Tuesday, 27 October 1998
The President (The Hon. Virginia Chadwick) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
The President offered the Prayers.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Assent to the following bills reported:
Methodist Church of Samoa in Australia Property Trust Bill
Lotteries and Art Unions Amendment Bill
Protected Disclosures Amendment (Police) Bill
Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Bill
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CANDLE DAY
Motion by the Hon. Janelle Saffin agreed to:
That this House:
(1) recognises and supports the significance of Amnesty International Candle Day as "the candles that keep the fire of life burning in places where freedom is overwhelmed by persecution, wrongful imprisonment, torture, death and despair".
(2) congratulates the Presiding Officers of the Parliament on their decision to permanently display in the Parliament precincts an amnesty candle to symbolise the commitment of the Parliament to the universality of human rights and freedoms.
(3) congratulates and supports Amnesty International on its constant struggle against abuse of human rights and freedoms around the world.
(4) condemns all acts of genocide, terror, torture, detention without trial, cruel punishments, and abuses of the rule of law.
(5) supports the work of Amnesty International to achieve freedom and dignity for all people irrespective of their race, creed or status.
HOME INVASION (OCCUPANTS PROTECTION) BILL
Debate resumed from 22 October.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [2.39 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support the Home Invasion (Occupants Protection) Bill. The bill has had a chequered career but it is important and will provide protection and immunity to occupants who defend themselves, other occupants and their property against invaders of their dwelling houses. As honourable members know, the Hon. J. S. Tingle introduced this legislation on 16 November 1995. He subsequently instructed Parliamentary Counsel to redraft substantial portions of the legislation. The bill passed through the Legislative Council without the support of the Australian Labor Party Government. However, the legislation has since received Government support in the other place. Similar legislation was moved by Mr Tink of the Opposition.
In view of widespread concern about home invasion, the Premier and the Government had no option but to change their position of opposition to one of support. The Government now supports this bill, which applies the current common law of self-defence and defence of others or property to occupants of dwelling houses to effect greater clarity of the law. The amendments clarify the position that a person will be immune from civil liability provided he or she has acted lawfully within the terms of the bill. The bill itself does not alter the current law of self-defence as it applies to either occupants of dwelling houses or any other persons. Rather, it converts the current common law of self-defence to a statutory form for occupants of dwelling houses. In a letter to me dated 8 October the President of the Law Society, R. K. Heinrich, stated:
Re: Home Invasion (Occupants Protection) Bill 1998
I understand that the Government has now introduced the Home Invasion (Occupants Protection) Bill into the Legislative Council.
I am advised that the Bill attempts to restate the existing common law principles. While this Bill may be accurate, it is simplistic and I fear that the legislation will generate further litigation to clarify its statutory provisions. While the Law Society does not oppose the Bill, it does not endorse it. However, the Society does not believe that codifying the common law is warranted in this instance.
As is sometimes evident with law and order type legislation, the Law Society has taken a negative view to this bill. The recent crime and justice
bulletin published by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research outlines research on this matter. The bureau reports that in the year for which the most recent records are available, 1995, the New South Wales Police Service recorded 6,613 incidents of robbery. The figure represents 10.8 incidents per 10,000 resident population. The rate is much lower than the rates for assault and for breaking and entering recorded in the same year. The majority of robbery incidents recorded did not involve the use of a weapon.
Most incidents recorded occurred in the Sydney statistical district - the Sydney SD. Local government areas in the Sydney SD recording the highest rates of robbery included Sydney, south Sydney, Marrickville, Burwood and Ashfield. Figures show that 65.3 per cent of recorded incidents that did not involve the use of a weapon occurred outdoors or in public places. Recorded incidents that involved a firearm or other weapon most frequently occurred on business or commercial premises, at a rate of 57.1 per cent and 43.4 per cent respectively. According to figures provided by the police, armed robbery in the home - home invasion as it is now described - is an infrequent event. In 1995 there were 120 incidents of armed robbery in the home, representing 0.3 per cent per 10,000 population.
Armed robberies occurred most frequently in the Sydney, south Sydney, Blacktown and Fairfield local government areas - at twice the average rate or more than twice the average rate of the Sydney SD. The majority of proven robbery offenders were male. Even though those figures appear to be low, I am concerned that home invasion by its very nature brings with it a great deal of fear, and I am concerned that such fear means that this crime may not be always be reported. Home invasions have occurred in Cabramatta and other places, and Vietnamese and Asian families in general would appear to be targeted. It may be that the offender believes, rightly or wrongly, that there is a great deal of wealth in a particular house, whether that wealth be held in the form of money, jewellery or gold.
The police have had a great deal of difficulty in getting even people who have reported incidents to give information and identify offenders. This is because the victim fears that the offender will return and that the next offence against him or her may perhaps be a murder rather than a home invasion. Physical attack is often involved in a home invasion. Offenders are not known to be gentle in their treatment of victims, and victims may be bashed or pistol whipped. Often people are tied up and treated roughly, and they usually suffer injuries. The situation would be much worse if an offender were to return subsequently to pay the victim back for co-operating with the police.
Home invasion is a serious development in our society. It is of particular concern that some communities fear co-operating with the police because of the possibility of further attack. The tragic murders of our late colleague John Newman from the other place and of Donald Mackay were brutal in themselves but I fear that they may also have sent a message to the community that if gangs can murder a prominent member of Parliament, then there is not too much hope for the ordinary citizen in a district such as Cabramatta. It took so long for someone to be charged over the murder of John Newman that I suspect there is a high level of fear. Thank God that matter appears to be progressing now. It is easy to think of a instance of home invasion in which victims may be loath to co-operate with the police.
As not all cases may be reported, the figures recorded by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research could well be conservative. Perhaps families experiencing a home invasion have not had weapons or, even if they had, may not have attempted to defend themselves, having been confronted by very violent criminals. The Christian Democratic Party supports this bill and hopes that it will deter those who think that it is fair game to take part in a home invasion. Home invasion is a new crime in our State and nation and we should support anything that might discourage it. It is hoped that this bill achieves that which is sought by the Hon. J. S. Tingle, who introduced the legislation, and others, including the Christian Democratic Party. It will be important to monitor developments. Hopefully, fewer home invasions will occur. However, we will have to wait and see how the bill works in practice. I hope it will result in fewer home invasions in our State.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading) [2.50 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the debate. Most of the contributions were constructive; some wandered over the historical origins of the bill and rightly acknowledged that it was the Hon. J. S. Tingle who introduced the bill into this House. This bill has been the subject of evolutionary developments.
The Hon. M. R. Kersten: Electorally expedient developments.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: No, I would not say that. The development of this bill has been in accordance with common law principles and has been a codification of the common law. I would be surprised if the Hon. J. S. Tingle did not recognise that the discussions and the redrafting were actually beneficial to the bill.
I do not feel disposed to reagitate the rights and wrongs of the origins of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to apply the common law of self-defence along with the defence of others or property to occupants of dwelling houses. The bill represents a further demonstration of the Government’s resolve to stamp out home invasions. The Government has not been silent in the face of home invasions. Indeed, this bill builds on Government reforms by codifying and clarifying the law in relation to self-defence within the home so that the people of New South Wales are properly apprised of their rights.
I emphasise that the proposal will not essentially alter the current law of self-defence as it applies to either occupants of dwelling houses or any other persons in this State. Rather, it will convert the current law of self-defence to a statutory form for occupants of dwelling houses. The bill will thus retain the fairness of the common law position and effect greater clarity in the law by virtue of its codification. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
The PRESIDENT: I acknowledge the presence in my gallery of His Excellency Nestor Stancanelli, Ambassador of the Argentine Republic. His Excellency is most welcome.
UNLAWFUL GAMBLING BILL
RACING ADMINISTRATION BILL
GAMBLING (TWO-UP) BILL
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [2.53 p.m.]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
These bills provide a framework in which long-established prohibitions are imposed on certain gambling activities, and provide for the licensing of racecourses and the authorisation of certain other forms of gambling. The Gaming and Betting Act 1912 - which is to be replaced by these bills - is the principal legislation dealing with prohibitions against unlawful gaming, betting or wagering in New South Wales. The Gaming and Betting Act is now more than 85 years old, and is acknowledged as having shortcomings to it being an effective instrument to enable detection of, and subsequent action against, serious unlawful gambling activities.
That conclusion was the key finding of the inter-agency gaming and betting laws task force which reported in 1995. That finding, and the policy response taken by the Government in the formulation of these bills, was supported by the royal commissioner, in the final report of the Wood royal commission, as sensible, facilitating law enforcement - particularly in relation to prohibited gaming devices - and constituting a useful anti-corruption strategy. The Gaming and Betting Act contains a number of obsolete concepts and provisions. It has also been amended many times and often in a piecemeal fashion.
These bills address that situation and also take the logical step of separating the criminal prohibitions from provisions dealing with the administration of racing and the regulation of two-up. Through the introduction of these bills, the Government has recognised community expectations that the law should not permit certain gambling activities unless the conduct of those activities occurs within an appropriately controlled environment. I will briefly address the subject matter of each of the three bills separately.
The objects of the Unlawful Gambling Bill are to prohibit and restrict, in the public interest, certain forms of gambling; to prevent the loss of public revenue that is otherwise derived from lawful forms of gambling; and to deter criminal influence and exploitation in relation to gambling. The Unlawful Gambling Bill carries forward many of the provisions of the Gaming and Betting Act, but many of these have been rewritten to recognise that emerging technologies have provided more sophisticated means by which to conduct illicit gambling and consequently to avoid its detection.
The bill introduces several reforms. The first and most important of these is a new offence, which the bill inserts into the Crimes Act, for conducting an unlawful gambling operation. This offence is designed to target the activities of organised criminals who seek to undertake larger scale and more sophisticated unlawful gambling activities. Other important reforms include: proceedings for certain offences are to be dealt with summarily unless the prosecuting authority or the person charged elects to have the proceedings dealt with on indictment; the responsibilities of the gaming tribunal are to be devolved from the District Court to the Local Court; and a penalty notice infringement scheme will be introduced to enable police to issue infringement notices for less serious gambling offences.
These, and other, reforms will assist in lifting some of the potentially significant burden on the court system by
simplifying procedures and ensuring that any particular matter is dealt with before the appropriate court, and in accordance with the gravity of the offence. A new offence provision is also introduced which targets persons in New South Wales betting with unlicensed bookmakers via the Internet, pay television and other on-line telecommunication services. This offence complements provisions in the new Racing Administration Bill which provide for the Minister to authorise licensed bookmakers to conduct electronic betting.
Racing Administration Bill
I now turn to the Racing Administration Bill. The objects of the Racing Administration Bill are to ensure the integrity of racing in New South Wales, to ensure that certain betting activities by licensed bookmakers are conducted properly, to minimise the adverse effects of lawful gambling and to protect a source of revenue that is derived from lawful gambling. To achieve these aims the Racing Administration Bill, among other things, carries forward the racecourse licensing, betting auditorium, and telephone and sports betting provisions that are presently contained in the Gaming and Betting Act. The bill also introduces new provisions enabling the Minister to authorise licensed bookmakers to conduct electronic betting via the Internet, pay television, or other on-line telecommunications system.
These provisions will provide much-needed regulatory controls in this area and reflect the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the public is not taken advantage of by unlawful operators. The bill also carries forward the betting information and advertising restrictions that are currently contained in the Gaming and Betting Act. These restrictions have been strengthened and updated to ensure that information and advertising using emerging telecommunications technologies are subjected to an equivalent regulatory environment as the traditional controls on printed matter. Upgraded offences will target New South Wales-based unlawful bookmakers operating on line, and also other unlawful bookmakers whose service is provided to a person in New South Wales via a New South Wales-based Internet service provider. My department will continue to consult on these matters with interested persons.
