvonne Turvey, Cynthia Tomkins, Kevin and Helen Grant, Keith and Pat Smith, Nadene McPhan, Jennifer Bevan, Unice Fraser, Robyn Agar, Cherie Stackman and Seanne Colbert-Smith, who is also president of the hall committee.
I received an invitation to attend the centenary ball some two months ago. I was invited because on 26 August 1904 Matthew Charlton, the then member for Northumberland, had just been elected to the New South Wales Parliament and was guest of honour at the official opening of the hall, and it was thought appropriate that I repeat the duty of my predecessor who had represented this area. At that time the electorate of Northumberland covered an area from the Hawkesbury River to Singleton. Jenny Piper told me that she had approached the local media and complained about the current redistribution process. I undertook to convey her concerns to my party. I mentioned it to that highly paid consultant, Shane Easson, who works for the ALP, and I am happy to live with whatever transpires.
Mr Charlton's opponent in the 1904 election was one Alex Wilkinson. It is ironic that the president of the hall committee, James Waters, had died prior to the opening ceremony, and it fell on the vanquished Mr Wilkinson to present the victor, Mr Charlton, with the gold key to the newly constructed Yarramalong School of Arts. Unfortunately, my political opponent at the last election was not in attendance to present me with that key, but I entered into the spirit of the occasion and a very pleasant night was enjoyed by all.
Yvonne Turvey, whom I mentioned previously, constructed a magnificent cake in the shape of the Yarramalong School of Arts hall, even down to the crossbeams and the corrugations on the roof. It was such a work of art that it was almost a shame to cut it. The belle of the ball was Leanne Holt, and the squire of the ball was a longstanding resident of Yarramalong Valley, King Palmer. He is the oldest inhabitant of the valley and is Mrs Turvey's uncle. The world-famous town crier Graham Keating presided, and the master of ceremonies for the evening was Mr Keith Smith. It was an occasion that I will cherish. I have a lot of memorabilia that I will file away and look at in future years.
There are many old traditional farming families in the Yarramalong Valley, but they welcomed newcomers. Bryce Courtenay was present with his partner, and he entered into the spirit of the occasion by selecting the belle and squire of the ball. The cuisine of the supper was interesting. It is wonderful that people from a traditional area can embrace newcomers and accept them as part of the rich history of the Yarramalong Valley. That harmony has existed in the Yarramalong Valley since the days of timber-getters. It is important that we recognise the tremendous work that went into constructing that school of arts, which also operated as an important education facility in the past.
CASINO TO MURWILLUMBAH RAIL LINE
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [5.34 p.m.]: This afternoon I will try to put the record straight and remind the Premier about what has happened with the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. I want to remind the House and the people of the Northern Rivers what has happened. Last December it was indicated that we would lose our train service. After a lot of lobbying and presenting of petitions, in December the Minister gave us a stay of proceedings for 12 months. On 6 April that promise was broken and the rail line was set to close in May. The community was shattered, so much so that even the Country Labor Northern Rivers secretary and Lismore councillor Jenny Dowell, stated:
The announcement to cut the service has effectively meant that the Government has lied. We are all disgusted at this.
I did not say that: the Country Labor representative did. Today in this House the Premier praised the honourable member for Tweed for what he has done to try to save the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. I remind the House that on the two occasions that this matter has been debated in this House the honourable member for Tweed did not even turn up to take part in the debate or vote on retaining the service. He has not even spoken on the subject in this House, yet the Premier believes he is doing a good job towards the reinstatement of this service.
The Premier stated today that the honourable member to Tweed gatecrashed the meeting last week at Murwillumbah. I remind the Premier that I was there. The honourable member for Tweed did not gatecrash the meeting, but he had someone else with him who wanted to gatecrash it. That person was kept out of the meeting. This has become the most politicised branch line in New South Wales. It is a State responsibility. The Premier referred today to the Federal Opposition offering $150 million for the upgrading of this line over the next 10 years. The Minister for Transport Services' own figures show that this line was going to cost $180 million over 20 years, but now we are being promised $150 million with a post-dated cheque. Last week, as the Premier acknowledged, the Federal Government promised $15 million a year over two years.
I also remind the House that in April the Federal Government put up $50,000 for a study to evaluate the economic feasibility of a light commuter service. We have a working party of all the mayors of the Northern Rivers area—the mayors on the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils—and members of Parliament from both sides. The working party is chaired by Mr John Whelan, the Minister's representative. That working party is still going through the process. There is also an upper House inquiry into this matter. This line is a State responsibility, and the Government's refusal to accept the $30 million that is on the table to re-establish this service is devastating to the people of the Northern Rivers, who rightly deserve this service.
Earlier today I heard in the House a debate on the pensioner excursion ticket for all modes of public transport across metropolitan Sydney. I could not believe I was in the same State. We in country areas do not even have a train service or a bus service to get these excursion tickets, and members in Sydney are debating what the excursion tickets are worth to their communities. I place on record that we do not have the services. This Government should reinstate the service. [Time expired.
NEWCASTLE CITY COUNCIL COMMUNITY AWARDS
Mr BRYCE GAUDRY
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.39 p.m.]: I am pleased to acknowledge the tremendous work done in our community by volunteers. Last evening Newcastle City Council Community Awards recognised the work of 15 people who have given tireless service in the community over a long period of time. Dr William Bowmore was awarded Freeman of the City for significantly enhancing the cultural life of the city by donating $4.4 million worth of artworks to the city over the past 32 years. The City of Newcastle Medal was awarded to Mrs Kaye Duffy for her enormous contribution to the community over 30 years, including supporting migrant families through her work with the Good Neighbour Council, her 14 years of voluntary care for terminally ill patients and their families at the Mater Hospital and her work with the brain tumour support network. Kaye has also made a significant contribution at State level as a result of her involvement in the Health Participation Council and her advice to Government on health-related matters. Kaye Duffy reflects the enormous contribution that is made by volunteers and their selfless work. I know that Kaye would be the first to acknowledge that her contribution is as part of a team of members of the community. Kaye said in her speech of acceptance:
None of us work in a vacuum—we build networks of like-minded people around us and there are thousands of people in this community who contribute their time, effort and money very generously.
Kaye also said:
I learned early in my life the value of timely loving support. I was a ward of Newcastle Legacy and the men who volunteered as Legatees were an inspiration to me and many other young people whose fathers were killed during the Second World War.
In that statement Kaye acknowledged the work of many volunteers in our community. I note that people like Kaye Duffy make our community work; they build the networks in the community that support government at all levels. Other recipients last evening were Jacqueline Arnold for her work in the surf life saving movement, Joan Bell for her support of senior citizens, Gael Davies for her work in visual arts, Sue Leask for her work in creative arts, Dora Simm for the development of the city's youth opportunities provided by the police and citizens youth club and Teresa Conicella, Craig Foot and Kristi Street for the development of the city's filmmaking culture through the Shootout Festival, a 24-hour filmmaking festival in Newcastle for the creation of short films. The festival brings thousands of people to the city to participate in a filmmaking contest that is attracting nationwide interest.
Other recipients included Edna Thompson for her support of senior citizens and the Glo-Birds Concert Party for their entertainment of and compassion for the elderly. The Glo-Birds Concert Party program has been ongoing for 30 years. The Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans Inc. was also recognised for its welfare work with Vietnam veterans. I attended the commemoration of the Battle of Long Tan, as did representatives of all levels of government. One could not be other than impressed by the work that Vietnam Veterans Inc. does not only for Vietnam veterans but for other veterans in the community. Other recipients were the Newcastle Mater hospital auxiliary for its work in the hospital and the Rathmines Wangi Singers for the entertainment of the elderly and the ill. A wide range of community members were recognised last evening for their support of our community and many people in need within that community. I commend all those who received awards.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.44 p.m.]: I raise an important issue for families in my electorate and across this city generally, that is, preschools. I specifically want to raise an issue about the Saddington Street Preschool in South Turramurra operated by KU Children's Services. This 25-place service operates on Mondays and Tuesdays in the South Turramurra Baptist Church. It has operated since 1988 and receives no funding from the Department of Community Services [DOCS]. That has created a financial disparity between this service and other community-based preschools in the area. For example, another KU Children's Services preschool, the South Turramurra preschool, offers 25 places at a daily fee $10 less than Saddington's $44.50 daily fee. I note that Saddington's fee just covers the essential costs of providing the service to local families.
I make no apology for being a strong supporter of preschool education. I understand its importance to both a child's educational and social development. I also know of the shortage of preschool places in my local community. Our community has land values that preclude the establishment of new services, and that is why I am an advocate for better funding and the expansion of existing services to meet unmet present and future demand. Regrettably, I also know the lack of focus of the Carr Government on preschool education. Where other States have accepted that the funding of high-quality preschool services is a State responsibility, New South Wales has prevaricated. Where other States have implemented deliberate policies to ensure a minimum level of universal, affordable access to preschools, New South Wales has failed to do so. In this State base levels of funding to preschool services have been frozen at 1989-90 levels for almost 15 years. I encourage members not to take my word for it. The State Government's own Commission for Children and Young People found:
… NSW invests a total of $150.90 per child per child care and preschool, comparing unfavourably with the average investment made by other States and Territories of $350.74
It is these low funding levels presided over by the Carr Government that cause high daily fee levels and a lack of capacity amongst preschool services, which exacerbates the problem for parents accessing services like those offered by Saddington Street Preschool in my electorate. The second major problem is the lack of consistency of DOCS in allocating preschool funding. One of the most irritating issues for me as a local member of Parliament under the Carr Government is the all-pervasive view that needs end at the northern bank of the Lane Cove River—in other words, the stereotype of the "privileged North Shore". Over 10 years as a local community-based member of Parliament I can attest to the untruthfulness of this perception. Low-income, often single-parent families exist on the North Shore as they do in other parts of this city and State. Yet that fact is not acknowledged by the Department of Community Services in allocating preschool funds.
Earlier this year the metro-central region of DOCS, which covers my electorate, offered up to $176,817 in renewable fixed-term funding to help provide additional places. KU Children's Services responded and made a submission in relation to Saddington Street Preschool. The application was unsuccessful. No transparent, accountable procedure exists to determine the basis of the rejection. However, it is clear that if funding were allocated on both a needs and per capita basis Saddington Street would receive funds. In other words, if the State Government were required to recognise demand and the number of young children in an area, as well as need, a fairer outcome would eventuate—not only in my community but across the State. Instead there is no fairness or accountability and ultimately the losers are children. Across Ku-ring-gai there is an undersupply of preschool places despite a clear high demand for quality community-based preschool services. Due to a lack of State Government funding for Saddington Street Preschool, many families with low incomes are excluded from using the service and children with disabilities are equally denied support.
Earlier this month I visited Saddington Street Preschool. Despite being physically located within a church building that necessitates a complete pack-up and unpacking at the start and end of their two-day week, it is a terrific facility that the community can be proud of. The children I saw were enjoying themselves as they went about their activities, and the skill and care of the staff was evident, as was the support of the parent community. But increasing costs and the need for full cost recovery because of a lack of DOCS funding, which results in a daily fee of $44.50, poses a threat for the future. It is a significant cost for families to bear. It is an unfair cost for families to bear when, on any objective criteria, the preschool should receive DOCS funding to allow fee relief. I urge the State Government to act and respond positively to representations on behalf of the families using Saddington Street Preschool. I urge the Government to get serious about children's services generally for the sake of our children today—the people who will help make up this country's future.
Ms DIANE BEAMER
(Mulgoa—Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration)) [5.49 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai for raising this issue. It is unusual that I am here on a Wednesday to reply to his contribution. However, on other occasions I have responded to him on other issues. Attendance at a child-care facility is a great thing for young children. It allows them to develop in a far wider social sphere during their transition to school. I will ensure that the Minister is made aware of the honourable member's comments.
DISABILITY PROGRAMS FUNDING
Mr DAVID BARR
(Manly) [5.50 p.m.]: I speak about a proposed reduction in funding for the disabled. The Minister for Disability Services recently announced two new programs which will replace the Adult Training, Learning and Support [ATLAS] Program and the Post School Options [PSO] Program and will come into effect in 2005. The two new programs are the Community Participation Program, which supposedly will provide service users with a long-tem commitment to community-based support, and the Transition to Work Program, which will provide service users with a fixed-term program that supports access to employment and employment programs. Apparently, the programs will result in improved access to employment for young people with disabilities.