The final bill in this package of three bills is the Gambling (Two-up) Bill. The objects of the Gambling (Two-up) Bill are to legalise the conduct of games of two-up on Anzac Day, and games of two-up in an authorised location in Broken Hill as at present, to ensure that these games are conducted honestly and with appropriate controls to prevent fraudulent activity, and to ensure that the games are conducted free from criminal influence and exploitation. The provisions of this bill substantially replicate the existing provisions of the Gaming and Betting Act for the regulation of the two-up game in those unique circumstances. The savings and transitional provisions in this bill will mean that the current authorisation issued to the Broken Hill City Council to conduct games of two-up in that great city will remain in force.
In conclusion, these three bills are modern statutes designed to replace or upgrade the outmoded concepts and provisions of an Act which is fast approaching the centenary of its enactment by this Parliament. This replacement package of legislation also better reflects modern legislative practices, and generally facilitates better access to law, by separating the three distinct subject areas into separate bills. The bills also provide the legislative platform from which the fight against illegal gambling in this State may be continued in a more appropriately targeted, and better equipped, manner as we move forward into a new century. Overall, this package of bills represents a sensible, cohesive and overdue reform measure. I commend the bills to the House.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [2.53 p.m.]: The Opposition supports this package of legislation, which will basically tidy up the old Acts, in particular the Gaming and Betting Act 1912, and will tighten up irresponsible and unlawful gambling in New South Wales. One must ask why the Unlawful Gambling Bill has suddenly been given priority. I am not aware that unlawful gambling is a major issue, as it was in the past. Prior to the opening of the casino, illegal gambling in various parts of Sydney was the norm rather than the exception. However, since the permanent casino opened unlawful gambling has not been such an issue. The Opposition believes that these bills will improve and strengthen the Government, and certainly the regulatory authorities, against those who would otherwise become involved in unlawful gambling.
The Gambling (Two-up) Bill will legalise the conduct of two-up games on Anzac Day and games of two-up in Broken Hill. Those who have visited Broken Hill in the last 12 months - as the Hon. M. R. Kersten does whenever he can get home - would realise that the Musicians Club in Broken Hill, which is a fine club, runs a two-up game. The game of two-up is an important part of local folklore in Broken Hill. It is now a tradition for clubs to offer two-up games for Diggers on Anzac Day, and this legislation will legalise those games.
The Unlawful Gambling Bill attempts to tighten up the remnants of unlawful gambling in New South Wales. The bill covers all forms of gambling, prohibited gaming devices, unlawful games, unlawful betting and bookmaking, and unlawful gaming. Part 3, division 1 contains a number of clauses dealing with declaration of premises as illegal and unlawful gambling premises. Division 2 covers offences relating to gambling premises, and includes clauses which relate to use of premises as gambling premises - offence by owner or occupier; offence by operator; offence of organising gambling premises; and declared gambling premises.
The bill covers gambling by minors, gambling with minors, organising unlawful games, selling tickets in unlawful games, participating in unlawful games, and possession or use of a prohibited gaming device. Owners of any premises that were not licensed and had a poker machine would fall into that category. It is hoped that this legislation will
tighten up many aspects of unlawful gambling and provide penalties for those who transgress this and other Acts with respect to unlawful gambling.
The Opposition is pleased at the progress of the inquiry into gaming in New South Wales. The Government was opposed to the inquiry, but many people who are associated with problem gambling would be pleased that the inquiry is looking into those issues with a great deal of vigour. It is hoped that the report of the inquiry, which is to be released on 26 November, will contain firm recommendations about gambling and its future in New South Wales.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: It is going down the drain.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I do not think anyone would want New South Wales to go down the drain. As Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile would know, the Opposition supported an investigation into the setting up of a gaming commission to try to put a brake on gaming in New South Wales, to ensure more certainty about future gaming decisions by government and, it was hoped, to depoliticise gaming decisions in the future by putting a socioeconomic interpretation on gaming decisions rather than supporting whoever puts up his hand the highest. The Unlawful Gambling Bill well reflects the Opposition’s direction. The Government has expressed its obvious concern about the future of gambling by bringing in this legislation, which together with the recommendations from the gaming inquiry will, I hope, produce a better gaming environment in New South Wales.
The Hon. Franca Arena: Why doesn’t the Government wait until the commission of inquiry releases its report?
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: The Hon. Franca Arena has asked a good question, to which I am sure the Minister will reply. The bills, and I hope the gaming inquiry, will alleviate the problems of gambling and improve the gambling environment in New South Wales by ensuring that groups and individuals do not participate in illegal or unlawful gambling. This legislation is a step in the right direction. The Opposition can respond in no better way than by supporting these bills.
The cognate Racing Administration Bill will help to maintain the integrity of racing in the public interest, by licensing racecourses, about which there has been some doubt. Included in the application of racecourse licences are the issue and classes of racecourse licences. As some honourable members would know, there has been a problem with venues, in particular, for greyhound racing and harness racing on grounds owned under the Crown, often run by showgrounds and trusts. Though the bill will not overcome all the problems, it highlights the problem of the licensing of racecourses and the issuing and classes of racecourse licences for the three different codes of racing.
The bill, which deserves the support of the House, covers conditions of racecourse licences, duration and cancellation of racecourse licences, and places a limitation on the number of licences that approved bodies can hold. I am sure that Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile would agree with division 2, which deals with days on which race meetings are prohibited, including Good Friday and Christmas Day. It covers prohibition on entering racecourses - in other words, people who have been warned off, which is a matter that has been in the public arena of recent times - and the provision of punters clubs.
Honourable members who have been to Randwick and participated in a punters club would know what the clubs are all about. Punters clubs can be set up only with the consent of the racing club and on receipt of the written approval of the controlling body responsible for that racing club. They are a novel way of allowing a raft of people to enjoy a small flutter and have a lot of fun on a race day without having to part with much of their hard- earned money.
Finally, the bill covers the authorisation of certain betting activities, including electronic betting with the TAB or a licensed bookmaker. Some members might regard that as Internet gambling, but a reading of the bill shows that it is merely a provision to allow a punter to use electronic mail to communicate with his bookmaker. Electronic mail can be used to place a bet with the TAB. This legislation will allow a licensed bookmaker also to accept a bet electronically. That is just moving with the times. In future, rather than ringing up, punters will be able to send facsimile or email transmissions as members do in Parliament House, thereby saving a lot of paper, as the Hon. Franca Arena would know.
The Opposition is firmly opposed to Internet gambling and would not want it to proceed in New South Wales. With those few remarks, the Opposition supports these bills, which will be useful in tidying up a number of old Acts, including the Gaming and Betting Act 1912. The legislation will service the gambling and wagering industries with more up-to-date legislation, and will assist the enforcement agencies that have to ensure that
gaming and wagering is conducted responsibly and within the law in New South Wales.
The Hon. I. COHEN [3.05 p.m.]: The Greens have some concerns about the Unlawful Gambling Bill, the Racing Administration Bill and the Gambling (Two-up) Bill and would like them to be deferred until after the conclusion of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal inquiry into the social impacts of gaming, which is due to report on 26 November. The overview of the Racing Administration Bill states that one of the objects of the bill is "to minimise the adverse social effects of lawful gambling", a subject about which the Greens are concerned. However, it seems that the bill will do little to minimise those effects and seems to be pre-empting the outcome of this most important inquiry. The Government, the Opposition or the crossbenchers may wish to amend this bill substantially once the results of the inquiry are made public. In a submission to the IPART inquiry the Council of Social Services of New South Wales stated:
NCOSS member agencies note growing social and economic divisions in our community and report rises in social problems such as domestic violence, crime, family breakdown and mental illness. While evidence is mostly anecdotal, there appears some linkages between gambling and other social problems. Welfare and family support agencies report that about 5-10% of their clients have issues around gambling.
Victorian research concludes that gambling has a social cost. Individuals who are already disadvantaged, such as low income earners, intellectually disabled, sole parents, the unemployed, and members of various ethnic groups, are more likely to experience adverse effects. Hardship for families through loss of money, financial ruin, increasing reliance on welfare, stealing, violence, and deteriorating health are all reported.
A recent survey of club members in Sydney found a high incidence of problem gambling, both for gambling in general and for poker machines in particular. The survey of 3000 club members found that 3.7% of members were problem gamblers - on poker machines and other forms of gambling. With around 2 million club members in NSW, this suggests that there could be around 74,000 problem gamblers. Given that each case of problem gambling has been estimated to have an adverse effect on up to 10 significant others, almost three quarter of a million people in NSW would be adversely affected by gambling amongst members.
I turn now to the economic aspects of gambling. The Greens are gravely concerned about gambling revenue generally and the State Government’s increased reliance on it as a major revenue source. The last State budget expressed concern about the issue. In particular, poker machine tax increases were a contentious issue. According to the Council of Social Services of New South Wales, in the 1997-98 budget gambling revenue represented a 14 per cent growth of a State-based consumption tax. NCOSS is concerned about the negative impacts of gambling. In the June edition of NCOSS News the organisation stated:
NCOSS is concerned about the potential for negative social and economic impacts arising from the rapid expansion in the level and type of gaming activities, including Internet gambling. These concerns include the incidence of problem gambling. They extend into broader consumer protection and quality of life issues which face all citizens as gaming grows. They cover the potential costs and claimed benefits to business and employment in various industry sectors.
In a "Spectrum" article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 22 March 1997 Ben Hills stated that Australians are the biggest gamblers in the Western world. The article stated that Australians punt as much as they save and spend 3¢ in every dollar of disposable income on gambling, or three times as much as the Americans, but over the past five years, in which the number of casinos has doubled, there has been an exponential expansion. Ben Hills said:
Australians now lose a staggering $10 billion a year gambling - equivalent to the combined profits of the country’s 10 largest public companies - and the biggest winners are casinos, which increased their slice of the cake to about $2 billion, mainly at the expense of the racing industry.
In 1996 John Wilkinson addressed the issue in a parliamentary briefing paper entitled "NSW and Gambling Revenue". According to the Tasmanian gaming commission, New South Wales gambling expenditure has risen from $289.6 million in 1972-73 to $1.094 billion in 1982-83 and to $3.283 billion in 1994-95. Government revenue from gambling in New South Wales has risen from $98.4 million in 1972-73 to $427.6 million in 1982-83 and to $1.07 billion in 1994-95.
In 1996 the Australian Institute of Gambling Research stated, "Total expenditure on gambling in New South Wales in 1993-94 was $2,918.1 million. With 4.512 million of the New South Wales population eligible to gamble, the average loss per head was $646.70." The budget papers suggest that revenue from gambling will be more than $1.4 billion in 1998-99 - a huge growth since 1994-95. Gambling and betting is expected to be 10.3 per cent of State tax receipts in 1998-99. On 3 June 1998 in the Sydney Morning Herald Luis Garcia analysed the budget on gambling revenue. He wrote:
Just weeks after the announcement of a national inquiry into gambling, the State Government revealed yesterday that it expects revenue from gaming and betting to increase by over $103 million this financial year. The extra money, which takes the total amount raised from gambling and betting taxes and charges in NSW to more than $1.43 billion, will come from the introduction of poker and gaming machines into hotels and increased revenue from the Star City casino. Revenue from hotel gaming devices will grow by a spectacular 82 per cent to
$277 million, while the Government will net $129.3 million for the casino, an increase of 19.5 per cent in 1998-99.
A document sent to the Greens by Wesley Gambling Counselling Services containing information regarding gaming machines and gambling stated:
•the total number of gaming machines in clubs and hotels in NSW is approximately 90,000 (as at February 1998). There are a further 1500 gaming machines in the Sydney Casino;
•NSW has three times the number of gaming machines than Victoria;
•NSW has 10 per cent of the total number of gaming machines in the world;
•problem gambling represents a significant cost to the community as it can result in crime, breakdown in relationships, bankruptcy and financial and emotional stress amongst other things.
The document debunks certain myths. One myth is that the Carr Government was the first government in New South Wales to help problem gamblers by funding important research, education, treatment and rehabilitation services. The document further stated:
•the Carr Government was fortuitous enough to have come to power by the time the Fund made its first allocation of funding - which was established by the Casino Control Act and was implemented by the previous Liberal Government;
•the Carr Government has since "helped" problem gamblers and their families by refusing to establish the promised Gaming commission to examine the expansion of gambling activities in NSW and its impact on the community. However, the Government has agreed to an inquiry which will look into the social impacts of gaming but not the economic impacts.
•The Carr Government has allowed the operation of 30 poker machines into hotels; allowed unlimited numbers of gaming machines in registered clubs; allowed the TAB and RCA to lease gaming machines to smaller clubs who cannot afford to purchase them; has deregulated the racing industry; allowed the introduction of a numbers game into hotels and proposed an increase to the maximum bet limit on gaming machines.
The uncertainty about the true extent of the adverse social effects of gambling lead the Greens to the conclusion that these bills should be deferred until after the gaming inquiry report is handed down.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [3.14 p.m.]: This package of bills will replace the Gaming and Betting Act 1912. The Unlawful Gambling Bill will be the principal legislation that prohibits illegal gambling in this State - "unlawful" apparently applying to gambling that the Government does not receive tax on. The Racing Administration Bill will provide for the licensing of racecourses and authorise certain betting activities. The Gambling (Two-up) Bill will legalise two-up on Anzac Day and in Broken Hill. This provision is similar to that for housie under the Lotteries and Art Unions Amendment Bill which was passed last week. This is part of the ongoing machinery of the Government, which continually facilitates gambling without doing anything to consider the social harm it may cause.
I am concerned that objective (c) of the Racing Administration Bill and the Gambling (Two-up) Bill states that the objects of the bills are to minimise any adverse social effects of lawful gambling and to minimise the potential for lawful gambling to cause harm to individuals and families. Nowhere in these bills is it stated that the social effects of gambling will be minimised or that any action is to be taken to mitigate the social harm of gambling. It is a total fiction and misdescription of the effects of the bills for them to contain that objective. I had intended to move an amendment to delete objective (c) so that the farce was not maintained. However, I have been advised that it is better to have an unsupported object, so one can point out its flaws, than to have an object stating what the bill does not do. That is an ironic situation, but I defer to more experienced minds.
This State is increasingly reliant on gambling - and that is the start of a very slippery slope. States that rely heavily on tobacco advertising and tobacco revenue do not do much about smoking; States that rely heavily on gambling do not do much about gambling. In my maiden speech I spoke to the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Ongoing Dealing) Bill. I said that the introduction of casinos and advertising for gambling was quite irresponsible. I spoke to the Lotteries and Art Unions Amendment Bill, but will not belabour those points. I am discouraged that nowhere is there any sensible discussion about the effects of gambling.
My colleague the Hon. I. Cohen said that the average gambling loss per head was $646.70. As a large number of people do not gamble, clearly that means that those who do lose a lot more than $646. Can they afford to do that? What is the effect on families of that lost money? If the State is earning $1.4 billion in revenue and 10.3 per cent of State revenue comes from taxes on gambling, how can that have no adverse effects when, as I said, this is a tax on a person’s degree of addiction to gambling rather than his or her real means? At least taxes, be they goods and services taxes or other taxes, relate in some way to the amount of money one has or earns - taxes on gambling do not necessarily do so.
Information from Asia Pulse provided today by the Australian Associated Press states:
Ethnic gamblers were two to three times more likely to develop a compulsive gambling problem, a health expert said today.
A recent survey of 2,000 people in Sydney’s Cabramatta region identified the trend, clinical psychologist Associate Professor Alex Blaszczynski said.
"The problem appears to be greater among Mediterranean and Asian communities" . . .
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) will today launch an initiative to better equip New South Wales GPs with the skills to identify and help problem gamblers.
All this is happening while the Government happily allows more gambling before the committee of inquiry has reported on the effects of gambling and with such glib statements as that from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who said that people who want to have a little flutter of their hard-earned money should be allowed to do so. That sounds idealistic, but it is without quantification of the harm done. The Democrats believe that this series of bills should not be passed until the committee has completed its inquiry. The bills should take into account, in the measures they introduce, a scientific look at what gambling causes, rather than a series of rhetorical, idealistic cliches.
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN [3.19 p.m.]: I have some concerns about and opposition to these bills. In particular, I am opposed to provisions that will prevent the introduction of TeleTrak and what I see as strong employment opportunities, especially in the Murray shire. Murray was designated as a site for TeleTrak, but that project will not proceed under this legislation. Murray shire would have been the first site for TeleTrak in New South Wales. The development would have created 1,500 direct jobs in the Murray shire as a result of a $20 million investment, and it would have generated a minimum of $350,000 a week in support industry expenditure in that area alone. The Parliament should not be legislating against TeleTrak when rural Australia is suffering significant decline.
It is relevant that TeleTrak would be lawful under the current legislation but under these proposals it could contravene the Trade Practices Act. The Australian Competition Council would be interested in the issue. The legislation could prejudice future income to New South Wales via Murray Shire Council. Murray council sought a meeting with the Minister on the issue, but he refused to meet the council or TeleTrak representatives. The Minister proposed that a working party be established to investigate the proposal. TeleTrak did not participate as it saw the process as being similar to that in Victoria, that is, an exercise in futility.
Murray shire conducted a survey in conjunction with a by-election, and the result was a 71 per cent vote in favour of the TeleTrak operation. The Murray Regional Organisation of Councils and Campaspe shire in Victoria support the project. Murray council has received a preliminary development application and has conducted a pre-planning focus meeting with relevant government agencies. These agencies did not raise any major problems with the proposal. The crux of the matter is that it is estimated that the TeleTrak project would have created between 1,000 and 1,500 jobs in the Murray shire. As I said, the project would have attracted capital investment of $20 million and provided some $350,000 per week in support industry expenditure.
There are three sites designated in South Australia, and the South Australian Government has granted development consent to TeleTrak for Waikerie. At present no State or Federal Government assistance is sought, which is a fairly important aspect of the project. TeleTrak is about night racing with no spectators but for transmission to the world every night via the Internet, as well as cable and free-to-air television. Significant work has already been done by KPMG Peat Marwick, the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, AGB McNair, Turnbull and Partners, and others. The net result of that work confirms the economic viability, technical feasibility and capital market attractiveness of TeleTrak. In South Australia no legislative amendment is required. A planning application for Waikerie has been lodged, and the advertising period expired without any submissions against the proposal being received.
As I said, I support many aspects of this legislation, especially the provisions relating to two-up. However, it is difficult coming to grips with the fact that this legislation will prevent the development of TeleTrak in the Murray shire, where the employment and economic benefits are obvious. I cannot express strongly enough my disappointment that this legislation will not lie on the table longer so that honourable members can examine it more closely. The Parliament should not make a decision about it now, because jobs and economic development are of importance to people in rural New South Wales, especially in the Murray shire, in light of the unemployment figures for the bush that have been bandied about.
I reiterate my concerns and my strong opposition to the legislation going through at this time. The Government and the Opposition should examine it further. I do not think all the ramifications, especially those relating to TeleTrak, have been considered. Perhaps this is the first time the TeleTrak project has been raised in the Parliament. The 1,500 jobs and industry expenditure I referred to should not be sneered at; any council would welcome that. I am disappointed that these bills will go through today. Reluctantly, I have spoken in this debate. I am of the view strongly that the TeleTrak proposal should be further developed. I oppose the legislation.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.25 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party has always stated its opposition to gambling in New South Wales. It has been the most vocal opponent of gambling in New South Wales. In these bills there is a play on terminology. The Government and the Opposition prefer the term "gaming", whereas gaming is really gambling. We should call a spade a spade. These bills deal with gambling in New South Wales. As I said, the Christian Democratic Party opposed previous gambling legislation. Honourable members have referred to the terrible effects of another bill passed by the House recently which provided for poker machines in hotels. Perhaps that bill could be investigated further by this House.
One interesting aspect of the previous bill - we were not told this when that bill was debated - is that in a number of cases the value of the hotel increased by 100 per cent after the 15 poker machines were installed. In other words, hotels worth $1 million were then worth $2 million. That is a windfall profit for hotel owners. I do not believe the Parliament should in any way be concurring with that. We urge the Government to describe the bills correctly as gambling legislation and prohibit gambling devices rather than gaming devices.
We agree with the proposition that the Unlawful Gambling Bill, the Racing Administration Bill and the Gambling (Two-up) Bill should be delayed until the State inquiry into gambling has concluded. We had to fight tooth and nail to get an inquiry into gambling. The Christian Democratic Party has made a lengthy submission to that inquiry, and we hope that the committee will make good recommendations on how to wind back the growth in gambling not only to the present level but to the point at which it is not a major factor in the State budget. Currently, a large percentage of government income - it could be 12 per cent or 13 per cent - comes from gambling revenue. That means that the Government is locking in how to not only maintain gambling at the present level but expand it.
The disgraceful competition between New South Wales and Victoria in terms of maintaining the present gambling level and attracting gamblers from other States, especially Victoria, will shift into high gear. That relates mainly to the casino. Mr Kennett is watching New South Wales carefully. He has said that he will make concessions similar to those announced recently by the New South Wales Government. Where will it finish?
It will become an auction sale between the two Premiers trying to outbid each other to attract gamblers to their States for the long-term gambling revenue from taxable income from the casinos. That is why the Christian Democratic Party opposed casinos in the first place. It is no secret what happens with casinos. It has happened in the United States, the United Kingdom and all other countries that have legalised casinos. They become a real burden on the people of each country. That has occurred and will continue to occur increasingly in this State.
It is a disgrace that the gambling turnover in Australia is now more than $80 billion. Quite often when my secretaries are typing a speech on this subject they think that figure cannot be right and they change it to $80 million. But it is $80 billion and about half of that is turned over in New South Wales. We should ask the question: how can New South Wales, even though it has the largest population of the States, generate turnover equal to that of the other five States? New South Wales has become the gambling State. It is in danger of coming one big casino.
The Unlawful Gambling Bill updates restrictions placed on unlawful gambling. It will impose prohibitions on certain gambling activities in relation to premises used for gambling. It will repeal the Gaming and Betting Act 1912 and amend the Crimes Act to create an offence of conducting an unlawful gambling operation, and amend certain other Acts for related purposes. The bill appears to be high minded in that one of its objects is to prohibit, in the public interest, certain forms of gambling. However, another of its objects reveals the Government’s real intention, which is to prevent the loss of public revenue derived from lawful forms of gambling. Another object is to deter criminal influence and exploitation in connection with gambling activities.
Although the Government is not opposed to gambling, it wants to make sure that it receives tax revenue from all gambling in this State; otherwise it will deem that gambling to be unlawful. That is a cynical attitude to adopt and I believe it is wrong for the Government to insert in the legislation the phrase "to prohibit, in the public interest". The main purpose of the bill is to protect government revenue. Clause 5, Definition of "unlawful game", lists numerous unlawful games, many of which would be played at a casino and obviously could not be prohibited.