Service users who do not make the transition to work will have access to a community participation program at the end of their transition to work program. On the face of it, that seems benign enough. However, in reality there will be a reduction in funding for people who enter into a community participation program. The funding for transition to work programs will remain the same as for the ATLAS Program, that is, $15,699 a year for each client. However, those young people who cannot go on to employment and who participate in a community participation program will suffer an effective reduction in funding from $15,699 to $13,500 a year. The logic of the reduction seems to be that it is cheaper to look after someone who is not being trained for work than it is to look after someone who is.
I recently spoke with Mary Mockler, whose 21-year-old son Robert has cerebral palsy and quadriplegia. Robert has been attending the Spastic Centre Community Access Scheme [CAS]. Mrs Mockler told me that he attends with a large group of other severely disabled young people who need specialised care, including toileting and feeding. The CAS provides these young people with a place to go during the day. They decide, along with their carers, how they will use their time. The scheme provides a supportive and enjoyable environment that has now been put at risk by the proposed reduction in funding.
The ATLAS Program came into effect in 1999 and provides two and a half days of care for people with high support needs. It replaced the PSO Program, which provided five days of care. Clients and carers are facing a further funding reduction that will cause enormous strain. The effect of the reduction will be to force disabled school leavers to stay home for most of the week rather than attend day programs at their CAS. They enjoy participating in these programs, which also allow parents and carers to have a life outside their home. Many parents and carers are single parents who need to work. The Minister's decision discriminates against not only school leavers but also parents and carers, who will have to leave their employment to stay home to care for their young charges. Mrs Mockler states:
They have closed down the institutions but they are about to institutionalise both young people and their carers in their home.
In a letter to the Minister for Disability Services, she further states:
I would like to stress that it is a struggle for most parents to juggle their lives around 2.5 or 3 days of care per week. It is hard to continue any sort of significant work with the insecurity we parents face. I will probably have to reconsider my work next year even with the continued level of support.
Decreasing the level of support to these young adults and even the present level of funding means that they are forced to stay home with ageing parents for most of the week. We have removed the institutions but we are now locking up both young people and their parent/carers in their homes.
Furthermore, if these young adults are at home with ageing parents/carers, the latter will require help with toiletting that will mean more hours from Home Care. These are at present in short supply and even non-existent.
I believe that the Government's move to cut funding to this group of people is a most ill-conceived, penny-pinching, insensitive and uncaring decision.
That could not be put more starkly. For the sake of disabled people and those of us who want to believe that we live in a compassionate and caring society, the Government should open the coffers for disabled people.
THORNTON PUBLIC SCHOOL
Mr JOHN PRICE
(Maitland) [5.55 p.m.]: I want to comment on an education issue in my electorate, that is, urgent maintenance required at the Thornton Public School. I have already been in touch with the district superintendent of the Department of Education and Training, and I have raised this issue with the staff of the Minister for Education and Training. My concern is that for many years the school has been without a complete fence. In this day and age that is extremely hard to accept. In fact, I do not accept it, and I have asked that the issue be treated with some urgency. The possibility of little children from kindergarten to year 6 wandering at will puts great strain on teachers. It also causes unnecessary concerns for many parents, who are worried about the safety and welfare of their young children. The school canteen shutters have also been the subject of an adverse report prepared by the Maitland City Council health inspector. I understand those matters are now in hand, but I have been concerned about the delay. I am assured that the work will proceed.
The third issue of concern relates to soil erosion. Stormwater discharge floods one area of the school grounds and sends soil and associated garden waste into several classrooms. Rectifying that situation will cost a considerable amount because it will involve underground drainage work. It is an issue of grave concern to the school community and it should be rectified as a matter of urgency. As I said, I have spoken to the Minister's staff and I am satisfied that these matters are being addressed. However, I have raised these concerns because they relate to public health and safety. It is important that members of the community realise that their concerns are taken into consideration and addressed.
Maitland City Council has proposed the establishment of a new suburb to be known as Thornton North. I understand it will have a population of about 10,000 people and residential construction will commence in the next couple of years. I urge the Department of Education and Training to have demographers study the site to determine whether it would be appropriate to purchase a site for a primary school or to expand the existing Thornton Public School site in preparation for the influx of children that will occur in the next five to seven years. It will be a big project because the school has almost 700 students now. Land behind the school would be suitable for residential subdivision. In fact, it is on the border of a significant subdivision that could, if the department so chose, provide revenue for the construction of permanent classrooms. That would allow for the removal of a number of demountable classrooms. Although the school functions well now, once the boundary is defined—and that will depend on what happens with Thornton North—any surplus property should be disposed of and the bulk of the proceeds used to provide resources for the school.
Education is an expensive exercise, and I am grateful to the Minister for ensuring that a school has been established at Ashtonfield in my electorate. It has been a long time coming. However, given the increasing population in the Maitland area—according to the last census it is the fastest growing provincial area in the State—it is important that we take advantage of the opportunity to provide infrastructure, particularly for education facilities. The local school community is coherent and progressive. In fact, it probably has the best record of staff and parent co-operation in the Lower Hunter region. I support their activities and their concerns, and I look forward to receiving a report that will indicate positively, one way or another, whether a new school site is to be purchased. If a new school site is not to be purchased, I ask that a forward plan be constructed to ensure that, for the benefit of the general community, Thornton Public School is properly planned, fenced and financed.
GOVERNMENT CLEANING CONTRACTS
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [5.59 p.m.]: I draw the House's attention to the plight of those responsible for keeping our schools, police stations, courthouses, government buildings and, indeed, the environment of our electorate offices clean, tidy, hygienic, amenable, safe and pleasant places in which to work. I refer to the 7,000 cleaners in New South Wales who rely upon extended government contracts to meet mortgage payments, educate children and put food on the table. I can provide many examples of honest, hardworking people in my electorate of Tamworth who are dedicated, proud employees of government-contracted cleaning services. The fellow contracted to clean my electorate office is a father of four who works hard to support his family. He can little afford to lose a day's work, let alone his job, but he was one of 80 cleaners from across the New England north-west who took strike action and rallied in Tamworth recently in protest of the proposal of the Department of Commerce to renegotiate government cleaning contracts and introduce, in October next year, a new system that not only will reduce cleaners' time to provide for only a basic standard of cleaning but also poses a huge threat to job security.
The group of cleaners converged on my office to enlist my support and urge me to communicate a strong message to the Government, particularly Premier Bob Carr. That message was "Shame, Carr, shame!" The cleaners feel that the Premier betrayed them on a promise that changes to government contracts made after the State privatised cleaning contracts in 1993 would not threaten job security. Under the current system cleaners have a guarantee that they will work for whoever wins the contract. But with the Government now proposing to drop this provision in the new system, cleaners feel extremely vulnerable. Christine Hughes, for example, is an award-winning cleaner at Tamworth's Oxley Vale Public School. She has cleaned the school for 23 years and loves her job, but she now has grave concerns for her future and that of a 62-year-old co-worker. Christine said:
We seem to rush all the time to cover all the cleaning we are required to do. We usually don't get any thanks for what we do, nor do we expect it. All we would like is to be able to keep working at our school without any more cuts to our hours. We don't care if we never get another pay rise, we just want our jobs.
Christine's attitude typifies that of cleaners generally. They are a humble group, happy just to be working, but they are at breaking point. The cleaners are represented by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, and it is the first time in 11 years they have taken strike action. Is the department aware that it is already physically impossible for cleaners to achieve a reasonable standard of cleaning with the existing hours and staff numbers, and that additional functions under occupational health and safety regulations compound pressures on their time? The average age of cleaners in New South Wales is 48, and those on the ground tell me that workplace injury is a huge issue.
Is the department aware that incoming contractors could favour younger cleaners and cleaners who have never been injured? I know that a study is currently being undertaken by the New South Wales WorkCover Authority to assess the repetitive manual tasks of cleaners. The study came about, in part, in response to a recommendation arising from the 2002 New South Wales Workplace Safety Summit. The recommendation highlighted that significant causes of musculoskeletal and occupational overuse injuries in cleaners were "high expectations in limited time frames and product savings". It strikes me as being somewhat hypocritical of Government to have one department seeking to reduce cleaning hours another department acknowledging that high expectations in a limited time are linked to an injured cleaning work force. In my view it is incumbent on the Department of Commerce to apply the results of this study in any renegotiation of contracts.
In a position paper on the renegotiation of contracts the department stated it did not believe the current contract structure for cleaning gives quality outcomes at the best value for government agencies. I ask how the department expects to achieve quality outcomes from a cleaning service when its cleaning hours are to be cut back to "minimum mandatory services", such as toilet cleaning, vacuuming and emptying bins. The Australian
newspaper reported that Department of Commerce bureaucrats suggested that if school principals elected for the "basic clean", parents could chip in to clean the windows, playgrounds and classrooms. Does the department honestly expect optional services to be picked up by parents, parents and citizens association members, and even teachers, whose recent wage case highlighted their workload and who, in small rural schools, are already struggling with a lack of peer and administration support? I ask the Government to give cleaners what they want: an offer of employment from all new incoming contractors, as occurred under the last two contracts; a guarantee to maintain their hours of work and disallow subcontracting; a guarantee that worksites will be maintained in the contract; and a guarantee that contracts will be let at a reasonable size to ensure companies put proper systems in place.
I have sought the assistance of the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans in the other place in asking questions of the Minister for Commerce on behalf of the cleaners in New South Wales. I ask that those questions be taken seriously, in light of the concerns expressed by the many longstanding members of the cleaning profession. If we want an adequate level of service, we need to ensure that the people who perform those services are given some sort of reassurance that the restructure will not pose a threat to their jobs and that their work hours will not be reduced.
Private members' statements noted.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Paul Lynch) left the chair at 6.04 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
REGISTERED CLUBS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr GRANT McBRIDE
(The Entrance—Minister for Gaming and Racing) [7.30 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The legislation before the House represents the next phase in the program of improving the governance, accountability and conduct of registered clubs. As we all know, registered clubs in New South Wales enjoy significant concessions in their gaming activities, and these activities generate many millions of dollars of profit for some of our larger clubs. It is important that clubs are accountable not just to their members but also to their staff and the broader community regarding how they manage the large profits they derive from gaming machine and liquor operations.
In August last year I established a new Club Industry Task Force, which is a working partnership between the Government and the club industry. The task force includes representatives of major club industry and club employee associations. Stage one of the task force was completed last year and resulted in a range of enhancements to the corporate governance provisions of the Registered Clubs Act and the Registered Clubs Regulation. Stage two of the task force's deliberations is currently under way. These involve further consultation with key stakeholders and club industry participants regarding club amalgamations, election of club directors, codes of conduct and industry benchmarking.
More recently, I have also established a Special Ministerial Advisory Group to assist and augment the role and duties of the Club Industry Task Force. The advisory group constitutes the chief executive officers of nine significant registered clubs, and provides a wide range of detailed advice on policy and management issues by people who have lengthy experience in the long-term management of clubs. While these processes are under way, it is clear that there still remain some significant issues in relation to club governance and the role of clubs as employers. As honourable members would be aware, the registered clubs industry is a significant source of employment for the people of New South Wales. In recent times, threats have been made by club management to sack some club employees on fairly spurious grounds. For example, I am aware of one club making a decision to dismiss a number of staff last November on the basis that the new gaming machine tax might affect the club's future earnings. That new tax only came into effect today and, further, the first tax under the new arrangements is not due to be paid until 21 December—some 13 months after the decision was made to sack the workers last November. It defies belief that a club could use the new tax rates as an excuse to sack workers more than a year before the new tax arrangements came into effect.
The bill has several components to make clubs more accountable to their members and their work force, and I will give a quick outline of the key elements. The bill will provide protection for any club employee or director who divulges any legitimate matter of concern to the Department of Gaming and Racing. The proposed amendments will also provide those in the club industry greater opportunity to make legitimate complaints about registered clubs. The bill will amend the provisions relating to special inquiries into registered clubs to make it clear that such inquiries can make findings in relation to corrupt or improper conduct in certain circumstances. The bill will also standardise the powers of investigation that may lead to different types of complaint action, and provide a power for the Director of Liquor and Gaming to be reimbursed for the cost of any such investigation if a complaint is subsequently established. Finally, the bill will amend the legislation to provide for greater disclosure of information to ensure full transparency of club operations.
I will now turn to the details of the bill. The Liquor Act presently nominates employee organisations as one of the parties that can make a formal complaint against a licensee. The Registered Clubs Act does not include a similar provision. It is proposed to address this anomaly and add employee organisations to the list of parties that may take formal complaint action against a registered club. As honourable members would appreciate, club employees are often in a position where they can observe first-hand any improper or corrupt practices that might be taking place at a club. However, despite any concern they might have about the best interests of the club and its members, employees may be quite fearful about reporting improper conduct to the Department of Gaming and Racing for fear of losing their job or having other action taken in retribution against them.
The bill will insert certain protections for employees who "blow the whistle" on improper practices at their club. The proposed whistleblower amendments are based on provisions in the Protected Disclosures Act 1994, which provide protection for public officials. The bill will make it an offence for any registered club or person to take detrimental action against a club employee or director that is largely in reprisal for the employee or director disclosing information to the Director of Liquor and Gaming concerning the conduct of a club. There are protections provided to the club in return. It is an offence for an employee or director to disclose information to the director that the person knows is false or misleading. Also, the club has a defence to any prosecution for taking action against a whistleblower if it can establish that the disclosure was frivolous or vexatious. The bill also provides that the director may refer employment-related matters arising out of an investigation or a special inquiry to the Industrial Relations Commission or to the department administering the Industrial Relations Act 1996, currently the Department of Commerce.
I turn now to amendments that relate to special inquiries that may be conducted into registered clubs. The Act already enables the Director of Liquor and Gaming to establish an inquiry into corrupt or improper conduct in relation to a registered club. The bill will amend those provisions to make it clear that the person presiding at an inquiry may report a finding of corrupt or improper conduct by a registered club or by any person in relation to a registered club. A finding in relation to corrupt or improper conduct can only be made if the person presiding over the inquiry is a judge or a legal practitioner of at least seven years standing. Another restriction is that a finding of corrupt or improper conduct can only be made if the presiding officer is of the opinion that the conduct concerned may involve a criminal offence or a disciplinary offence. The bill also provides power for the person presiding at an inquiry to recommend that the director refer matters to a law enforcement agency or other person.
As an adjunct to this, the bill provides the director with the power to refer matters arising from an inquiry to a law enforcement agency or other person, including the Industrial Relations Commission and the Department of Commerce. The bill also clarifies that the director may divulge or publish part or all of a report of an inquiry. The director may only divulge or publish details of the report if the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so. The Director of Liquor and Gaming can currently take complaint action against either a registered club under section 17 of the Registered Clubs Act, or against a secretary or a director under section 35 of the Act. The legislation presently gives the director specific powers of investigation to determine whether to make a complaint under section 35 against a secretary or director, but there are no similar powers of investigation in relation to whether to take a complaint against the club itself.
The bill will provide one generic set of powers of investigation in order for the director to determine whether to take complaint action against a club, or against a secretary or director of a club, or whether there has been any breach of the club governance requirements under part 4A of the Act. The bill will also provide the director with power to refer the outcome of investigations to a law enforcement agency or any other person who might have an interest in the matter if the director is satisfied that the matter might relate to a breach of the law or may constitute grounds for taking proceedings against a registered club or person. The bill also provides the director with the power to recover the costs of an investigation in limited circumstances.
I turn now to the proposals in relation to improving the transparency and accountability of registered clubs. The Act currently requires a director or top executive of a registered club to declare any gift from any affiliated body of the club that has a value of more than $500. It is proposed to extend this requirement to include remuneration, fees for service and the like, that a club director or top executive receives from an affiliated body. This is intended to require the disclosure of fees that a club director would receive from a football club or other enterprise where there is an interdependent financial relationship. The bill will also permit the public disclosure of information arising out of or relating to the administration of the Gaming Machines Act 2001 or the Gaming Machine Tax Act 2001 if it is in the public interest to do so.
This will allow the publication of individual gaming machine tax and profit figures in the future when it is considered to be in the public interest. Finally, it is proposed to amend the Gaming Machines Act 2001 to make it clear that the Liquor Administration Board may suspend or cancel a hotel or club's authorisation to keep gaming machines if the hotel or club fails to pay its monitoring fee or gaming machine tax. This is a power that the board previously exercised, with some effect, when the gaming machine provisions resided in the Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act, when the board was responsible for revenue collection. In transferring this role to the Office of State Revenue, the need to keep the sanction of revoking the right to keep gaming machines was overlooked. The Government has already made many significant improvements to the accountability and corporate governance of registered clubs. However, it is clear that there remains a great deal to be done. The package of amendments before the House today represents the next step in ensuring that there is a viable and responsible club industry in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Motion, by leave, by Mr Carl Scully agreed to:
That the Hon. Ian Morton Armstrong be appointed to serve on the Standing Committee on Natural Resource Management in place of Donald Loftus Page, discharged.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL MATTERS
Consideration of the Legislative Council's message of 29 June.
Motion by Mr Carl Scully agreed to:
Message sent to the Legislative Council advising it of the resolution.
That the amendment proposed by the Legislative Council to paragraph (4) of the resolution for the terms of reference for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters be agreed to.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Carl Scully agreed to:
(1) standing and sessional orders be suspended to provide:
(a) no divisions or quorums be called until the rising of the House; and
(b) after the adjournment of the debate on the take-note debate on the 2004-05 budget, the House adjourn without motion until the next sitting day.
(2) the House at its rising this day do adjourn until Thursday 2 September 2004 at 10.00 a.m.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2004-05
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mrs JILLIAN SKINNER
(North Shore) [7.43 p.m.]: I know from recent visits and meetings that there is some very fine work being done in our schools, TAFE colleges and community colleges. For example, I was most impressed with the work in numeracy and literacy, particularly focusing on middle school years, being done at Portland Central School, which the Minister for Education and Training mentioned in this House yesterday. I attended the function where the Commonwealth Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Brendan Nelson, presented Portland with its much-deserved award and I congratulate all concerned.
At the other end of the scale I recently attended Kiama Community College where I met a group of intellectually disabled students undertaking an information technology course, which, among other things, has helped enormously with literacy skills. But the teachers at Kiama, as they are elsewhere, are providing these excellent opportunities for their students almost in spite of the Government. They know there are budget cuts, but they do not know how they will be affected because there is no detail about what it means to people in the field. There is also no detail in the information about allocations to budget programs as to how much of the funding for the education portfolio is from the Commonwealth Government. Page 3-21 of Budget Statement 2004-05, however, notes that funds provided by the Commonwealth under specific purpose payments for schools was $685 million budgeted in 2003-04, $727 million revised, with an allocation of $754 million in 2004-05. Funds provided by the Commonwealth under specific purpose payments for TAFE was $382 budgeted in 2003-04, $370 million revised, with an allocation of $384 million in 2004-05. GST revenue grants from the Commonwealth to the State, allocation of which is determined according to State priorities, amounts to $9.648 billion in 2004-05.
I mention these figures because so many people contact me to ask me where they can find information about how much of the money that the State Government identifies as its own contribution is, in fact, Commonwealth funding. Many groups and organisations have complained for years about the lack of transparency in the way the Government provides budget information. In fact, the New South Wales Teachers Federation, in its submission prior to this year's budget, wrote:
[It] yet again calls on the Government to restore level of detail in budget papers and to report calculations of Budget figures accurately and honestly.
The Teachers Federation stated that there is concern about comparing current budget estimates with budget estimates of previous years rather than revised figures to calculate percentage increases in spending. This results in inaccurate reporting of percentage increases and the public is seriously misled. The federation goes on to describe the Government's reporting of the education budget as "dishonest", just as it and principals organisations have described proposed legislative changes to put principals on contract as a dishonestly disguised attempt to shut them up rather than to improve performance or achieve better educational outcomes. Principals believe that this is the next step in a series of deliberate moves to restrict the professional independence and autonomy of principals. These have included restrictions on principals, including limitations on their travel and their right to send emails. Most recently, a principal was carpeted after speaking to me, despite my playing by the rules and getting the Minister's approval to visit the school. I received the Minister's approval to visit the school but the principal got into trouble for speaking to me. How ludicrous is that!
These people have also raised concerns about the limited right of appeal and unfair demotions proposed in draft legislation. More will be said about that when the legislation comes before the Parliament. I call upon the Minister and Government members to examine the proposed legislation carefully because principals, teachers, the Teachers Federation, parents and all interest groups have approached me and begged me to ask members of this Parliament to be serious and come up with legislation that will really address the issue.
The Government has followed its usual practice of patting itself on the back for an increase in the education budget that compares money budgeted this year with what was budgeted last year, rather than what was actually spent—a point made by the union. Thus it was able to claim that there was a budget increase of 8.5 per cent. However, closer analysis shows that when compared with what was actually spent last year, the budget increase drops to 5.6 per cent. This calls into question the Government's claims that this includes funds to fully cover the 12 per cent pay rise awarded to teachers by the Industrial Relations Commission.
The budget estimates, in Budget Paper No. 3, Volume 1, at page 5-1, note that the cost of the teachers' pay rise is $590 million in 2004-05, with the full annual cost of the 12 per cent rise in 2005-06 being $696 million. The reality is that some of the money required for extra employee-related expenses has come from the axing of some 700 jobs through the recent Government restructure of the portfolio. Even with those savings there is no real increase in funding for new or improved services. I turn now to the schools budget. Funds allocated to primary and secondary government schools this year rose by $483.9 million or 6.7 per cent when compared with their actual expenses last year
Assistance to non-government schools rose by 8.9 per cent, in line with the statutory requirement that non-government students receive 25 per cent of the average cost of educating a student in a public school. It is important to make that point in this debate because of the dishonest and misleading campaign being run by some teachers' unions, presenting a picture to the public that only includes Commonwealth funding for government schools. As I said, the Commonwealth and the State both provide funds to government schools and non-government schools. To put it another way, the $660 million allocated for non-government schools through the State budget is 8.7 per cent of the total State allocation for all schools, for 32.8 per cent of the total student population.
This meant that estimated recurrent expenditure per student in government schools from all budget sources is $9,193 per head—up $833 per student from 2003-04. Estimated recurrent expenditure per student in non-government schools from State Government budget sources is $1,799 per student—up $161 per student from 2003-04. I note here that we are still awaiting the second of the reports prepared by Warren Grimshaw into non-government schools. It will deal with non-government funding issues. I also note here the Greens motion in the Legislative Council that calls for an end to State Government funding for non-government schools—a proposition that is absolutely rejected by the Coalition.
Criticism of the lack of detail in the education budget is particularly relevant when information is sought about new or enhanced funding. The budget papers identify a number of initiatives but only provide information about funding over four years. To all intents and purposes there may be no, or almost no, money allocated to the initiatives in this financial year. There is no detail at all of money allocated during 2004-05 for the seven key school initiatives identified in the budget; all are listed as allocations over four years, as they were last year and as they will be next year in another smoke-and-mirrors presentation that is typical of the Carr Government. To pick one example, the papers state that the Budget Estimates, in Budget Paper No. 3, Volume 1, at page 5-8, states that $795 million will be allocated over four years for technology initiatives, including $156.6 million for upgrading bandwidth in schools and TAFE colleges; $77.5 million to provide email and a range of other e-services for students and teachers; and $544.4 million to continue the Computers in Schools Program.
The question is: how much has been allocated in 2004-05 to each of these three areas, and how much was spent in 2003-04? It is clear from information coming in from throughout New South Wales that the Government makes claims about spending in budget papers, but the reality is quite different. Indeed, the Computers in Schools Program has completely stalled. The glowing description of initiatives in budget narratives cannot be relied upon to mean ongoing funding, as schools in receipt of funding through the Priority Assistance Scheme learned recently. Informed by education bureaucrats that they would lose funding from the start of next year, it was only after considerable pressure from principals, teachers, parents and students, after I first alerted the media, that the Minister reluctantly gave 74 funded schools a 12-month reprieve. On 18 August the Teachers Federation highlighted the fact that the "long overdue" announcement by the State Government of additional resources for special education "is not fully funded". The President of the Teachers Federation, Maree O'Halloran, said:
The Government has found the shortfall in funding by reducing the number of special education teachers. Students with behaviour disorders, emotional disorders, autism and moderate and physical disabilities may end up in larger classes as a result of this announcement.