Clause 7, Lawful forms of gambling, provides that the Act does not prohibit any of the following: conducting a totalizator, or conducting any betting activity; conducting or participating in a lottery activity, a public lottery, or a game of two-up that is lawful under the Gambling (Two-up) Act; gambling carried on in a casino that is licensed under the Casino Control Act; keeping, using or operating an approved gaming device on the premises of a registered club or in a hotel; and exhibiting any gaming device for promotional purposes.
The bill prescribes a considerable list of gambling activities that are not prohibited. They are lawful because they are being taxed and the Government is getting revenue from them. This is a very cynical bill and is not in the public interest. As other honourable members have said, the Government should have waited for the release of the State and Federal inquiry reports, which to a degree overlap, and considered them before deciding what action should be taken in the true public interest of the people of this State. Dealing with cheating, the Unlawful Gambling Bill states:
18(1) A person who is engaged in any form of gambling (other than a form of gambling that is prohibited by or under this Act) must not:
(a) by a fraudulent trick, device, sleight of hand or representation, or
And so it goes on. A lot of the gambling in this State should be classified as fraudulent and cheating. The other night I saw advertisements on television for Lotto in which it was stated that everyone wins; the final line was that everyone wins. We know that is not true. If everyone won, the people running Lotto or casinos would go bankrupt. That is false advertising. This bill supposedly prohibits cheating. It ought to prohibit cheating in advertising and promotional campaigns by casinos and other government agencies such as the Lotteries Office that I believe are using false advertising.
The Christian Democratic Party is pleased that clause 12 of the Racing Administration Bill maintains the restrictions and protection against race meetings being held on Good Friday and Christmas Day. However, I wonder how long it will be before that prohibition will be removed. I hope it will never be removed, but there is much compromise occurring and all of these activities and protections are at risk. I hope and pray that that prohibition is maintained.
The Gambling (Two-up) Bill is again a cynical exercise by the Government to legalise the conduct of two-up games on Anzac day and in Broken Hill. It is clear from the bill that playing two-up games in Broken Hill is not restricted to Anzac day. I understand that two-up can be played on any day in Broken Hill. Again, the Government’s tongue-in-cheek wording in object (c) of the bill is "to minimise, in the public interest, any adverse social effects of lawful gambling, and in particular to minimise the potential for lawful gambling to cause harm to individuals and families".
That is supposedly the object of the bill, but nothing in the bill enforces it. That is my concern. Both sides of politics must take seriously the shocking and harmful social effects of lawful gambling on our families and on society itself. What disturbs me is that so often bills are presented with the united agreement of the Labor Party and the Liberal and National parties, irrespective of which side is in government. The spirit of co-operation between the major parties on gambling bills amazes me. The Opposition is quick to move amendments to bills that it opposes, but it never seems to object to the expansion of gambling in this State. Of course, that minimises the impact of the crossbench in seeking to oppose some of these cynical measures, such as legalising two-up.
As I said, the Unlawful Gambling Bill will not stop gambling; it will only stop any form of gambling that the Government does not control or tax. For those reasons the Christian Democratic Party opposes the bills and will make a symbolic protest against the second reading.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services [3.38 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Unlawful Gambling Bill, the Racing Administration Bill and the Gambling (Two-up) Bill. In particular, I acknowledge the support of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and thank him for it. As has been observed in the debate, the Unlawful Gambling Bill includes measures to prohibit certain forms of gambling, to prevent the loss of public revenue from legal gambling and to deter and penalise criminal involvement in gambling activities.
The Racing Administration Bill will assist in ensuring the integrity of racing and the proper conduct of betting activities by licensed bookmakers, minimising the adverse effects on the community of legalised forms of gambling, and protecting a source of public revenue. The Gambling (Two-up) Bill will maintain the current framework regulating the playing of two-up and will better position the Government to minimise any potential harmful effects on individuals and families arising from the legal conduct of this game. The consultation process for this package of bills has been long and complex, but the Government believes it has arrived at a position that is good for bookmakers and the racing industry, good for the people of Broken Hill, good for the Government, and good for the people of New South Wales.
During debate the Hon. M. R. Kersten referred to a form of racing known as TeleTrak, which, I must admit in my innocence, I had not previously heard of. I am advised that TeleTrak is proprietary racing, in which profits go to the shareholders, but proprietary racing is not lawful under existing legislation. TeleTrak was relying on a possible loophole in current legislation to allow it to proceed, but this legislation will close that loophole.
The racing industry is opposed to TeleTrak. In January the Minister for Gaming and Racing established a working party to examine TeleTrak proposals, but the TeleTrak organisation did not avail itself of the opportunity to put a submission to that working party. These bills were introduced in June and I am advised that the TeleTrak issue was not raised until today during the course of debate. I mention finally that the Minister for Gaming and Racing previously warned local councils, including Murray Shire Council, that proprietary racing is unlawful.
I shall respond briefly, as a matter of courtesy, to the remarks of Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, who, as on previous occasions, has taken exception to the word "gaming" as opposed to "gambling". The Gaming and Betting Act was enacted in 1912 and this legislation repeals that Act. I am advised further that the term "gambling" could be described as a generic or overarching term and that gaming and betting are aspects of gambling. Having regard to my background, I must rely on advice because I do not know anything about these matters. Gaming relates primarily to table games and the like, and betting is a term normally associated with horseracing, dog racing, et cetera.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: People bet on flies on walls, two-up and all sorts of other things.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On this subject I must defer to the superior knowledge of the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti. However, as a courtesy to Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile I point out that "gambling" is used as a generic term and that gaming and betting are aspects of that activity.
The Hon. Elaine Nile: People still lose money.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: People usually lose money.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: But you don’t, do you?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I do not lose any money because I do not participate in that activity.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: But you buy raffle tickets.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: He wouldn’t dare not to. Johnno would kill him if he didn’t buy his raffle tickets!
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I do occasionally. However, when I buy a raffle ticket I do not believe I am committing the sin of avarice as I have no expectation of ever winning. I have been buying raffle tickets from the Hon. J. R. Johnson for so many decades now without ever winning that my belief is soundly based. If I were to win one of those raffles I would have to be resuscitated by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, and I do not expect to call on his medical expertise for such a service. With that anecdotal material I commend the bills to the House.
Question - That these bills be now read a second time - put.
The House divided.
(b) by a fraudulent scheme or practice,
Mr Bull Mr Moppett
Dr Burgmann Mr Obeid
Ms Burnswoods Dr Pezzutti
Mr Dyer Mr Primrose
Mrs Forsythe Mr Ryan
Mr Gallacher Ms Saffin
Miss Gardiner Mr Samios
Mr Gay Mr Shaw
Mr Hannaford Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Johnson Ms Tebbutt
Mr Kaldis Mr Tingle
Mr Kelly Mr Vaughan
Mr Kersten Mr Willis
Mr Lynn Tellers,
Mr Macdonald Mrs Isaksen
Mr Manson Mr Jobling
Dr Chesterfield-Evans Mrs Sham-Ho
Mr Jones Tellers,
Mrs Nile Mrs Arena
Rev. Nile Mr Corbett
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bills read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
TOW TRUCK INDUSTRY BILL
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services), on behalf of the Hon. M. R. Egan [3.53 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The Tow Truck Industry Bill provides for a comprehensive restructure of the tow truck industry, an industry that is in urgent need of reform. This bill will improve regulation of tow truck activities at an accident scene, tighten the fit and proper requirements for those who can be involved in the industry, provide for a stronger regulatory authority with an improved enforcement and policy focus and a more effective and modern disciplinary process.
Members will recall that in March this year I appointed a former Police Minister, the Hon. Peter Anderson, to conduct a comprehensive review into the tow truck industry following an escalation of violence in the industry. After extensive consultation with the industry and interest groups, Mr Anderson submitted his thorough and well-written tow truck industry review interim report on 31 May. The findings of the report were disturbing. Mr Anderson described an industry infiltrated by criminal elements and pervaded by fear of intimidation, physical harm and property damage. It was clear that the existing regulatory system was not providing the community and honest tow truck drivers adequate protection from thugs and that the Tow Truck Act 1989 was not able to discourage dangerous and illegal practices.
The most significant incentive that has given rise to unscrupulous and dangerous practices is that a high proportion of tow truck operators are paid "drop fees" by smash repairers. Drop fees are secret commissions that smash repairers pay to tow truck operators for bringing in smash repair work. These drop fees are then loaded into vehicle repair costs. This means that motorists are paying higher insurance premiums than would be the case in an industry that is better regulated. Drop fees and the structure of the industry encourage tow truck drivers to race to accident scenes and persuade drivers in car accidents to allow them to take their cars. It is usual for more tow trucks than is needed to arrive at the scene. Further, it has also become common for tow truck operators to have several tow trucks on the road at once, to ensure that they can respond quickly to the report of an accident. This means that there are unnecessary cost burdens for tow truck operators that they must pay to enable them to compete for a relatively low number of accident tows.
All of these trucks compete against each other for the job and in the process they often harass and intimidate drivers of damaged vehicles to get the business. There are also regular complaints of tow trucks placing other motorists and the public at risk while racing to an accident in an attempt to be first at the scene. Some tow truck drivers have even gone so far as to follow injured motorists into ambulances to get their signatures to do the tow. Ambulance workers have also complained that they have been obstructed from helping those injured in an accident by tow truck drivers harassing the injured for approval to tow their cars.
This is unacceptable. At the scene of an accident, motorists are at their most vulnerable, often in a state of shock. It is a time when people need a clear process in place which protects the motorists’ rights as consumers and ensures that their vehicles are taken to a repairer of their choice. It is also unacceptable that tow truck drivers race to an accident scene putting members of the public at risk. Fierce competition in the tow truck industry has also led to an escalation of violent behaviour by some operators and drivers towards their competitors. There have been many incidences of competing tow truck drivers coming to blows over who gets the tow at an accident. Unscrupulous operators have also been conducting campaigns against competitors including fire bombing and sabotaging their competitors’ trucks. Informal zones of operation have also emerged where tow truck operators claim an area as their own and any newcomers are kept out of the area by existing operators through threats, intimidation, physical harm and property damage.
The bill will overcome a number of these problems by improving the management of an accident scene and is designed to prevent tow truck drivers from intimidating motorists, the public and other tow truck drivers. It will give additional powers to the police, emergency services workers and other authorised officers to better control the actions of unscrupulous tow truck drivers and operators. The bill provides that licensed tow truck operators and drivers will be allowed to attend an accident scene which means that car owners will have more control and say over where their car will be towed. There will be strong penalties for non-compliance of a range of offences to ensure that the public is protected.
Further, tow truck drivers and operators will have to meet much more stringent accountability requirements. They will be required to complete and maintain well-documented tow authorisations, which show that a vehicle has been towed to a destination authorised by the motorist rather than to where the tow truck operator wants the car to go. The Tow Truck Act 1989 has not dealt with the infiltration within the industry by criminal elements. The black market in drop fees that has existed in the industry for some time has attracted undesirable elements into the industry and this has contributed to the rise in violence and criminal activity. We need to get the cowboys and thugs out of the industry so that honest tow truck operators can go about their business without fear and the general public’s rights are protected.
Industry standards will be upgraded so that applicants who have been convicted of certain criminal offences or if their
drivers’ licences have been cancelled or suspended will not be able to enter the industry. Operators will have to keep records that show that they only employ people in their business who are licensed to work in the industry. An audit program will be implemented to monitor the records and activities of tow truck drivers and operators. As well as strengthening the fit and proper requirements for applicants, the bill eliminates a major loophole in the current Act. Currently people of ill repute, particularly those with serious criminal records, have been able to avoid the fit and proper person assessment by using a front person who is able to pass the eligibility criteria for a licensed operator. This means that criminals and disreputable people have been able to stay in the industry by legitimising the business and retaining control of their tow truck business from behind the scenes.