I turn to school maintenance. The Minister's claims that all urgent maintenance is handled within 24 hours are regarded as a cruel joke among school communities. I need give no better example than a school in my own electorate. North Sydney Demonstration School parents provided me with a report done by the Department of Commerce in March this year, which I raised in Parliament in May. The report found serious flaws in wiring at the school which constituted a potential fire hazard and also occupational health and safety risks, and recommended that $134,800 "be made available on an urgent basis to proceed (with upgrading the wiring) as soon as possible". Those are quotes from the Department of Commerce. Needless to say, the work still has not been done.
I note the presence in the Chamber of my colleague the honourable member for South Coast. Ulladulla High School has sewage pouring through the school grounds from drains that are blocked and overflowing. That is an urgent maintenance requirement. The Minister claims that such matters are dealt with immediately. The parents and citizens at that school and the hardworking member for South Coast have raised that issue ad nauseam, with no effect. So it is simply a joke. That and other urgently required school maintenance, which includes blocked drains, filthy toilets and rusty demountables, will undoubtedly continue to wait, given that there has been a 13 per cent or $28 million cut to school maintenance budgets in 2004-05.
The budget papers show that there is less money allocated for maintenance at all school levels—preschool, primary and secondary—than there was in the 2003-04 budget. This will cause continuing problems for the many schools that are complaining about delays to much-needed maintenance, especially in light of the Auditor-General's report to Parliament last year that noted that the effectiveness of school maintenance plans is "hampered by significant maintenance backlogs, estimated to be $124 million". Capital expenditure of $367 million is almost identical to the figure last year, and a measly $21 million has been allocated to new projects this year. The public has been denied access to information about the cost of new school buildings and how much taxpayer funding has been allocated to these projects this year.
Of the 65 works in progress identified in the budget, 31 were underspent, compared with expenditure estimated to be spent by the end of the last financial year. The estimated completion dates of 18 of the projects have had to be extended—a point also made by my colleague the honourable member for South Coast during her response to the budget earlier today. For example, the Government's program to build 31 new preschools was underspent last year; only $2.65 million of the allocated $7.86 million was spent. Other examples of underspending include completion of the Anna Bay Primary school redevelopment, $2.2 million underspent; behaviour units at various schools, nearly $1 million underspent; new classrooms for the class size reduction program, $1.23 million underspent; Merimbula primary school hall, canteen and covered outdoor learning area, $1.3 million underspent; Merimbula primary school upgrade, $2.7 million underspent; Milton primary school upgrade, $2.4 million underspent; Mullumbimby School upgrade, $4 million underspent; and Rose Bay Secondary College redevelopment, $11 million underspent.
I turn to enrolments and staffing. Primary school enrolments are expected to drop by 3,172 in 2004-05, and only 121 more staff are to be employed in primary schools, despite the Treasurer's claim that an extra 800 teachers will be employed by the end of the year to lower class sizes. What other staff positions are being cut? Staffing in secondary schools is expected to reduce by 2,656, so maybe that is the answer! In other words, it is a smoke-and-mirrors promise that there will be extra staff. I turn now to TAFE and vocational education and training. The total vocational education and training budget has actually fallen by 0.05 per cent, when this year's budget is compared with actual expenses in 2003-04. This comprised a 2.4 per cent increase in the TAFE budget. So the Government needs to explain where the money will come from to pay TAFE teachers the 12 per cent pay increase awarded by the Industrial Relations Commission.
Grants for education and training services actually decreased by $39.4 million or 17 per cent, as part of the overall 0.05 per cent budget reduction. The result of the cut to the TAFE budget last year and the increase in TAFE student fees imposed from the beginning of this year has meant a drop in TAFE enrolments, a cut in TAFE courses, and a reduction in student hours in many courses. This has troubled many TAFE teachers and administrators who are concerned about their ability to meet accreditation requirements. Shame on the Government for cutting TAFE provision. TAFE is an important component of the education continuum, particularly important in assisting to develop a skilled work force, which is so important to New South Wales and Australia. I say this advisedly because one of my children is studying at TAFE. It has the capacity to provide excellent courses, but teachers are tearing out their hair because they are not getting the budget they need to do the right thing.
Community colleges are a part of our education continuum that is often overlooked. The Government has slashed funding, so community colleges will receive almost $4 million less than they received last year, despite growing enrolments. The 16 per cent cut in funding will mean that the 67 community colleges in New South Wales will have to cancel courses next year, and smaller colleges in rural areas could be forced to close altogether. These colleges are seen as the social, educational and economic hub of many communities. By reducing their funding, jobs will be lost and fewer people will receive the education and training to help them increase their skills and find employment. A couple of weeks ago I visited Kiama community college and attended an information technology class for intellectually disabled young adults. I know first-hand why it is so important for these courses to continue. A spokesman for the college, Susan Kane, said:
We are currently experiencing a huge surge in people attending our college an if courses are cut, the college won't be able to survive.
The cutbacks will also mean that courses will become more expensive and a lot of students won't be able to afford that.
Our courses have made people more employable, they're a confidence builder, especially for people needing to improve computer and literacy skills.
[Extension of time agreed to.
The cuts come at a time when community colleges in New South Wales are facing growing demand, with 400,000 students across the State enrolled this term. In the May budget the New South Wales Government provided a total of $321,918 million for the arts in 2004-05. That is only $2.066 million more than was budgeted for the previous year and $36 million or 10.13 per cent less than was spent. The Ministry for the Arts, which is responsible for policy formulation and review, and administering cultural grants and other assistance, has $30.7 million, or 25 per cent, less than was spent last year, with cultural grants cut from $54 million to $27 million. That is a massive decrease.
Funding for the State Library has fallen by 1.8 per cent, despite an expected increase in the use of library services, and the Australian Museum has 6.58 per cent less than it spent last year. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has $3.7 million, or 10.9 per cent, less than it spent last year, despite an expected increase in visitors. The New South Wales Film and Television Office has $192,000 less to spend than last year, reflecting a drop in the number of scripts and development projects to be supported. It is true to say that one can judge the quality of government by how much commitment it provides to the arts. This Government has neglected the arts for many years. There has been a steady fall in funding to arts establishments and institutions. They are the first to lose out when the Government announces that money is to be saved.
In capital works for the arts, the $40 million upgrade to the Australian Museum, which was to take three years, will now take five years, according to the budget. The delay will cause even further deterioration of the museum, which is a matter of major concern given that the Premier, who is also the Minister for the Arts, told the press on 22 June that the museum had degenerated so far that an upgrade was needed. He said:
Many of the laboratories, offices and exhibition galleries are now substandard and the heritage value of the building has been undermined with haphazard capital works.
That is a great quote from the Minister for the Arts and Premier of this State. If there is any posturing or pontificating in this Chamber about the Carr Government's commitment to the arts, one should remember that the Premier's comment says it all.
I refer briefly to my own electorate—I will be brief, because nothing much has been spent there. North Sydney Boys High School is listed for new capital works, for which I am truly grateful. I lobbied long and hard for that. North Sydney Boys High School has had no government funding spent on it for many years, despite it being an icon in this State. Some of its facilities were upgraded recently, but that was paid for by selling another property it owned. I am proud to say the school hall has been almost completely refurbished in three different projects, completely funded by a very committed parent body.
It is welcome news that the school has been listed as a new project. However, no money appears alongside that entry. Why not? The Government is not telling people how much these projects will cost because it does not think it will provide anything towards them—they will be funded by the private sector. They are private projects, so the Government should not take any credit for them. The Government has allocated nothing and expects the private sector to be involved in all of these things. I will watch that with a great deal of interest. This applies to all of the other new education capital works projects this year. Not one cent has been identified as a government allocation, because the Government does not want to let the private sector know how much it could successfully bid for the project. What a cop out!
There is no money in the budget to upgrade North Sydney station, which is long overdue. North Sydney station was listed as the number one priority for an easy-access upgrade when the Coalition was last in office. It is still waiting. North Sydney is the fourth-largest central business district in Australia, and it has a station with no lift. There are continuing complaints about gaps between the station and the trains that pull in. Every morning and every afternoon people flood off the platforms and down the narrow stairs, and the station is desperately in need of an upgrade. How much money has this Government allocated for that upgrade? Zero.
Then we have the widening of The Spit Bridge. I spoke in this Chamber earlier this evening about the traffic congestion problems confronting my electorate, particularly when there are incidents like this morning's bank robbery in Neutral Bay. That was minutes from my office and my home. During that incident police had to clear Military Road, and for two hours no cars travelled along the main road through my electorate. As a consequence, there was total traffic chaos. What is the Government going to do? In this budget it has allocated $2 million to widen a bridge—a bridge that opens, a drawbridge—that will only move the traffic congestion problems about 500 metres into my electorate. It is ludicrous.
That $2 million is part of $35 million that the Government is allocating to this project. I am sure many members of this House, including members of the Government, could think of very worthwhile things to do with $35 million, rather than throw it at a solution that makes the situation worse—a solution that locals do not want. The councils either side of The Spit Bridge have unanimously rejected that project, but the Government seems hell-bent on proceeding with it. It is ludicrous.
The other issue of major concern to my constituents is access to the local hospital. Even though it is not in my electorate, Royal North Shore Hospital is considered by all to be their local hospital. Money allocated to the major upgrade of the hospital was underspent last year. Only $3.468 million was spent, although $5.5 million was allocated. The stupidity of this project is that it is expected to be completed in 2010. This hospital is falling apart. Behind the scenes wires are looped around the place, and filth gathers in the recesses of the building. The emergency department is a disgrace. We have seen pictures of ambulances stuck there because the hospital is in code red and because there is not enough money to run it.
I went through the hospital recently with my local Liberal women colleagues the honourable member for Willoughby and the honourable member for Hornsby. We looked at the new neonatal unit and the cardiac catheter laboratory. We are very proud that there is such wonderful community support for the hospital, but it is sad that most of the equipment in the new part of the hospital has been purchased through community donations. The Government does not provide enough money to buy new equipment for the neonatal unit, for example, so the community has to raise that money. I congratulate all those who work with the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, because that is how the additional funding is raised.
As I have been to meetings of local Rotary and other service clubs I know that fundraisers from Royal North Shore Hospital are regular visitors. They go there to spruik for money to help furnish and run this hospital, one of the major tertiary hospitals in this State. The Carr Government has seriously neglected it. People like the constituents of North Shore are the losers because the Government has failed to meet its obligations to provide for all people across the State. I am very proud that it was the Coalition, when it was last in government, that moved hospitals to Western Sydney. It spent a lot of money in non-Coalition seats because it recognised that is where the need was, and that was the right thing to do. It is a pity that the Carr Government has not learnt from that example. The Carr Government refuses to provide the resources so sorely needed in seats that it does not hold.
Ms VIRGINIA JUDGE
(Strathfield) [8.11 p.m.]: I am pleased this evening to be able to speak to the State budget of 2004-05. Today I thank the Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Egan, for his wonderfully managed budget. As New South Wales is the home of the majority of Australians, the healthy condition of this State has largely assured the healthy position of our great nation. Over the past six years the average disposable income in Australia has risen by 12 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004 Social Trends publication. People on low incomes received on average a net $245 a week, which is up 8 per cent from six years ago, after accounting for inflation. People in middle-income households earn an average, after tax, of $413—up 11 per cent. Those in high-income households earn an average of $903, up 14 per cent.
The disposable incomes of Australians in fact have improved so much that the nation's average after-tax income is second only to Korea's, according to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development's annual review of wages and taxation. However, the massive contribution that New South Wales has made to this nation has not, sadly, been reciprocated. The Howard Government has indeed short-changed New South Wales by $345 million in a year. This is the unquestionable truth of the matter. I am not alone in asserting that the Howard Government—a Coalition Government, a Liberal Government—has taken money out of New South Wales, the Premier State. I join in this assertion with our Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Egan. We both assert this as a fact because it is the truth. For those few among us who are wary of taking a politician's word on a matter, I present the hard and objective evidence of Ross Gittins of the Sydney Morning Herald.
In an article of 23 June this year entitled "Why his job has got harder", the unflappable and thoroughly respectable Mr Gittins made the following contribution to the debate when listing the challenges to the budget:
… the Commonwealth Grants Commission's new formula for dividing the GST revenue between the states … penalises this state— and favours Queensland—even more than the old formula.
While I am on this particular topic I would like to mention Mr Gittins' assessment of the performance of the Leader of the Opposition on the Commonwealth Grants Commission issue. I will let Mr Gittins' words speak for themselves as I believe they most adequately do so on this particular occasion:
John Brogden has not resisted the temptation to side with those generally better-off individuals complaining about the new stamp duty on the sale of commercial and investment properties.
Far worse, he has failed to support Mr Egan's campaign for a fairer division of the GST revenue between the states, preferring to put party loyalties ahead of the interests of taxpayers in his own state.
I will allow my colleagues and the people of New South Wales to judge between the Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition on this point. This budget includes major works throughout the entirety of this State. It is based on noble and valid enterprises, and I commend it in its entirety. Indeed, in this budget the Government has committed $3.6 million to new capital works. One could find that hard to believe after listening to the honourable member for North Shore, but it is a fact. This outstanding amount once again showcases this Government's determination to provide for this State—and not just to provide for New South Wales, but to provide well for it.
But our commitment does not lie in building new infrastructure alone. An allocation of $2.4 million goes towards fixing and building roads; $450 million is allocated for school improvements—the honourable member for North Shore should be listening to this—and there is also the $1 billion announced in the mini-budget for the Rail Clearways Program, which will reform our train network. All in all, $30 billion will be spent on public infrastructure over the next four years. That is an incredible amount. In fact, it is a 20 per cent boost to public infrastructure spending. This budget allocates $707 million in extra health spending; that is additional health spending, and that is truly a commendable commitment. In fact, the comprehensive nature of this budget has been duly noted in the media. Mark Coultan's article in the Sydney Morning Herald
of 23 June this year noted the detailed presentation of the Treasurer's budget. Mr Coultan wrote:
By the time he had finished listing the roads maintenance budget, he had named 81 towns, from Billinudgel to Woolgoola, via Mooball. Then he launched into new school projects, 28 of them—
I do not know where the honourable member for North Shore has been. She must have been entrenched in a hole and not seen what has been going on. This is not the Government but the media saying this to the people of New South Wales. I continue by repeating that part of the quote:
Then he launched into new school projects, 28 of them, from Airds to Vardys Road High and then on to 47 ongoing projects from Alexandria Park Community School to Westmead Public.
Perhaps the honourable member needs to take a trip out west. Mr Coultan further wrote:
Was he finished? He had hardly drawn breath. There were still 28 TAFE projects to mention, from Armidale to Wagga Wagga, Wollongong and Wyong.
These are facts, not fiction. The budget was best summed up, in my personal opinion, by Mike Steketee, National Affairs Editor of the Australian
, in his article of 23 June this year. He said, simply but truly, that on the big ticket items such as health, education and child protection the Carr Government's spending priorities are right. That is because they are for everyone, not small sections of the community, to partake of. Mr Egan got this budget right, not only in the big picture projects, but also in the intimate detail. I would like particularly to note the reaction of the State's teachers in the P&C Journal
, Volume 55, No. 3. This edition says clearly of the budget:
The government has continued its commitment to the Priority Schools Funding Program [PSFP], which provides additional funding to our most disadvantaged schools. All other states have abandoned targeted funding to identified areas of social disadvantage. It is now being suggested that New South Wales's retention of this program is a major factor in its continued high performance in educational outcomes.
I commend this commitment of our Government and applaud the outcomes for our children, our future citizens. I now return to that great seat in the inner west, the thriving metropolis of inner urban Sydney, the electorate of Strathfield, which last year I was privileged to have been elected to represent. The electorate is home to some of the State's finest schools, both government and private, which will benefit enormously from this budget. I am proud to be the member representing this seat, which has a massive commitment of funds flowing into it.
In Community Services, $600,000 has been committed to funding caseworker accommodation throughout the electorate. This is a vital grant because of the important work performed by these caseworkers. The Department of Community Services [DOCS] caseworkers strive tirelessly for the improvement of the lives of people in my area who have nowhere else to turn, and limited places at which to find any other consolation. The DOCS caseworkers deserve the support of the Government, and we have given it to them. They have received it here in abundance. Ashfield DOCS will receive funding of $400,000 for its financial management system. That funding is in addition to the $12.6 million that has already been spent on the system.
The Ashfield Corporate Information system will also benefit by $1,770,000, in addition to the $1,990,000 that has already been spent on the system. These projects for corporate information and financial management systems may not be the most photogenic, most glamorous source of investment, but they are a necessary component in servicing families in need, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. These systems ensure that when people contact DOCS, officers will be able to respond efficiently and effectively. All funds that go towards the support of families in need are vital, and there are no exceptions.
Strathfield Girls High School stands to benefit by $1,725,000 to complete its stage one upgrade. This amount is in addition to the $286,000 that has already been spent on the project, taking the total commitment for the project to a grand sum of $2,587,000—a most impressive figure. The honourable member for North Shore was all gloom and doom and misery. I do not know what she is doing in her seat, but this is a fantastic project for the students of my seat, our future citizens. I am delighted with the project.
The Department of Housing will receive $417,000 for asset management, and the Office of Government Procurement will receive $8,683,000 for a State fleet of motor vehicles. The Attorney General's Department will receive $28,000 for a backlog in maintenance program in courts, and the Crown Finance Entity will receive $76,000 for motor car purchases. This brings the total of the capital program expenditure for 2004-05 to $20,281,000—an impressive amount that will shore up the future of the residents in my electorate of Strathfield.
Within the Transport portfolio a total of $21,523,344 has been allocated to my seat. I feel that this is duly deserved for Strathfield, which is a hive of activity and movement within Sydney's inner west. We can all rest assured that the people of Strathfield will make thorough use of whatever transport infrastructure they are given to allow them to travel safely and quickly to work and home again to their families. As I said earlier in my speech, from Flemington to Summer Hill there are many excellent government primary and secondary schools and private schools. About 80 per cent of the traffic in the municipality of Strathfield is through traffic, much of which is people taking their children to school. The funding of transport infrastructure is a very important initiative.
There are seven railway stations in my electorate. As part of Railcorp's Clearways program a turnback is due to be constructed at Homebush railway station. I was at Homebush station last Monday morning at 6 o'clock with our hard-working Federal member, and I had a chance to chat with the stationmaster. We eagerly await the turnback because it will benefit not only the residents of the Strathfield and Drummoyne electorates but also the many thousands of people who daily commute along the inner west train line. I understand that the turnback is now being measured up, and I cannot wait for the work to start. I am sure that all members would be pleased that this one budget line of $2 million will make the regular journeys of commuters even more punctual.
Keeping within the aims of consistency, comfort and safety, the budget also allocates to Strathfield $9,032,716 for track reconstruction, rerailing, underbridge renewal, rail grinding, ballast cleaning, tamping, and signal and electrical renewal. An even greater amount has been allocated to routine maintenance on rail tracks in the electorate—an important safety initiative, which can never be compromised. Once again, it is not always the most glamorous causes that are the most vital to our wellbeing, but they have to be looked after.
The $10,490,628 allocated to routine maintenance will fund inspections and testing, corridor management, emergency repairs, defect corrections, and planned maintenance. There are a number of programs that benefit the general population as a whole and, due to their great size and consequence, they cannot be contained or analysed within one electorate. Schemes of this type that directly benefit the people of Strathfield include the school student transport scheme, half fare concessions, the taxi transport subsidy scheme, the parking space levy, new Millennium rail cars, clearways, plant equipment and miscellaneous costs, rolling stock enhancements, minor works, operating system and business improvements, fire and hazard safety, train services and stabling, 100 new buses, 80 high-capacity buses, 60 diesel buses, Sydney bus radio equipment, fuel tank replacements, and concrete slabs.
From rail to roads, the high level of funding to the Strathfield electorate continues. From the bottom of my heart I thank the Government for that funding. The total Transport allocation for Strathfield is $1,617,830. This is made up of $575,000 for network development, $502,930 for maintenance, $118,930 for road safety, and $420,970 for traffic and transport. The detail in these allocations is exquisite. I am delighted to announce that local works include architectural noise treatments to Frederick Street in Ashfield between Albert Parade and John Street. I know that the local residents will be pleased about that project. Another great initiative is the appointment of a road safety officer to Burwood Council. When I was mayor of Strathfield we shared a road safety officer with Drummoyne Council. The officer did great work in educating the community, through school visits and talking to people, about wearing seat belts and fitting harnesses in cars. [Extension of time agreed to.
The appointment of a road safety officer means that Burwood residents and schoolchildren will have an extra boost to road safety in their area. Other local works include the relocation of hazardous poles in the Strathfield local government area and pedestrian signals on Old Canterbury Road in Dulwich Hill between Hampstead Road and James Street. I will attend a meeting soon with some of the parties involved in this project. Severe accidents have occurred on this busy road. People may think that the relocation of hazardous poles or the installation of pedestrian signals is not that important, but if it saves one person's life it is a significant measure that will greatly benefit the community.
I have three municipal councils in my electorate—Ashfield, Burwood and Strathfield—and I know all of them will be pleased about the budget allocation for regional road black spots. I know, as do others who have been a member of a council, that it is the little things such as traffic calming treatments or a set of lights that make a huge difference. It might be $10,000 here or $12,000 there, but it can make a significant difference to the community in safety and convenience. This is a comprehensive budget for Transport and the Strathfield electorate. One of the other functions of State Government, even more essential than transport to a significant section of the community, is public housing, and I am delighted to confirm that the budget commits $417,000 to capital works in the Strathfield electorate to assist people with housing needs. Every person has the right to have a roof over his or her head and not have to worry about being thrown out on the street.
Overall, the budget has allocated $622.3 million across the State for public housing, with $303.3 million going towards upgrading and maintaining public, community and Aboriginal housing. Upgrading work on homes in the local Strathfield area is due for completion in the next nine months. I am overwhelmingly proud that the budget has a strong focus on improving people's lives, particularly through the maintenance of public housing properties. Some $45 million of an extra $85 million is part of a funding boost to improve assets and provide new housing assistance. Across New South Wales 899 new homes will be built, bought or leased, in addition to the 770 houses currently under construction that will be completed—an impressive number in anyone's estimation.
The Housing budget allocates $71.5 million to the Aboriginal housing sector; $23.1 million to assist some 95,000 people into private accommodation through RentStart; $10.1 million for rental subsidies to allow 3,000 people living with HIV-AIDS or a disability to remain in private accommodation; $17.2 million on providing crisis accommodation, including 26 new dwellings, 15 new leased buildings and renewed leases on 189 existing dwellings for people in housing crisis; $1.5 million on homelessness initiatives in the Sydney metropolitan area; and funding to put 1,000 public housing tenants through employment training programs.
I will refer briefly to what might be regarded as little things but which are really big initiatives. When people think about budgets they can forget some of the major projects that have been funded because they were started some time ago. One huge initiative is smaller class sizes. The introduction of a casual teachers call centre is another great initiative. The installation of airconditioning in demountable classrooms is another fantastic initiative. Recently everyone has heard, despite the fictitious figures from the other side, that crime rates are falling. No-one gives anyone credit for all the good things we are doing, do they? But the people know because they can see the difference in the community.
My pride in this Government is always unshakable, but I feel this pride all the more keenly when I reflect on the commitment we have made across the State. I am proud of this budget and I am proud to be part of a Government that has delivered on its commitments. Today I give my full and absolute endorsement to the budget. I have studied it and found it to be well deserving. Congratulations to the Premier, the Treasurer and all members of the Government.
Mr MALCOLM KERR
(Cronulla) [8.33 p.m.]: I was impressed with the contribution by the honourable member for Strathfield, particularly her remarks about the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I have a suggestion for her about how she can obtain just rewards for New South Wales. I suggest that she send a note to a carefully selected colleague in each of the other Labor States in the following terms:
Mr Kerry Hickey:
Dear colleague, here is a great way to surprise your Premier. You might care to take note of the motion that I am supplying to you and raise it at your next caucus meeting. The motion is this:
I formally move that this State Government convene a meeting with other State Premiers in order to reform the present structure of the Grants Commission.
Get on with the debate.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
Do you want me to table this?
Mr Kerry Hickey:
Get on with your budget speech.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
I am addressing what was said earlier. She should send the note to a colleague in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. She could say:
By moving this motion and surprising your Premier I can guarantee that it will have an impact on your career in the same way that it had an impact on my career when I moved a motion that surprised my Premier.
That is a great service she could do for the people of New South Wales and it would show that she practices what she preaches. I am here to help. I preface my remarks with the reminder of a principle that we all too often forget. When the good people of New South Wales privileged us with their vote they were voting for a representative in Parliament to manage the affairs of the State for the benefit of the individual and the community at large. Whether the successful candidate is a representative of a major party or is an Independent should be irrelevant because no-one votes for a candidate to be in opposition to good government. They vote for us collectively to look after their best interests, and the Government's proposed measures should not be opposed for the sake of opposing.