This practice of using a front person to legitimise businesses will no longer be possible under the new legislation, as greater controls will be placed on the industry. The bill makes it mandatory for tow truck operators to declare the involvement or interest of silent partners and any other associated person with the management and operation of towing businesses. Associated persons will also be required to meet the fit and proper person criteria. As all applicants and associated persons will have to pass a tougher character test, the bill will ensure that people who have committed certain criminal offences do not enter the industry.
The bill provides for a more effective regulatory system that will be better able to respond to developments in the industry and to carry out important enforcement and disciplinary functions. The industry is currently regulated by the Tow Truck Industry Council - the TTIC - which has proven ill-equipped to cope with a difficult set of circumstances. The bill replaces the Tow Truck Industry Council with a new Tow Truck Authority - the TTA - which will have clear responsibilities for policy development, enforcement and licensing improvements. The TTA will provide a much stronger enforcement and policy focus so the industry will be provided with a far more responsive and effective regulatory structure.
The TTA will be supported by a Tow Truck Industry Advisory Council - TTIAC - that provides input to the authority on industry views regarding regulatory improvements and performance. Membership of the TTIAC will be drawn essentially from the industry groups currently on the Tow Truck Industry Council, with additional representation from the Police Service, Department of Transport, Department of Fair Trading and with representation from country towing interests. The existing self-funding arrangements will apply so that the restructure is implemented at no cost to the Government.
Under the existing Act, the disciplinary process is extremely slow, inconvenient and bureaucratic. At present, the council’s own enforcement officers, members of the public or tow truck operators and drivers complaining about other operators can lodge complaints with the Tow Truck Industry Council. The council’s tribunal is required to consider all matters, which may vary from relatively minor to much more serious complaints or breaches. Regardless of the level of seriousness, all complaints require the same resources, effort and time for preparation and consideration by the tribunal. This means that enforcement officers spend too much time in the office compiling reports on minor offences and not out in the field ensuring that accident scenes are properly managed. This legislation will streamline the disciplinary process, making it much faster and more effective.
The bill recognises that much of the work done previously by the council’s internal disciplinary tribunal can now be dealt with as part of the administrative functions of the Tow Truck Authority without having to go to the extent of holding disciplinary hearings on straightforward matters. Under the bill, any appeals regarding decisions made by the Tow Truck Authority will be referred to the Government’s newly established Administrative Decisions Tribunal - ADT - to ensure that decisions were made according to the legislation. This means that matters are dealt with either as clear-cut offences or through simplified administrative processes without the need for the TTA to go through a cumbersome disciplinary process.
Another important feature of the new legislation is that it strengthens the enforcement role of the new TTA by broadening the number of offences where infringement notices can be issued rather than through the more drawn out process of taking disciplinary action, as is currently the case. Since infringement notices are to replace the majority of matters dealt with by the current tribunal, its workload will be significantly reduced. This approach will mean that the bill will deliver a stronger, more responsive Tow Truck Authority and a modern, more streamlined disciplinary process that is consistent with the Government’s Administrative Decisions Tribunal legislation. This disciplinary process is strongly supported by Mr Anderson.
Enforcement of the bill is also being supported by increases in penalty levels for fines to make them reflect the severity of offences and to act as effective deterrents. Those not willing to pay the penalty can dispute the matter in the Local Court. A major recommendation of the Anderson report is that a centralised job allocation scheme be established. This is supported by the Government as an essential component of the Government’s reform package. An allocation scheme is also supported by the current Tow Truck Industry Council, peak industry associations, the insurance industry and vehicle owner representative organisations who were consulted during the review process.
As well as strengthening the regulatory structure of the industry this bill lays the foundation for an allocation system to be introduced next year. By having a centralised job allocation scheme, the safety of the public and tow operators will be improved in several ways. Firstly, tow truck drivers will not to race to an accident as they currently do to be first at the scene to beat their competitors to the job. Secondly, individual tow truck operators will be allocated a specific vehicle to tow. Therefore, there will no longer be several tow truck drivers at an accident scene harassing drivers of damaged vehicles for the most lucrative tow job. By removing the ability of unscrupulous operators to aggressively seek smash tows the scheme will create fairer working conditions within the industry.
By having a centralised centre that allocates towing jobs, cost structures and administration records will be more visible and accountable, providing a clear audit trail, which will help to eliminate corrupt payment practices, particularly drop fees. The details of the job allocation scheme and project milestones will be set out in the final report of the Anderson review, which is due for completion in late November this year. The scheme will be self-funding and its development will also be assisted by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, which has been asked to advise on how to deal with economic regulation issues associated with the scheme; for example, entry requirements and maintaining fair roster conditions within the industry.
The reforms introduced by this bill are targeted at reducing the operating costs of tow truck operators, thereby resulting in reduced vehicle repair costs and in turn the potential for lower insurance premiums. The whole community will benefit from the reform package, particularly as the bill provides protection against those acting illegally to obtain both tow work and smash repair work. I am confident that the new legislation will receive strong industry support and will significantly reform the operations and management of the tow truck industry and remove many of the undesirable and unlawful practices that currently pervade.
Finally, I would like to thank the Hon. Peter Anderson for his report and his work as Chair of the Tow Truck Industry Council. As former Minister for Police he has brought to the task his vast knowledge, skills and expertise. Further, in an industry with a range of converging interests he has developed a set of recommendations that have been strongly supported by all sections of the industry. His report has provided the basis for the Government to move forward with a comprehensive package of reforms that will provide the people of New South Wales with a safer, more efficient and effective tow truck industry. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [3.54 p.m.]: This bill will improve the effectiveness of the tow truck operator licensing scheme and the tow truck driver certification scheme. It tightens the suitability requirements of tow truck operators licences and tow truck drivers’ certification. It regulates aspects of towing work, including the use of towing authorisations and the provision of a towing job allocation scheme. It facilitates the enforcement of the regulatory scheme. And it constitutes a new Tow Truck Authority as the regulatory and administrative authority of the tow truck industry.
These reforms to the tow truck industry have been quite a while in the pipeline, but they are welcome. A former Minister, Mr Peter Anderson, has presented an interim report of his review of the tow truck industry to the Government and this bill adopts part of that interim report. The new regulatory environment is to apply only to metropolitan operators because that is where some serious problems - alleged corruption and violence - have been identified. The same problems have not been identified in non-metropolitan areas of New South Wales.
It is proposed that a centralised job allocation scheme will apply in the metropolitan area only. The Opposition supports such a scheme but reserves its right to further examine the details of the scheme when it comes into operation. Mr Anderson is undertaking a further review of other aspects and it may resolve further problems with the scheme. Under this legislation tow truck operators will be required to meet accountability requirements. The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident will have control over where his or her car is towed. Operators will not be able to tow the car to their preferred destination, something that has worried many people, particularly those injured in an accident who may not be in complete control of the situation. Dishonest smash repairers will be discouraged from paying drop fees - back door fees - to operators, and that should close down that route to corruption.
Police and emergency services personnel will be given stronger powers to control unscrupulous operators at the scene of an accident. The bill provides also for industry entry requirements to be raised and for silent partners to be identified. Operators will have to establish that they are fit and proper people to hold a towing licence. The new Tow Truck Authority, which will replace the old Tow Truck Industry Council, will be responsible for policy development, enforcement and licensing improvement. On behalf of the Opposition I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [3.57 p.m.]: The object of the Tow Truck Industry Bill is to strengthen the general tow truck regulatory system and establish industry regulation for a central tow truck allocation system. It will replace the existing Tow Truck Industry Council with the Tow Truck Authority, which will be responsible for setting policy and strategic direction. The Tow Truck Industry Advisory Council will provide industry advice and expert input to the authority and the Minister.
The bill establishes a more streamlined disciplinary process, with appeal rights to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, and improves the character assessment process and extends it to cover associated persons. It establishes clearer conditions of licences and certificates and strengthens enforcement efforts, speeds up and targets disciplinary actions, improves grounds for inspecting and auditing, and tightens the control over the management of accident scenes, by restricting who can attend, for how long, where vehicles can be towed to, and other conduct and duties of tow truck drivers.
These changes appear to be based on recommendations of the report of the tow truck industry review conducted by the Hon. Peter Anderson. My researcher, Jeni Emblem, contacted Peter Anderson on Friday, 16 October, to check that he was happy with the proposed changes. His comment was that apart from one major diversion the bill reflects his recommendations. While his report recommended that a disciplinary unit be established and chaired by a retired District Court
judge, the Government has opted for disciplinary matters to be dealt with by the new authority, with appeals against its decisions to the ADT. Although this divergence was not subject to industry consultation, as it arose during the drafting process via a suggestion from Parliamentary Counsel, Mr Anderson accepts and supports this change, and I too support the legislation.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [4.00 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports this bill. The Tow Truck Act 1989 has failed to deliver a workable regulatory structure and a safe and efficient industry. It failed to take consumer interests into account and to prevent black market trade in illegal drop fees. This contributed to an escalation of violence in the industry. Some tow truck operators were even murdered. The interim report of the tow truck industry review by the Hon. P. T. Anderson recommended wide-ranging improvements to licensing and certification systems, enforcement strategies, disciplinary measures and auditing arrangements. The report has enjoyed strong industry support.
The bill strengthens the general regulatory system and establishes industry regulation for a centralised tow truck allocation system. The structure of a suggested allocation system will form the basis of the final Anderson report. This bill introduces comprehensive changes such as the replacement of the Tow Truck Industry Council with the Tow Truck Authority and the Tow Truck Industry Advisory Council. It is hoped that this will lead to an improvement in the industry. It will provide a more streamlined disciplinary process with review rights to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, that being one of the values of the new Administrative Decisions Tribunal. The bill retains the current self-funding provisions, with no call to be made on consolidated revenue.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
DISTRICT COURT COUNTRY SITTINGS
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: My question is addressed to the Attorney General. Is it a fact that the Attorney General’s Department will not provide sufficient funding for the sittings of the District Court for country sittings, the result being a reduction next year of 150 sitting weeks - 100 weeks in the criminal jurisdiction and 50 weeks in the civil jurisdiction? Is it also a fact that this will mean an overall reduction of 25 per cent in country sittings of the District Court? What steps will the Attorney General take to prevent the people of rural New South Wales from being discriminated against in this matter, and when will he approach his colleague the Treasurer to ensure that the court system is properly funded?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The answer to the question is no.
CAMDEN HAVEN EDUCATION FACILITIES
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: I ask the Minister for Public Works and Services what the Government is doing to improve education facilities in Camden Haven.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I acknowledge the commitment of the Hon. Jan Burnswoods to arguing for better services for the north coast region of this State. All honourable members would be aware of the pressures of population growth on schools, hospitals and other essential services on the north coast and the mid-north coast. This Government has since its election in 1995 embarked on an ambitious program of infrastructure upgrades designed to give a long-term solution to population demands in those regions. Essential to the program of works is the need to not only meet current requirements but also to ensure that services are not overstretched in future years as more and more families relocate to the region.
In response to this question I am pleased to report that the Government is providing a massive improvement to educational opportunities for Camden Haven and that a construction contract has now been awarded to build a new $12.6 million school for the township and surrounds. The contract has been awarded to Abigroup Contractors Pty Ltd. The first project meeting with Abigroup Contractors will take place in a week’s time, with the contractor being free to establish on site thereafter. The meeting will discuss design development and the overall program of works and will set down stage requirements to ensure that facilities are delivered on time.