Good government is sacrificed on the altar of ideology. Effective opposition must always be carefully considered and used only when a government's legislation is perceived to be contrary to the benefit of the individual and the community at large. It is with this principle in mind that I stand here today in opposition to a fiscal disaster masquerading as a budget. The budget is the work of a Treasurer who is about as subtle as a sheet of perspex: you can see right through him. The alleged largesse in the budget will not withstand scrutiny. The timing of its distribution makes it abundantly clear to even a Labor supporter that it is not designed for the benefit of the individual and the community at large. It is obviously and dishonestly designed for the benefit of the Labor Party at the next election. This is the antithesis of good government.
Mr Richard Amery:
It must be a good budget, then.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
It is not a good budget. If it were a good budget the honourable member for Mount Druitt would still be Minister for Agriculture.
Mr Richard Amery:
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
Mr Richard Amery:
Now you're on a winner.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
How can this Government face the farmers at the next election without the honourable member for Mount Druitt at the forefront?
Mr Richard Amery:
It will be difficult.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
It will be difficult, that is right. And, as I will mention later, it is not only the farming community that the Government will have difficulty with. If the Treasurer believes that this pork-barrelling will counter the devastating consequences and the negative socioeconomic impact of the vindictive and ill-judged poker machine tax and the community's anger over this unwarranted tax on their clubs, he is deluded. Incidentally, that anger will not evaporate and it will cost many members opposite their seats not simply because they refused to listen to the honourable member for Strathfield at eventful caucus meeting but for many other reasons. I am sure honourable members are aware that the Treasurer could be described as a one-term president of the Cronulla Workers Club. He presided over the closure of the Cronulla Workers Club in the 1970s when even badly run clubs were doing well. He at least should have learned and understood the economic and social importance of local economies enjoyed by more successful clubs as against the one he presided over.
I suppose that the law of averages cuts in occasionally, and even the Treasurer got it half right. He suggested that if Queensland wanted to boost its tourist numbers it should use the pitch, "Come to Queensland and be amazed at how we spend your taxes." He is correct in assuming that there will be an influx of New South Wales tourists into Queensland, but not for the reasons he has suggested. A huge number of New South Wales residents will rush to Queensland and the other States to invest in property because, unlike the New South Wales Government, their governments encourage rather than punish investment. One wonders whether our patriotic Premier's pre-budget rush to invest in New Zealand was not a form of parliamentary insider trading. Those investors will be buying farms in other States now that the honourable member for Mount Druitt is no longer responsible for agriculture.
To add an exit tax to property sales for all but first home buyers penalises superannuants who have sacrificed and struggled to make provision for their retirement and to relieve the State of some part of the pension. It is a strange betrayal of the many people who were short-sighted enough to support the Labor movement for many years. The Premier and the Treasurer do not care because they are unlikely to attract the opprobrium that is their due at the next election. It is rumoured that they will leave this place early enough to ensure that someone else suffers the consequences of their gross mismanagement. The honourable member for Riverstone should hold himself in readiness to be Premier.
Mr Richard Amery:
Riverstone? Didn't I send you a Christmas card?
Mr Kerry Hickey:
He is the honourable member for Mount Druitt.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
I am sorry, Mount Druitt.
I should go to the mount—and perhaps caucus will. The Labor Party has abandoned honest and decent principles. Honourable members on this side of the House acknowledge that the party did have a social commitment. However, what it has done will cause untold damage and heartache to the people of New South Wales. When a timely exit is achieved, it will be interesting to learn what directorships fall to the Treasurer and with which companies. We will all await that development.
It is a bit of a worry when the Treasurer talks about the Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club making $42 million. He is talking about revenue or gross profit, not net profit. Accounting for business expenditure has a huge impact. That might have been the problem at Cronulla Workers Club; perhaps he did not take into account the deficit side of the ledger. One cannot have it both ways. The Treasurer referred to the financial pressures imposed on the Government, implying a shortfall in Federal funding. I remind him of the goods and services tax [GST]. For the first time, the States have had an opportunity to avail themselves of a tax that will increase.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
What a load of rubbish!
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
What an extraordinary outburst, given that the Premier signed on for the GST. It is just as well that the Minister was not advising the Premier about signing that document. He would have said that the levels had not been raised. They will be supplemented by the Federal Government until that point is reached.
Mr Richard Amery:
Go easy on him.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
It is not fair for him to engage in a battle of wits when he has run out of ammunition. New South Wales is the highest taxing State with the largest population in the country. In other words, the Government taxes more people at a higher rate than any other State. The cry we hear from Tweed Heads to Albury is "Where has all the money gone?" That is what honourable members' constituents will be asking them. All our services are in chaos—trains, hospitals and schools. Nothing runs on time; nor is anything available when it is needed. The honourable member for Strathfield talked about being down by the station early in the morning. She should talk to commuters and find out about the number of trains running on time. She should go to a local hospital to see the number of times emergency departments resort to code red. She should also cast her mind back to what the Premier and Deputy Premier said before the 1995 election. The State Rail Authority [SRA]—
Does the Minister catch the train from Cessnock these days?
Mr Kerry Hickey:
There is no train from Cessnock.
Mr Richard Amery:
Point of order: Will you ask Government members not to interrupt the honourable member for Cronulla? They should realise that he is a lawyer and is, therefore, telling the truth.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch):
Order! I suggest that Government members not interrupt the honourable member for Cronulla. That will encourage him and we will be here longer than would otherwise have been the case.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
To the point of order: I would like to support the honourable member's point of order.
Mr Richard Amery:
Further to the point of order: In light of that, I withdraw it.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
Under Mr Costa's stewardship, the State Rail Authority has become an extremely inefficient organisation that no-one can manage. The authority has spent $60 million a year on consultants. Why not scrap the STA and employ the consultants? They could not do any worse. We would have the same chaos for half the cost. The term "hospital system" is an oxymoron if ever I heard one. If every hospital in the city resorted to code red every week, what chance would we have if there were a real emergency or an act of terrorism? What is in the budget to cover such a contingency? Where is this short-sighted Government's forward planning? Honourable members opposite will recall that during the 1995 election campaign the Premier and Deputy Premier pledged that they would reduce the number of patients on hospital waiting lists by 50 per cent. They said that they would sign that commitment in blood. There has been a distinct lack of bloodshed, despite the fact that the waiting lists are about twice as long as they were, as a result of the closure of more than 4,000 beds. Patients have died before their time as a result of the Government's negligence and cover-ups.
This disgraceful situation is symptomatic of a Government that constantly proves that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What do honourable members opposite care if people suffer and even die if their cronies are protected? Some Ministers should have been sacked at the very least, if not prosecuted, for criminal neglect. However, they have been protected and enjoy continuing support. The same lack of moral principle and autocracy resulted in the Labor Party's endorsing Peter Garrett for the Federal seat of Kingsford Smith. He has sacrificed his long-held principles and vehemently stated beliefs on the altar of expedience for the sake of his ego-driven ambition. Honourable members should look at the proposed budget allocation for Port Botany. Where does Mr Garrett stand on that issue and the environment in his own electorate?
Ms Kristina Keneally:
It is a State issue.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
That is an interesting response. Peter Garrett is no longer concerned about the environment unless it involves a Federal issue. It did not take him long to set up demarcation in relation to environment issues. Is it suggested that, in common with the application of industrial laws, concurrent Federal and State jurisdictions will cover the environment? Is it suggested that when a wave breaks in the Federal jurisdiction, that is the end of the matter as far as the New South Wales Labor Government is concerned? I suppose it is a matter, as people say, of any port in a storm; it is a safe harbour to retreat to the scope of Federal jurisdiction. [Extension of time agreed to.
The honourable member for Strathfield quoted Mark Colvin, who referred to the Treasurer's list of schools. The Treasurer smugly read a list of schools, TAFE colleges and roads that received funding. He bored everybody by reading out the names of every school, institute and road in a vain attempt to make the allocations sound better than they are. Let me examine more closely the so-called generosity of that beneficence. The Treasurer named 78 roads that will benefit from construction and maintenance allocations. I might add that maintenance has been sorely neglected under the Carr Labor Government, the most profligate State government. He said that 78 roads will have necessary works carried out. Do members opposite know how many kilometres of road there are in New South Wales? Their silence confirms what I thought was the case: they do not know. There are over 182,000 kilometres of road in this State. If the 78 projects mentioned by the Treasurer are averaged out at 25 kilometres of works each, the improvements effected by the Government in the State's roads amounts to 0.42 per cent. What a magnificent achievement!
Mr Alan Ashton:
Don't give us the Federal figures; give us the State figures.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
I am coming to that. The revelations get better. The Treasurer treated honourable members to a long list of schools that will be receiving long overdue attention. One by one, he named 78 schools. By mid-2003, there were 2,238 schools in this State, of which 78 received some improvement. What a colossal achievement! In percentage terms, the improvement is microscopic, yet Labor members are proud of it. Let me now go to TAFE institutes and campuses, which have fared slightly better.
Mr Alan Ashton:
I did not go to TAFE. I went to a university. My wife is a great believer in the TAFE system.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
So am I. That is something that the wife of the honourable member for East Hills and I have in common.
Mr Alan Ashton:
I will let her know.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch):
Order! The House will come to order.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
I will not ask how the wife of the honourable member for East Hills feels about him. We might have that in common, too. Out of 146 TAFE institutes and campuses, 28 will receive major new works, which means that approximately 80 per cent of TAFE sites will miss out. Of course, we can make the Treasurer's claim look better by adding TAFE institutes and campuses to the schools so that, out of a combined total of 2,384 educational establishments, a total of 106 will receive a benefit, which represents a mighty 4.44 per cent improvement in schools and higher education.
Perhaps members opposite now understand why people were not exactly thrilled by the flourish with which the Treasurer announced those improvements while being egged on by that remarkable individual, the Minister for Roads, and Minister for Housing, who said, "Let's hear about those projects again"—as though reading out the names of 78 schools a second time would increase the quantity. But I should not speak ill of the Minister for Roads, and Minister for Housing because, as has been noted, he is a former Minister for Transport, and by comparison his term is beginning to look like the golden age of rail. If inefficiency and incompetence were Olympic events, the Carr Government would lead the gold medal tally. With each budget, the Government has gone for gold and the Government's tally is unsurpassed in this year's budget when it comes to inefficiency and incompetence. I turn now to examine the budget allocation for the Department of Community Services [DOCS], which will receive an additional $100 million. The essential role of DOCS has not been fulfilled. Reports of parliamentary committees stand as a record of the department's failures.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
But the budget will fund 200 workers.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
Yes, but consideration of the problems that have been outlined will make it clear that even 400 workers will be insufficient. What is needed are people who have practical experience and a knowledge of people, not people who have a blinkered, politically correct approach. The right type of person is not easy to come by, as anybody with any experience in that field would know.
By definition, a politician looks to the next election, whereas a statesman looks to the next generation. This is the budget of an outgoing politician. One of the gravest concerns of this State should be the provision of an efficient and sufficient potable water supply. Much of the funding goes to the catchment management authorities instead of to the creation of new and better catchments. The Coalition has no argument with the costs involved in returning the 500 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin as we appreciate the necessity of such an initiative, but the availability of a constant supply to irrigators and farmers needs to be addressed in better ways than mere reallocation.
It is ironic that we have a water supply problem when we live on a planet that is 75 per cent water. This is where statesmanship comes in. If we are to do our bounden duty and bequeath a sustainable State to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we should seriously look at desalination plants, feeding our dams and replenishing our river systems as well as allowing for the amortisation of the costs across decades rather than across parliamentary terms. Similarly, if we can pump liquid gas from Bass Strait to Sydney, surely we can work out how to pump treated sewage from the coastal plains to the west of the Great Dividing Range.
Today's technology makes it possible to create potable water from sewage, which could do much to alleviate drought and eliminate the costs of drought relief. In the very long term—and this is where we need statesmen to put up their hands—such schemes would prove to be of enormous benefit in terms of relief money saved, markets serviced and exports maintained, not to mention the saving of country communities and the increase in creation of employment opportunities. That is why the paper on water options that we have long been promised ought to be produced. As I have indicated, this budget fails to deliver, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Let me give a simple example in my own electorate. The Cronulla police station has not received funding for upgrading, despite the approaching summer and the consequent influx of people to the beaches.