The awarding of the contract clears the way for the project to progress as planned to be completed in time for the first term of 2000. The Camden Haven school project has had unprecedented support and involvement from the local community, not least because of a community desire to establish a sports centre in the school grounds to complement the educational facilities. I
am delighted to report that, following a number of meetings between my department, the Department of Education and Training and local residents, plans for a multipurpose stadium have been drawn up that satisfy the needs of both the school and the community.
With the support of extra funding from Hastings Council and the local community and a rigorous tender process conducted by my department the enhanced sports facility package will go ahead alongside the existing school construction. Public involvement in this project has also contributed so that the new school will be a focus for the township. Between 50 and 60 workers will ultimately be employed on site, giving a substantial boost to local employment in a region hard hit by Federal Government cutbacks and office closures in recent years. A project of this size inevitably attracts business and enhanced job prospects and, as is always the case, every effort will be made to encourage local companies to bid for the subcontract packages.
I am advised that Abigroup Contractors have already appointed a Newcastle-based architectural firm to complete the designs and associated documentation. The Camden Haven school project is one of the most important government projects in the mid-north coast region. I applaud Hastings Council and the Camden Haven community for their interest and involvement in the planning of this essential facility for their town.
FAIRFIELD POKER MACHINE TAVERNS
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I ask a question of the Minister for Public Works and Services, representing the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Is the Minister aware that two development applications for two poker machine taverns are to be approved by Fairfield City Council? Will the Government act to prevent an explosion of shopfront gaming dens in this State? What action has been taken since this matter was raised by the Opposition more than three weeks ago?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I shall refer this matter to my colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing and I shall obtain a response and convey it to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES TRIBUNAL REVIEW
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: I ask the Minister for Fair Trading what the Government has done to implement the recommendations contained in the review of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: An extensive and practical review of all tribunals within the Fair Trading portfolio was conducted in 1997. Administrative improvements and legislative changes are now being made as a result of that review. The tribunal has implemented a number of the recommendations affecting its administration, and legislation to give effect to the restructuring of the tribunal will be placed before the House shortly.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: This bill has been read in the other House.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: Contrary to misconceived interjections, I am dealing with administrative improvements that have been effected in the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. I thought, perhaps naively, that these changes would be of interest to honourable members. Administrative improvements effected in the Residential Tenancies Tribunal so far include the following. First, increased tribunal services in regional areas.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: That is in the bill.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: This is an administrative change, as compared to a legislative change - an elementary distinction that honourable members ought to bear in mind. Honourable members can be given information in question time about administrative changes that are non-legislative in their character. Second, a system of specialist panels of members has been established to increase expertise and consistency in decision making across differing fields. Third, case-streaming techniques, so the type of dispute-resolution service is tailored to fit the nature of the dispute, have been implemented. Fourth, a regionally focused community-education program has been implemented so that more landlords and tenants are aware of how to access the tribunal and present their cases effectively. Improved access and equity are the core objectives of these improvements to the system. Recently the Government opened the State’s second-only Residential Tenancies Tribunal registry at Penrith.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: This is in the Minister’s second reading speech.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I do not think that a repetition of facts is in any way out of order in this House. If it were, it would be quite a radical change from the processes that I have observed during the past few years. The Carr Government also abolished the $10 Residential Tenancy Tribunal hearing application fee previously levied on applicants on government benefits, and it provided an appropriate venue to enable Residential Tenancies Tribunal
hearings for the first time to be conducted at Blacktown. As a direct result of these measures the people of western Sydney now have access to the same level of services as that enjoyed by their central Sydney counterparts. Services such as urgent hearings in 48 hours, warrants of eviction issued on the same day and telephone inquiries at local call rates are now available to a greater number of New South Wales residents.
Residents of western Sydney will also have shorter travelling time if they have to deal in person with the staff of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. More services to, and more frequent sittings in, regional areas also feature in the tribunal’s program. Most areas in the State have access to tribunal sittings within a maximum of 14 to 21 days. The service will be further enhanced in November with the planned opening of the tribunal’s new Newcastle registry. The tribunal will continue to focus on improving the level of service delivery as recommended in the review, in consultation with the major industry and tenant associations.
The Government is also developing a package of further legislative amendments to enhance further the tribunal’s functions. The tribunal’s resources and functions are being expanded in this area to make more accessible their services throughout rural New South Wales and its regional sectors. This is good news about the tribunal, and members of the Opposition should not receive the news in such a caustic and cynical way.
HOME CARE SERVICE FUNDING
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: My question without notice is to the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Community Services. Has any home care service in New South Wales been told that it cannot take new clients without the approval of the area manager because no funding is currently available for new clients? If not, how does the Government explain why a woman in the Griffith area, caring for her 87-year-old frail, aged mother, and her son, who has a disability and is deemed to have high-support needs, is unable to access more than three half-hour visits per week to enable her mother to be showered? Is the lack of services to support this woman in the care of her son an indication that there is a financial crisis in the Home Care Service in New South Wales?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I shall refer that question to the Minister for Community Services and obtain a response.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I ask the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Education and Training, a question without notice. Will the Government introduce a new New South Wales teaching standards board that will either grant or reject the registration of every teacher wishing to teach in New South Wales in both government and, especially, private non-government schools? Will every teacher in State government schools be automatically registered by the teaching standards board, irrespective of their attitude, ability to teach or their competence? If so, why?
Many highly qualified teachers in private non-government schools, especially Christian schools, who do not have any formal teaching qualifications will have to pass a formal assessment by the board or be forced to stop teaching. Is this another attempt by the anti-Christian forces in New South Wales to further restrict and even close down Christian schools? Will the Government exempt non-government schools from the registration process as private schools would not employ incompetent teachers, as otherwise parents would object, and the schools would go broke and finally close down?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I will refer the honourable member’s question to the Minister for Education and Training and obtain a response.
MOUNT PENANG JUVENILE JUSTICE FACILITIES
The Hon P. T. PRIMROSE: My question without notice is to the Minister for Public Works and Services. The Minister would be aware of the need for improved juvenile justice facilities at Mount Penang on the central coast. What steps are being taken to deliver improved facilities?
The Hon. D. J. Gay: On a point of order. The honourable member is making a statement, not asking a question. The purpose of question time is to elicit information from Ministers, not to give them information.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I uphold the point of order. I ask members to desist from the increasing practice of prefacing questions with statements.
The Hon P. T. PRIMROSE: My question without notice is to the Minister for Public Works and Services. Is the Minister aware of the need for
improved juvenile justice facilities at Mount Penang on the central coast? What steps are being taken to deliver these improved facilities? Is the construction work on time?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I commend the Hon. P. T. Primrose for his well-known interest in juvenile justice issues. Honourable members would be aware of the existence of a very old juvenile justice centre at Mount Penang on the central coast. I understand that this facility predates the Second World War and was constructed at a time when Mount Penang was considerably more isolated than it is today. Not surprisingly, during the years the buildings at Mount Penang have outlived their usefulness, and in some cases the centre as a whole has not been as well-maintained by successive governments as it should have been. I do not say that in any partisan way - the centre is many years old and, as with all buildings of its age, is in need of restoration.
Some time ago the Carr Government elected to replace the entire centre, rather than simply institute another round of band-aid repairs and refurbishment. A total of $23.5 million has been committed under contract to construct the new centre. I am pleased to report that stage one of the works is now completed. The overall development is not only on time, it is running six weeks ahead of schedule. The stage one works include fabrication and erection of the upgraded secure perimeter fence, extension of water, sewerage and power services to the site, construction of a new car park and access roads and bulk earthworks. All of that work is now completed, and construction has commenced on the buildings proper. The centre construction is being managed by the Department of Public Works and Services on behalf of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The main contractor, Richard Crookes Constructions, has made what appears to be excellent progress, and as always I am pleased to report to the House that a number of local businesses have won subcontract packages for goods and services for the site. Building slabs have been poured for 15 of the 18 new buildings to be constructed. The most advanced building is the administration and operations block, which is nearly complete and at lock-up stage. This building will be operational early next year, with the rest of the centre to be handed over to the Department of Juvenile Justice later in 1999. The total works program also includes accommodation for up to 120 juveniles, educational and vocational premises, health care and counselling facilities, car parks, security fencing and landscaping.
I draw the attention of the House particularly to the provision of the educational and vocational premises at the new centre. I have always been of the view that the best way of preventing juvenile offenders from becoming adult offenders is to combine the traditional punishment role of juvenile justice with an opportunity for education and training, and a chance for the young people in question to get a fresh start in life. I know this view is not shared by some members opposite - the strict retributionists who do not believe anything else is necessary; a view that is short-sighted and regrettable. Of course, not all attempts at rehabilitation are successful, but I believe it is an obligation of government to make the effort to give young offenders a chance to start afresh by giving them a degree of vocational and educational support during their incarceration.
I am also pleased to report that the construction at Mount Penang includes new facilities for the local rural fire service, which will be a valuable addition to emergency services in the area. Many of the buildings and construction-related activities also incorporate environmental features, including passive solar design, energy efficiency, stormwater retention ponds and waste minimisation practices. The new complex is, without doubt, a major improvement on the existing centre. It is ahead of time and on budget. I am especially pleased to report that it will be completed late next year - well within, I might add, the anticipated actual lifetime of the Hon. M. J. Gallacher, if not within the probable duration of his political life.
HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR PEATS
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER: Will the Minister for Public Works and Services inform the House why in two separate newspaper reports of the completion of stage one of the new juvenile justice centre at Mount Penang his comments failed to mention the member for Peats, Marie Andrews? Given that both reports in the Central Coast Express Advocate and the Central Coast Sun quoted extensively from the Minister’s media release, how could both papers have failed to mention Ms Andrews? Can honourable members take this as a further example of the pressure being applied to the member for Peats not to stand at the next State election?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The first comment I make is that, to the best of my knowledge, I am not responsible for the editorial policy of any newspaper on the central coast, or anywhere else. Marie Andrews, the honourable member for Peats, has
been well and favourably known to me for a very long period, going back to my Young Labor days, which is quite a long time ago. Marie Andrews was on the same side as I was. Her active assistance and the additional voting support she provided was very much appreciated.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Was!
The Hon. R. D. DYER: And still is. Marie Andrews is a very pleasant person. She is a diligent member. I would be the last person on this earth to wish any harm to come to Marie Andrews.
As I said last week, to the best of my knowledge, the Hon. C. J. S. Lynn is not in charge of the preselection arrangements of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. As the Hon. B. H. Vaughan suggests, the Hon. C. J. S. Lynn should give some attention to his own preselection arrangements, because he appears to be, so far as I can tell from this side of House, in absolutely desperate trouble. However, I have some disappointing news to convey to the Hon. C. J. S. Lynn. While I would come to the rescue of Marie Andrews, he could not rely on me for assistance.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: You have forgotten Marie. You have wiped her.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: No, I have not forgotten Marie Andrews. She is ever present in my mind. I can confidently predict that Marie Andrews will be the member for Peats after the forthcoming State election.
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMISSIONER REAPPOINTMENT
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA: I ask a question of the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Community Services. Is he aware of the distress and dismay in the community over the way that the Community Services Commissioner, Roger West, has been treated by this Government? Why did the Minister for Community Services let 4½ months pass without taking any action or giving confirmation to Mr West of his reappointment, ignoring the Premier’s guidelines, under which the reappointment should have been finalised six months before the end of Mr West’s contract?
Did the former Minister for Community Services, the Hon. R. D. Dyer, promise after the speech of the Premier on 19 November 1996 to increase the budget of the commission from $3 million to $4 million? Did the commission receive only $250,000 of that amount? Is the Government not ashamed to penny-pinch money from the care of children in need while most government departments overspend their budgets by millions of dollars, including the extra funding needed for the wretched Olympics? Does the Government realise it will stand condemned by the community for not caring for our most precious asset - our children?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I will refer that question to the relevant Minister and obtain a response.
BUILDING CONTRACTOR WORKPLACE SKILLS TRAINING
The Hon. A. B. MANSON: I ask the Minister for Public Works and Services what steps the Government is taking to provide up-to-date information to construction contractors and subcontractors on training and workplace skills.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I readily acknowledge the well-known interest in the building industry that the Hon. A. B. Manson has shown over the years. The release of the Training Resource Directory for the Construction Industry in New South Wales marks yet another advance in the State Government’s program towards developing a highly productive, efficient construction industry in New South Wales. I am pleased to advise the House that the various editions of the training directory have received overwhelming support from construction industry employers and workers.
The industry is one of the largest employers in the country. However, despite the obviously important position the industry has in the economy, in recent years there has been a decline in the overall number of people employed in the industry in this State. The New South Wales Government is facilitating the identification of where and when skill shortages are likely to occur, short and long term, through the Department of Education and Training, the New South Wales industry training advisory boards - commonly known as ITABs - the Construction Policy Steering Committee and employer and union organisations. These bodies have identified the importance of providing training at all levels of the industry.
It needs to be emphasised that training is not being promoted for training’s sake. The training directory initiative underscores that training should be used by small and large businesses in the construction industry as a unifying theme. Changes
to work organisation and technology are all having an impact on skills required by the industry’s work force. Successful construction organisations must also ensure that they can deliver high-quality client service. Improving the skills and the abilities of the work force expands the possibilities of securing repeat and long-term business.
The training resource directory developed by the Construction Policy Steering Committee is intended to assist employers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants and suppliers in accessing training programs to improve work processes and the skills and knowledge of the work force. The directory lists courses matched to site functions and skill levels, training providers and organisations to contract for financial and practical assistance. For the first time, employers have information that will assist them to achieve a better enterprise committed to continuous learning and to develop a work force that is well-educated, competent, highly skilled and highly flexible.
The benefits of good training simply cannot be ignored - improved competitiveness, quality, flexibility, capability and morale, to name a few. Training plans are fundamental to the effective use of training in individual enterprises and the industry generally. The Government will continue to strongly support enterprises that show they are prepared to respond to these initiatives, institute training programs in their businesses and on projects and act jointly to maximise the benefits of shared knowledge and experience.
WORKCOVER AUTHORITY GUIDELINES FOR ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: I ask the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading, whether the Public Service Association has written to WorkCover expressing concern at the failure of WorkCover to follow the "Consultation and Information Guidelines for Organisational Change", formulated through the joint consultative committee in 1988, which provide for staff consultation on change.
Is it a fact that reviews have been undertaken in the accommodation section, marketing and communications group, occupational health and safety prosecution branch, human resources branch and records management unit? As those reviews directly affect staff, why were no preliminary proposals developed for comment and why were the final reports not available to the joint consultative committee in accordance with the WorkCover guidelines? What action will the Minister take to correct this mistake?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am not aware of the letter from the Public Service Association to which the honourable member refers. Such a letter may well raise complaints about process. I have every confidence that the Chief Executive Officer, Mr Grayson, will adopt a consultative approach about workplace changes. It is understandable that there would be some concerns in WorkCover, because the workers compensation scheme is undergoing significant changes which may have ramifications for the staff. The question of consultation with the Public Service Association has not come to my attention, which is a little odd because whenever there is a problem of significance I contact the association direct. Nonetheless, I will follow up the question and ensure that correct procedures are applied.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: I ask a supplementary question. What is the cost of the review and when is it expected to report?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am not aware of any review of WorkCover. Therefore I cannot answer any question about cost.
CHILD LABOUR EXPLOITATION
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO: My question without notice is directed to the Attorney-General. I refer to an article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald reporting the growing problem of child exploitation in the workplace. Considering that the report stated that each day across Australia four children are seriously injured at work, what steps has the Government taken to remedy this appalling situation? Can the Attorney-General explain why the Government was unable to introduce legislation as a top priority to immediately tackle this problem?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The honourable member has raised a matter that would concern all members of this House. Exploitation of children at work is obviously not something that has arisen suddenly; apparently it has been exposed as a longstanding problem. Over the years no-one in the political field has paid sufficient attention to it. Let us not get into political point scoring about an issue as longstanding and important as this. Child labour laws are administered and formulated by the Department of Community Services. Last year the department appropriately commissioned an inquiry. Professor Parkinson, from the University of Sydney law school, formulated preliminary ideas on legislation in this area.
The professor’s recommendations appear to have substance. As he generously and appropriately said in an article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald,
they were of a preliminary nature and he recommended further consultation in relation to them. His explicit recommendation was that these laws should be the subject of further discussion and consultation. Professor Parkinson proffered the idea that there should be a range of offences constructed for anyone, including parents, who employs a child under 15 years in a hazardous environment or who operates machinery and that restrictions should be placed on the number of hours that children work.
I have been advised by the Minister for Community Services that Professor Parkinson has agreed to chair a committee to address these issues. That committee will discuss the many problems with industry, and full, thoughtful and I anticipate workable legislation will be introduced in the first half of next year. Quite separate from that committee, WorkCover has funded a New South Wales Labor Council initiative aimed at educating students in years 10, 11 and 12 on work safety and their employment rights. Further, a task force examining the textile industry has clear directions to provide the Government with a strong and enforceable package designed to clean up the problems of that industry. That, of course, includes the problems that impinge upon child labour.
There is no doubt that a problem exists, and I commend the Sydney Morning Herald for its journalistic endeavours to expose it. I am sure the community is grateful for that. The Government is actively considering this problem. But to suggest that the Government should respond immediately to a newspaper article that deals with complicated legislation which needs due thought and consideration is naive and is a misreading of the political process. It is better to get it right! As I tentatively suggested yesterday, the preferable course would be to attack this problem on a national level.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: You are quoting yourself.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am not quoting myself; I am referring to what I said yesterday. I am not a great authority, but I am giving my observation, which may be of passing interest to honourable members. It is appropriate that the honourable member raised this serious issue. There is an onus on governments, departments and agencies to take that problem seriously.
DEPARTMENT OF FAIR TRADING RURAL SERVICES
The Hon. A. B. KELLY: I ask the Minister for Fair Trading a question without notice. Will the Minister inform the House how the Department of Fair Trading meets the needs of people in remote communities?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: In the past few months I have been pleased to observe the competence of the Department of Fair Trading and the seriousness with which it takes its mission to provide services to all people of New South Wales, no matter how remote their location. I am pleased to advise that the department’s equity and access policy is aimed at improving service delivery to disadvantaged groups, including remote communities. Currently elements of the private sector - most noticeably the banks - are reducing services to rural communities. In contrast, the department’s services are expanding and reaching out to more consumers and traders. That is true in rural areas and in the suburbs of Sydney and other great cities of the State.
The Carr Government remains committed to ensuring that citizens living in geographically isolated areas have access to appropriate government services and are able to effectively exercise their consumer rights. The department’s regional access program visits have been successfully conducted in locations including Broken Hill, Bourke and Brewarrina. This week officers of my department are visiting Lightning Ridge, Walgett and Goodooga, a wonderful place in the west of New South Wales, near the Queensland border. The officers of the Department of Fair Trading are assisting, advising and counselling people about consumer matters. Those visits raised the department’s profile in targeted communities in a specified and concentrated period and provided rural consumers with immediate access to the department’s services.
The regional access program in the Lightning Ridge area has a particular emphasis on services for Aboriginal consumers. A number of Aboriginal organisations, such as the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and the Walgett Local Lands Council will be visited by staff from the Department of Fair Trading, who will provide information on the department’s services and role, including its Aboriginal action plan. The visits have been organised by the Aboriginal co-ordinator of the Western Institute of TAFE in Walgett and are a working example of the whole-of-government approach to service delivery in rural communities. The Department of Fair Trading workshops covering issues such as consumer and tenants’ rights and responsibilities will be conducted in Lightning Ridge, Walgett and Goodooga for participants in the department’s community development employment program.
Services provided through the tenants’ advice and advocacy program are funded by the Department of Fair Trading. A member of the Gunyah Aboriginal tenants advice and advocacy service in Dubbo is also accompanying departmental staff on these visits. The department’s inspectors also play an important part in the success of the regional access programs. They perform a number of compliance activities such as business name and lay-by sale inspections, trade-measurement checks and licensed motor dealer inspections. The needs of local traders are not forgotten during these visits. Information and assistance from the department and any assistance for small businesses in rural areas is usually much appreciated. On this occasion a trader information seminar is being conducted in Lightning Ridge.
These seminars cover such issues as the department’s services and roles, traders’ rights and responsibilities, refunds and lay-bys, business name registration, trade measurement issues and general complaint management. Individual trader visits, mainly of an educative nature, are also occurring. The Department of Fair Trading has provided training to staff of the TAFE mobile library van, which travels regularly in western New South Wales. Departmental staff regularly travel with the van, which carries fair trading information and brochures. The Government believes that people in remote communities should not be penalised because of their distance from major population centres. As far as possible, the department is regularly taking its staff and services to remote areas in the State to keep those people informed and involved.
SEPTIC TANK REGISTRATION AND INSPECTION
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My question is addressed to the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Local Government. Is the Minister aware that many councils in New South Wales have already taken action via rate notices and the like to charge ratepayers and inform them about the requirement that septic tanks be registered and inspected? Is it a fact that the Minister has, in a press release, delayed this requirement until the coalition wins government? How will councils be reimbursed for the extra staff hours and paperwork produced to fulfil the Government’s delayed requirement?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I shall refer that question to the Minister for Local Government for a response.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I ask the Attorney General, representing the Minister for the Environment, what scientific research has been undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the past 12 months to determine the effect of fruit growers shooting flying foxes, especially lactating females. Is it a fact that populations of flying foxes are dropping rapidly? Will the Minister ensure that the moratorium remains in place and work with the Minister for Agriculture to ensure that growers net their crops or use non-lethal deterrents?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I shall refer that question to the Minister for the Environment for a response.
The Hon. J. R. JOHNSON: My question is addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government. What is the Government doing to help young people in New South Wales find work?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I acknowledge the honourable member’s interest in providing job opportunities for younger people. Earlier this month the Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr, launched the New South Wales Government’s youth policy - Focus on Young People - aimed at helping young people to find or generate jobs. One initiative in the program has already helped more than 1,600 young people start their own businesses through the 47 State government business enterprise centres. School-to-work plans and work education courses are also helping more than 2,000 year 10 students across New South Wales to prepare for the work force.
The Government has listened to young people about the issues and developed a policy to help them through the challenges of today and the future. There are more than 20 practical strategies in Focus on Young People from all areas of government policy, including health, education, business services, legal advice, arts, entertainment, urban planning and transport. One strategy is to place more young people on government advisory bodies. For example, a youth health network including young people will be set up under the Government’s youth health policy. Another strategy is the $150,000 young offenders telephone advice line. Young people charged with minor offences will be able to receive free legal advice quickly.
A youth customer group will be established to advise government organisations on how to improve
delivery of services to young people. A new whole-of-government Internet site will be created, linking young people to hundreds of helpful youth programs and information throughout the State. Young people will design the site for easy access. Vocational education will be improved by making it more flexible and responsive in preparing young people for the world of work. Higher school certificate students will be able to do accredited courses in subjects such as information technology, tourism and hospitality, business administration, construction, metal engineering and primary industries. Students will also be able to do accredited traineeships and part-time work while still at school.