Mr Alan Ashton:
And those who are coming into the shire.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
The honourable member for East Hills is quite right. There will be constituents from the East Hills electorate coming to Cronulla.
Mr Alan Ashton:
There will be.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
As the honourable member for East Hills acknowledges, they are entitled to have police protection. For those reasons, the Cronulla police station should be upgraded. Even those who live in the East Hills electorate have an interest in the upgrading of facilities of the Cronulla police station, as indicated by the honourable member for East Hills. Some of those people will travel to Cronulla by train, and they are entitled to have trains that run on time.
Mr Alan Ashton:
They would not want to miss the good waves.
Mr MALCOLM KERR:
That is true, but those people will miss the good waves if the trains are late. Even if the Government will not allocate funds to upgrade facilities and services for the sake of the people of the Cronulla electorate, it should at least do so for the sake of the people of the East Hills electorate who visit my electorate. In terms of school maintenance, the State provides little funding for the improvement in school facilities.
The Treasurer makes much of funding front-line services, but he ignores the very foundations needed to make those services effective. He can throw as much money at a problem as he likes, and try to fool people into thinking he is looking after their future interests. But, as the Treasurer well knows, if the organisation behind the administration is lacking, the Treasurer has failed the people. If the fiscal reasoning behind the budget is more political than it is beneficial, the Treasurer has failed the people. If the Treasurer is more of a politician and less of a statesman, he has failed the people. On those tests, this budget is a failure.
Mr STEVE WHAN
(Monaro) [9.00 p.m.]: This is the second budget to be delivered since I was elected to represent the seat of Monaro and, like last year's budget, it continues to deliver on my election commitments. The fact that it does so in an environment of constrained expenditure is to the Government's great credit. The Government continues to deliver some great initiatives in Monaro, despite the Howard Government's selfish cuts to New South Wales's share of GST revenue, continued Howard Government cuts to public hospital funding, and the need for more funding in so many important areas.
I wish to highlight some of the important local achievements, as well as the context of those achievements and the alternatives that people have on offer. This year the State Health budget has reached $10,000 million for the first time. When the Carr Labor Government came to office in 1996 the Health budget was $5,300 million, representing an extremely significant increase in funding. Health funding for rural New South Wales has doubled since the Carr Labor Government came to office. This year $600 million has been allocated for new hospital facilities. A key facility to benefit from that funding is Queanbeyan hospital, an election commitment I made together with the Premier. This year $500,000 has been allocated for planning for that hospital. The people of Monaro will be pleased to hear that despite Opposition attempts to muddy the waters, Queanbeyan hospital is right on track. As promised during the election campaign, the first allocation of funding for construction of the hospital will be delivered in next year's budget, with further allocations to be delivered in the following two years budgets.
Bombala residents will be pleased to hear that their new hospital is also in the pipeline. There are five hospitals in the Monaro electorate: at Bombala, Queanbeyan, Braidwood, Delegate and Cooma. Braidwood and Delegate hospitals, which were turned into multipurpose service centres when Jim Snow was the Federal member for Eden-Monaro when they served their communities well, are fairly new hospitals. Cooma hospital was rebuilt when John Akister, the former State Labor member for Monaro, was in office. During my term in office representing the seat of Monaro, Queanbeyan and Bombala hospitals will be rebuilt. It is therefore obvious that the Government has a strong commitment to health services in Monaro and country areas of New South Wales.
In this year's budget a $717 million increase in funding has been allocated for New South Wales schools, with total funding at $9,164 million. In 1996 the funding allocation for schools was $5,200 million. This year's allocation includes a fully funded pay rise for teachers. As promised during the election campaign, the Government will also lower class sizes. Jindabyne Central School is going ahead as promised, with $2.59 million allocated this year for the construction of stage one of the project, which takes students to year 10. For the first time in Jindabyne, high school students will not have to spend two hours each day travelling to Cooma to receive high school education. Bungendore School and several other schools in Monaro will receive airconditioned demountables. This will mean that every demountable in Monaro's schools will be airconditioned by the end of this calendar year.
Emergency services are obviously of great importance to the electorate I represent. This year Emergency Services funding for New South Wales has been increased by 7.4 per cent, to $641.8 million. Recently I had the pleasure of opening extensions to Queanbeyan fire station, which were funded by the Carr Labor Government. Cooma fire station's extension will also be officially opened soon. As a result of this year's budget Queanbeyan and Cooma fire stations will receive new fire engines, Thredbo and Perisher fire brigades will receive over-snow vehicles, and Bombala, Bungendore, Captains Flat, Cooma-Monaro and Nimmitabel State emergency services will receive vehicle subsidies.
This year's budget provides for record capital works and roads funding for Monaro, with $33.5 million to be spent on local roads and $2.75 million to be spent on State Forests projects. The funding includes $800,000 for a new overtaking lane on the Monaro Highway, something the people of Cooma have asked for and for which the former Mayor of Cooma, Tony Kaltoum, has lobbied me. Continued funding has been provided for the Queanbeyan northern heavy vehicle bypass and Tompsitt Drive duplication. Tompsitt Drive duplication, which will be completed by the end of the year, was an election commitment I was able to work through with the Minister for Roads, for which the community is very grateful.
Another important roads commitment in this year's budget was half the funding for the construction of Pambula Bridge. For a long time the Government had $5 million on the table for Pambula Bridge, awaiting Federal Government funding. After many years of the Federal Government saying no to such funding, a Federal Labor candidate was selected for the seat of Eden-Monaro and he managed to get a commitment that a Latham government would match that $5 million funding. Surprise, surprise, a few days later out came the Howard Government with matching funding of $5 million. It is a great achievement for the State Government and the Federal Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro, Kel Watt. It also provides a good indication to the people of the area of the sort of work a Federal Labor member will be able to do.
Wild dogs is an important issue in the Monaro region. Kosciusko National Park has a serious wild dog problem. In his response to the budget the Leader of The Nationals attempted to tell the people of Monaro that funding for wild dogs had been cut. He told them that the Wild Dog Destruction Board had had its funding cut, which meant that the Government would not tackle wild dogs in Kosciuszko National Park. He failed to tell the people of Monaro—perhaps he did not know—that the Wild Dog Destruction Board operates only in the Western Division of New South Wales, in the Broken Hill area, and that the dog fence area has nothing whatsoever to do with the Monaro area. In fact, the board's funding was not cut, but that is a different story.
Recently I had the great pleasure of attending a meeting with farmers in the Adaminaby and Yaouk area, and was able to tell them that the Government has agreed to reintroduce aerial baiting for wild dogs in their area to tackle this serious problem. The initiative goes hand in hand with the $1 million in funding to be spent this year in Kosciuszko National Park to tackle the wild dog problem. The funding to be spent over the next four years on wild dog control in New South Wales is 17 times more than the funding spent on wild dog control by the former Coalition Government in its last four years in office.
Funding has also been provided in this budget for maintenance on the Canberra-Goulburn railway line. Over the years many people have complained that the Government does not maintain the line. As a result of this year's budget, 35,500 new long-life, steel sleepers have been installed on the line from Canberra to Joppa Junction, near Goulburn. That is an important commitment to the future of that line. Transport has been a tough issue in our region. I very much welcome the recent employment of the region's regional transport co-ordinator, Alex Codina, a further initiative funded by the Carr Labor Government to improve community transport.
With the support of the community I have managed to get Monaro's bus timetables back on track so that the people of Cooma are able to visit Canberra and have a five-hour turnaround to attend doctors' appointments, go shopping or visit friends. Following negotiations with the staff of the Minister for Transport Services, who were very helpful , we also managed to secure several thousand dollars in funding to reopen the Snow Stop bus stop in Cooma so that people can wait indoors for the bus. The former contractor decided that he did not want to use the bus stop.
Police funding has continued at record levels, and Monaro has seen more employees in the Department of Community Services [DOCS] and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care [DADHC]. Additional jobs have been created in both DOCS and DADHC in Queanbeyan, which obviously brings more income to the town. We continue to see record staffing levels in policing in the Monaro region and continued great work by our dedicated officers. Recently in Cooma I had the great pleasure of presenting medals to some of those officers, who had committed their lives to serving our community as police officers. They deserve all the accolades they receive. Indeed, the continued reduction in the Monaro crime rate is testimony to the fact that they have done a great job.
Overall the budget highlights the very important contribution that the New South Wales Government makes to regional communities. The State Government is easily the largest employer in many of the towns I represent. In Braidwood, for example, the school, the hospital and other government authorities employ more than 100 people. In Cooma, the wage input into the town is worth millions of dollars. The town has two primary schools, one high school, one hospital, several departmental offices and the gaol. Contrary to an appalling scare campaign by the shadow Minister for Justice during the parliamentary recess, the gaol will stay open. The shadow Minister, with no foundation whatsoever, issued press releases suggesting that the gaol had been closed. The Opposition must be desperate to try that sort of tactic.
Those salaries are probably the most direct way that locals see evidence of their taxes, and taxes from Sydney and other areas, coming into our communities. The budget's big increases in pay for teachers and nurses flow directly through to local businesses in each of the towns, providing a boost in demand for local products and businesses. This budget was put together in stringent times. The Commonwealth Government made real per capita reductions of 9 per cent in funding to the people of New South Wales. In this debate we constantly heard the Opposition trying to dismiss that problem. New South Wales is very reliant on Commonwealth funding. Dr Neil Warren, a professor at the University of New South Wales, in his book Tax Facts, Fiction and Reform
, highlighted that "State governments are responsible for some 41% of all Government outlays while raising only 15% of total tax revenue."
That vertical fiscal imbalance explains why changes to the Federal Government's funding formulas have such a dramatic effect on New South Wales residents. In the next year New South Wales will receive nearly $16 billion from the Commonwealth Government, which is nearly half our total revenue of $34 billion. And that is not enough! The Howard Government is the highest-taxing Government in Australian history. This year, including the goods and services tax [GST], it will collect more than $256 billion, of which our 6.5 million people get about 6.25 per cent. That is less than the Defence budget for the coming year and less than the already blown-out cost of the joint strike fighter, which John Howard says we are to buy. New South Wales is not getting its fair share. A previous speaker said that the GST is the State's tax, but while ever we get only a percentage of what New South Wales taxpayers put in it is not the State's tax.
The fiscal inequities between the States should be addressed through the surplus of Federal Government revenue. Let us not make the pretence of saying that the GST is the State's tax, when the Federal Government divides it up based on a percentage. We know that we will not get fairness from John Howard and we know that the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales has no intention of standing up for New South Wales. In six weeks time the people of New South Wales will have a chance to make this a bit fairer by electing a Latham Labor government. Let us face it: John Howard's claims of being a good economic manager are a joke. Yesterday we saw a record bad trade deficit and we have seen massive foreign debt. Everyone would acknowledge that if we did not have such massive build-ups of household debt in Australia John Howard would not be able to use interest rates as a scare campaign for the election.
The tax base for the States is very narrow and volatile. In New South Wales we raise about $15.5 billion in taxes—35 per cent from stamp duties, 30 per cent from payroll tax, 9.3 per cent from land tax, 9 per cent from gambling and 8 per cent from motor vehicles. From that very limited base it is hard to make tax reductions and deliver services. After the Budget Speech I listened very carefully to the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of The Nationals to hear how they would simultaneously deliver more services, levy less tax and produce a surplus. Again, I was disappointed. The Leader of The Nationals said absolutely nothing in his budget reply. The temporary Leader of the Liberals only repeated his promise to abolish the vendor transfer duty. Of course, as befits an Opposition that has learned from the master of deception, John Howard, they never say how they will pay.
I will tally up some of their so-called commitments. If vendor transfer duty were abolished it would cost the budget $690 million this year and $825 million in 2007-08. We are not sure whether the Liberals would abolish the poker machine tax increases, but if it did that would mean a loss to the budget of $43 million this year and $250 million in 2007-08. The shadow spokesman on mining said that the Coalition is opposed to changes to coal royalties; that would mean a cost of $75 million to the budget. The Liberal leader said that a Coalition government would reintroduce the land tax threshold, but he did not tell investors that many of them will end up paying a lot more, but let us assume that will be neutral.
Members of the Coalition do not let anything constrain them in the electorates. In January the honourable member for Bega told his electorate that he was totally opposed to land tax—that is $1 billion of the budget. Last year in this place the Coalition moved a motion to condemn payroll tax—that would reduce the budget by $4.6 million if the Coalition managed to get that through. According to The Nationals, it opposes any savings in administration in Primary Industries and Health. However, The Nationals support the increased expenditure; that would be another $300 million in deficit. If all the things promised by the Coalition over the past year or so came to pass, it would cost about $7 billion, or 20 per cent of the entire State's revenue. That would produce a massive deficit, the biggest in the State's history. Even without some of those more wild commitments made by the Coalition in the community, it is impossible for it to fund those promises. The Coalition said it will cut millions in waste, but we have all seen the bodgie lists it comes up with: a few one-offs, a few things as a result of accidents or over-runs. John Howard recently referred to the joint strike fighter. He told one of the newspapers that cost blow-outs are unavoidable on major projects. He said that they are not desirable, but he thinks they are unavoidable.
The classic waste in the Coalition's program was its listing $305 million, which it said was wasted on negative investment returns in a single year. That is the returns to the Government on its investment in superannuation and other areas. Logically, if the Government is to be blamed for wasting money when its investment returns are negative, the Government should be given credit when it earns money. Surprisingly, in the past financial year the Government earned about 14 per cent. I am waiting to hear the Opposition compliment the Government on earning all that money. That will not happen, of course. That goes to show that the Opposition's list of negative investment returns and wasted money is a joke.
The Opposition seems to have a policy that if anything looks good in a Daily Telegraph
headline it makes it in. The truth is, to make the tax cuts it promises and to achieve a surplus, there would be massive job cuts. From the budget, $18.7 billion is spent on employees—and that is who would bear the brunt of the Opposition's policies. The sacking of 2,000 teachers by Terry Metherell would look like a walk in the park compared to what this Coalition would have to do to implement the savings and cuts in taxes, which it has told New South Wales residents it can deliver. Country Labor knows that regional residents do not mind paying tax as long as they get good services; they will pay fair taxes to get good services. Every day we hear that people want better services.
I do not believe that people will go for the Sydney Liberal Party's proposals for fewer services and fewer jobs because of some ideological commitment to cutting taxes for the sake of it. Country Labor is ensuring that country New South Wales gets its fair share of funding. For example, we get better than our population percentage in capital works for road funding. Monaro has done very well in some of the important funding areas, which I mentioned earlier. Spending on Health in country New South Wales has doubled. In 18 months Monaro is seeing the benefits of electing a Country Labor member after many long years of non-productive National Party rule.
Mr STEVE CANSDELL
(Clarence) [9.17 p.m.]: Honourable members would not be surprised to hear that I am not happy with the 2004-05 Labor budget. Health in the Clarence has been completely ignored. Just two days before the 2003 election the then Minister for Health, Craig Knowles, went to Grafton and promised that the upgrade of the surgical theatres at Grafton Base Hospital would be a priority. However, no money has been allocated—not even for a feasibility study or for planning. Not a brass razoo! That is very disappointing. The emergency department at Grafton Base Hospital is critically understaffed.
Compared to other hospitals of similar size and patient presentations at casualty departments, Grafton is between one-half and one-third down on doctor hours per 24 hours. For example, Grafton Base Hospital has 32 doctor hours in 24 hours and has 23,000 patient presentations a year. Lismore Base Hospital has 95 doctor hours in 24 hours, but has 24,000 patient presentations a year—that is, 12 doctors at Lismore compared to 4 doctors at Grafton. Coffs Harbour and District Hospital is similarly understaffed. Port Macquarie, the same result. Grafton is way down the line. Money needs to be set aside for specific rural hospitals to provide the services that are required.
Speaking of waiting lists, I think it was Bob Carr who was saying that the Government would halve waiting lists in 1995 or he would resign. The waiting list at Grafton Base Hospital has spiralled, and that is typical of every other rural country hospital. One example is ophthalmic surgery, which is cataract operations, for those who do not understand that term. There are 450 people on the waiting list right now at Grafton Base Hospital. The ophthalmic surgeon there, Dr Philip Larkin, is funded to perform 150 operations a year. He gets 300 referrals every year. That means next year he will have 600 patients on his waiting list, which means a three or four-year waiting time; the following year he will have 750, which will mean a five-year waiting time; and by 2007 there will be almost a seven to eight-year waiting time, which is not acceptable. We need funding for ophthalmic surgery to reduce the waiting lists, especially on the North Coast.
Regarding health, Grafton ambulance station has flaky paint on the ceilings and on the walls—lead-based paint, in an ambulance station—in the kitchen area, in the office area and in the waiting area for patients and transfer. Money had been requested for that but nothing has been given in the budget. Once again, this is a sheer disgrace. On education we have really missed out in the Clarence. It is one of the hottest and most humid regions in New South Wales yet many classrooms have no airconditioning and the children have had to go outside and sit under a tree to get some relief. There goes their very important and vital education time. In some schools we need libraries. Maclean High School does not have a senior study room. Students have to go into the library to study and it disturbs them when children with special class needs go in and out of the library. It makes it very difficult for the senior students during the most important time in their education.
Policing on the North Coast is in a real mess. We have police down the Lower River at Yamba, Maclean and Iluka doing single policing. In other words, if there is trouble one policeman or policewoman has to handle the situation alone, which is against policy but they have to answer the calls and try to cater for the community. Maclean police station needs serious upgrades, airconditioning and painting. At Yamba there is a real security risk in transferring patients from the police vehicle to the station: they have to walk across a public footpath and across an open yard to get to the police station front door.
If the police are escorting someone from a hotel, by the time the police get back to the police station carloads of supporters of that person are harassing the police officer. Transferring prisoners is difficult and something needs to be done. A request for assistance by police has been ignored completely. The police residence at Woodburn is the old courthouse. It is a big residence and ample in its size and position. It is ideally situated right next door to the police station but, once again, the paint is flaky paint, the carpets need replacing and a family with seven children live in the house. The place is big enough but it needs some work.Money needs to be put aside for that work, but none was provided in the budget.
In agriculture, I do not think we have to go past the agricultural research advisory stations—;front-line services for rural New South Wales. They are the reason for sustainable agriculture in New South Wales. Grafton Agricultural Research Advisory Station [GARAS] is unique in that it has the three elements of the Department of Primary Industries: agriculture, aquaculture and forestry. Grafton Agricultural Research Advisory Station is a major contributor to the understanding and promotion of sustainable agriculture in the difficult North Coast environment, an environment that has high rainfall and vulnerable soils. The facility has been an important source of programs for the improvement of beef production in New South Wales, especially through improved breeding systems, improved nutritional management, animal health and the release of new pasture species with guidance for their management.
Grafton Agricultural Research Advisory Station has led the way in integrating crops and livestock production in northern New South Wales and with its soybean program, which is a rotation crop, ideal for the cane industry in that area—which is going through hard times—it is a major reason why the North Coast is the most important soybean production region in New South Wales. In addition, GARAS plays a major role in research into and extension of the control of noxious weeds, which are a looming threat to the land and rivers of coastal New South Wales. This includes research into the control of giant Parramatta grass, Bitou Bush and alligator weed. GARAS has also contributed significantly to flood plain management, especially in reducing acid sulfate soils.
GARAS's contribution to agriculture in New South Wales and elsewhere is equivalent to millions of dollars annually, which for the State far exceeds the total cost of maintaining the station and its programs. Based on my knowledge and after talking to GARAS staff and the community, GARAS will continue to contribute significantly to sustainable agriculture on the North Coast and other regions of New South Wales, provided that it continues to be adequately resourced and staffed. GARAS is the only aquaculture centre in New South Wales that does research into silver perch development and disease control, and is a major contributor to silver perch production, which is probably one of the most active and booming aquaculture industries in New South Wales and Australiawide. If this facility is transferred down south and we lose it, its importance will fade and its significance will diminish.
The withdrawal of funding by the Government from the business enterprise centres will have major impacts on rural New South Wales. The million dollars that the Government will save by cutting the 50 business enterprise centres and opening up 18 larger regional centres could be recouped in just one small centre such as at Maclean, which could well and truly close its doors because of the loss of the $75,000 funding. That centre alone has been instrumental in 32 businesses starting up in the past 12 months. The business enterprise centres are a vital front-line service for small business in rural New South Wales. I really do not think the Government gave much thought to it at all before withdrawing funding from those centres.
Even though $37 million has been put into the roads budget the Federal Government alone has put in more than $100 million extra for the roads. Considering that the Pacific Highway is one of the deathtraps of New South Wales—it is the most feared road to travel on in New South Wales and as recently as last week another young life was lost on it—I really think that $37 million spread across the State does not go too far at all. And with our local road funding there is no new money at all.
Thank God for the Federal Government's Roads to Recovery program—a godsend to all small councils and communities. If we are unfortunate enough to have a Latham Labor government in office after the next election I have been told that it will cut funding for the Roads to Recovery program, which will cut the lifeline of many small councils in rural New South Wales. The housing budget has been slashed by $30 million when people in rural New South Wales are desperate for housing. In New South Wales 40,000 people are on the housing waiting list. One of the major inquiries at my Clarence electorate office relates to government housing. All I can say to those who are inquiring about housing is, "Put your name on the list and you might wait a minimum of two years." This Government must put $30 million back into housing and provide additional funding. This Government must provide families at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale with safe housing—something that it has ignored in the past.
Our communities have suffered another major loss as a result of the cut in funding for the Country Towns and Water Supply Sewerage Scheme. Clarence Valley has the largest town in New South Wales without a sewerage system. Iluka, which is located on a major waterway, has been waiting 10 years for such a system. Maclean, Townsend and Lawrence will also be affected, as they will have to wait for the upgrading of their sewerage systems. In debate on the last appropriation bills I referred to the dredging of Evans River bar and the Clarence River. Evans River bar has since been dredged. A hole was dug in the middle of the river, which soon filled up with the next big seas. The Government must have roundtable discussions in an attempt to establish how Evans River can be prevented from silting up.
In 1999 there was some talk about conducting fluidation trials over a three-month period. That trial seemed to work well. At first there were some minor problems but they were soon overcome. However, funding for that project has since been withdrawn. Water and air were pumped back through the pipes in the bar with the outgoing tide. It loosened up the sand and the sand went out to sea, automatically dredging the bar. Minimal funding must be allocated for that project. No funding was provided in this budget even though it was requested. Two major taxes are having an adverse impact on Sydney and communities in rural New South Wales. The investment property tax has resulted in many people on the North Coast investing across the border in Queensland. That tax has not just slowed down the property investment market, it has killed it.
The other tax is the clubs pokie tax. Registered clubs in country towns in New South Wales contribute a great deal to the community. They contribute to junior soccer, football and cricket clubs and to the swimming club in Grafton. When a young child with cerebral palsy needed funding to come to Sydney those clubs came on board. That sort of funding will no longer be available. Last week I went on a 350-kilometre ride—Pedals for Preschools—to raise money for preschools in my electorate. The clubs in my electorate came on board and provided a substantial amount of the $9,000 that was raised for community-based preschools. There are 16 preschools in the Clarence electorate. Over the past few weeks I rode from the preschool at Nana Glen right across the electorate and visited all 16 preschools. All those preschools are struggling to keep open their doors because there has been no real funding increase for them since 1989.
There should be some sort of transfer of funding from the Department of Community Services to the Department of Education and Training to provide security for preschools. The Carr Labor Government is full of spin, with its capital works and investment in rural New South Wales. The Australian Labor Party makes many promises just before a State election but it never honours those promises once it is elected to govern. New South Wales is the highest taxed State in Australia. Over the past nine years the Carr Government has received $8.4 billion in unexpected revenue. Where has all that money gone? No-one in the bush has seen it. The Government says that New South Wales is almost $400 million in deficit. It blames the Federal Government for that deficit because it did not get $300 million this year. However, it forgets that it received an additional $600 million in stamp duty. It will no longer have to fork out $200 million as it handed over FreightRail to the Federal Government.
This Government did not mention the money it receives as a result of the GST, but it talks about the money that it is not getting from the Federal Government. Country residents are paying for Labor's failure to properly manage this State's finances. Labor spends taxpayers' money like it is going out of fashion, yet we have nothing to show for it. Basic services and infrastructure in country New South Wales have been run into the ground. This Carr Government will go down in the record books as the most reckless and wasteful government and the most city-centric anti-rural government in the history of this State. The Premier and the Treasurer have given true value to the meaning of NSW—which stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong.
Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Reba Meagher.
The House adjourned at 9.37 p.m. until Thursday 2 September 2004 at 10.00 a.m..