Other initiatives include promotion of small business support services to people under 25 through the 47 business enterprise centres located across the State; a planning for youth guide to show local councils, developers and retailers how to plan and manage public areas to reduce problems, to be developed by the Urban Design Advisory Service; and establishment of a new music association to be known as musicNSW to promote and support the popular music industry. Late last week during question time I gave the House details about musicNSW - and I remember the keen interest shown by members opposite on that occasion. A musicNSW co-ordinator has been appointed to help open up performing and recording opportunities for artists in a range of music genres such as rock, techno, grunge, dance and rap.
Focus on Young People provides the structural framework for other government youth initiatives such as the youth health policy, a crime prevention plan and opening up more public sector jobs and training to young people. It sets the ground rules for making government services more accessible and responsive to young people. It also gives government departments and agencies clear instructions to consult young people and involve them in decision making. Young people have talked to the New South Wales Youth Advisory Council about what they think the Government can do to make their lives better, and this policy is the result of that community partnership.
Dr PETER ROWLAND MURDER TRIAL DELAY
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: My question without notice is addressed to the Attorney General. Is it a fact that the trial of Michael Privett, his brother Dean Privett, and Byron Spencer for the murder of Dr Peter Rowland has been set down for 12 July 1999, some three years after the murder and the arrest of the three accused? Is it further a fact that Michael Privett, who is accused of the actual murder, has been on bail for two years and two months? How many other people charged with murder are currently on bail?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: It is absurd for the honourable member to expect me to provide such a response to a question without notice. I advise the honourable member to put that question on notice, as he should have done in the first place. As for the earlier part of the question, I do not want to be complacent but the idea of a murder trial taking two or more years to come to trial has not been abnormal in New South Wales for many years.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Aren’t you even embarrassed about that?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: What I am saying is that as a matter of statistics and as a matter of history it is not abnormal. Of course, cases of prisoners in custody do and should take priority in relation not only to murder but to other cases. Where defendants have not been granted bail, then obviously the courts would give them priority. What the honourable member’s question fails to note is that recently the Chief Justice made a major new announcement about reducing Supreme Court delays in criminal lists. The question entirely overlooks that significant development. The main feature of the plan would impose limits on the period between committal hearings and the trial process in the Supreme Court on criminal matters.
According to the Chief Justice, the reforms will take effect on 1 November this year. Breaking the back of court delays is a priority and I believe that, as a result of, for example, the major transfer of ordinary civil litigation from the Supreme Court to the District Court, significant additional amounts of judge time will be made available for criminal matters in the Supreme Court. The question overlooks two major developments: the Chief Justice’s announcement about time lines applying for criminal matters in the Supreme Court and the major expansion of judicial resources with respect to criminal matters in the Supreme Court because of the movement of civil matters to the District Court.
FOREST RESERVE SYSTEM
The Hon. I. COHEN: I ask the Minister representing the Premier a question without notice. Will the Premier confirm that if the nationally agreed criteria for designing a comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system are fully applied in north-east New South Wales, more than one million hectares of current State forests
will be required to be added to the national parks estate? Have New South Wales State agencies applied the nationally agreed criteria to design a proposal for a new forest reserve system? If so, what was the outcome?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I will refer the honourable member's question to the appropriate Minister and obtain a response.
CARERS INDUSTRIAL RIGHTS
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT: My question without notice is to the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading. Is the Minister aware of the growing list of responsibilities employees have outside the workplace? What steps has the New South Wales Government taken to ensure that industrial laws in New South Wales accommodate the needs of working women and men with responsibility as carers?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: Both the legislation and the practice of this Government show a commitment to giving assistance to care givers in our society. Under the relevant legislation, the Industrial Relations Act 1996, all workers, male or female, are entitled to receive 52 weeks unpaid leave and the right of return to their job following the birth or adoption of a child. Parental leave provisions are now easier to administer for employers, and for those employers who dismiss an employee because of pregnancy or parental leave, sanctions have been increased. The New South Wales Government has been pro-active in educating employees and employers about maternity protections and parental entitlements.
The Department of Industrial Relations is developing a parental leave information campaign in conjunction with the Premier’s Council for Women. That campaign will be launched in late 1988. The Industrial Relations Act also provides a framework for ensuring that the industrial system responds to the needs of workers with caring responsibilities. One good example of this is the New South Wales personal carers test case. That case established a basic entitlement for employees to take paid leave to care for a family member who was ill. New South Wales workers can now access paid sick leave, annual leave, rostered days off and time off in lieu of payment of overtime for the purpose of caring for a family member. This entitlement covers more than one million workers. Almost 40 per cent of all workers in this State are covered by New South Wales State awards.
The New South Wales personal carers leave entitlement is considerably more generous than that provided to Federal award employees. Under the Federal award entitlement no cap is imposed on the personal carer’s leave. The entitlement is advantageous to employers and employees in that it is easier to administer, it provides certainty of entitlement, it is inclusive in its coverage of all types of families, and it gives employees maximum flexibility and access to leave entitlements. Those initiatives show the Government’s commitment to an industrial reform agenda that responds to the real needs of working men and women with responsibilities as carers. Perhaps more importantly, it shows how social justice can be effectively combined with the needs of competitive industries.
WORKCOVER AUTHORITY STAFF MORALE
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: My question without notice is to the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading. In a letter to Mr John Grayson, General Manager, WorkCover Authority, dated 22 September, 1998, did the Public Service Association describe WorkCover employees as suffering "extreme stress resulting in a very low morale and decreased productivity"? Is it a fact that the Minister said in this House in 1996, "I would like to think that within the public sector and within agencies I administer morale is high. If it is not, I will certainly do what I can to address the situation"? Given the Minister’s apparent failure, what steps will he take to address this low morale factor?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: As I said earlier in question time, I have not seen this letter from the PSA. If there is an urgent problem I am sure the association will take it up with me. I am very accessible to the PSA leadership and they would telephone me if there were real and substantial problems.
SYDNEY WATER SUPPLY CONTAMINATION
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: I ask the Minister for Public Works and Services, representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice. Will the Minister inform the House as to whether the cryptosporidium species found in Sydney’s water supply have been genotyped? If so, which of the cryptosporidium species has been identified? Are they genotype 1(H), genotype 2(C), or is it possible that they are a separate genetically distinct host-adapted strain isolated to marsupials and so far not found occurring in humans?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I regret to advise the honourable member that I am not intimately aware of the details he seeks. However, I will obtain them from my colleague the Minister for Health and when received I will be delighted to convey the information to the honourable member.
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN: I address my question without notice to the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading. The Australian Financial Review this morning carried an advertisement which announced a work safety breakthrough with industry leaders making a major commitment to work safety. Will the Minister explain to the House this commitment by industry to improve workplace safety?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: This is a good development. We have a lot of co-operation from employers in two industries, construction and hospitality, indicating their commitment to a qualitative improvement in safety standards at the workplace. I, with my colleague the Minister for Public Works and Services, signed the memorandum of understanding yesterday for construction contractors. The negotiation of those agreements is one of the more significant initiatives in occupational health and safety that WorkCover has undertaken. The memoranda are of enormous significance in their potential to change the safety culture of these two industries, and they are very practical tools for the improvement of the management of occupational health and safety.
The hospitality memorandum brings together nine important companies which collectively employ about 12,000 workers. The memorandum for the construction industry brings together 17 major construction companies which collectively account for well in excess of $4 billion per annum of the States’s construction industry activity. I am pleased to say that hospitality and construction industry employer associations and trade unions have signed in support of this initiative and declared their commitment to working co-operatively with the Government to improve their work safety performance. They have a key role to play in raising awareness and changing industry culture to cut the toll of workplace injury and disease.
The agreements result from the ideas and strategies discussed by WorkCover’s year 2000 best practice committee, which was established in 1997 to advise WorkCover on workplace safety initiatives. Members of that committee include Mr Jim Cox, former manager of WorkCover’s regional operations division; Professor Denis Else, Chair of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission; Mr John Foote, Chief Executive Officer, DuPont Australia, a company that has an unbeatable reputation for best practice in occupational health and safety; and Ms Mary Yaager of the Labor Council of New South Wales.
The year 2000 best practice committee is motivated by the need to promote the systematic management of safety in the workplace and address safety hazards at every point, including design of equipment and methods of work. To those ends, two best practice working parties were established - one for the construction industry and one for the hospitality industry. The resulting memoranda of understanding are the products of extensive consultation and negotiations between the signatories, the members of WorkCover’s year 2000 best practice committee and its construction and hospitality working parties. They address the critical issues for improving performance, identified by the industries and by the committee, such as implementing or improving the signatories’ occupational health and safety management system; ensuring that all personnel receive occupational health and safety induction training to reduce risk to employees; incorporating OH and S considerations at the point of design; and ensuring the competence of, and providing support for, contractors and subcontractors.
For each of these critical strategies the agreements include a statement of the parties’ objectives, an implementation time frame, a performance indicator and the manner by which the signatory employers will work together with the support of Government. The preparedness of construction contactors who compete fiercely in the marketplace to work together and share ideas on how best to manage occupational health and safety is a significant and welcome development. Likewise, the signatories view as tremendously important the club industry, major city hotels and small hotels, the casino and motels working together on OH and S. This is another example of the Government’s willingness to work with industry in implementing workplace safety initiatives and protecting workers in this State from needless injury and illness.
RURAL DRUG AND ALCOHOL HEALTH SERVICES
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI: My question without notice is to the Minister for Public Works and Services, representing the Minister for Health. When will the Minister release the issues paper produced two months ago by the Australian
Rural Health Research Institute on drug and alcohol services in rural and remote Australia?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I will obtain a response to the question from my colleague the Minister for Health and convey it to the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti.
If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they place them on notice.
WIDE BORE NEEDLES
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On 22 September the Hon. I. Cohen asked me a question about wide bore needles. The Minister for Health has provided the following answer:
On 16 September the Carr Government announced comprehensive changes to the needle and syringe program that will result in even greater protection for the whole community. These initiatives include the cessation of the distribution of large bore injecting equipment from the public sector needle and syringe program from 31 December. Currently, needle and syringe program outlets supply specific types of equipment, which is sometimes used for the undesirable practice of injecting methadone syrup and is incompatible with the therapeutic aims of methadone treatment. These syringes will be gradually withdrawn to promote a smooth transition so that clients are educated in disease prevention.
The new policy reducing the number of client methadone take-aways, coupled with the withdrawal of large bore injecting equipment, should also have the effect of discouraging the practice of methadone injection. Reduction in the practice of methadone injection may therefore reduce the sharing of contaminated large bore injecting equipment. As a result, the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C amongst injecting drug users may further be reduced. The withdrawal of large bore injecting equipment is currently undergoing an evaluation process to measure its short- and long-term consequences. This evaluation process will continue until after the complete withdrawal of this equipment from the public sector needle and syringe program outlets. South-west Sydney will not be the area most likely impacted upon by the removal of large bore injecting equipment from the public program.
ST GEORGE HOSPITAL ENDOSCOPY PROCEDURES
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On 22 September the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti asked me a question about St George Hospital endoscopy procedures. The Minister for Health has provided the following answer:
The New South Wales Health Department has advised that there are no departmental benchmarks for individual endoscopic procedures. Waiting time benchmarks are for all elective surgery and medical patients combined. Colonoscopy, gastroscopy and cystoscopy procedures are included in general waiting time benchmarks.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On 24 September the Hon. I. Cohen asked me a question about the Timbarra goldmine. The Minister for Mineral Resources has provided the following answer:
(1) No. At present a mining operations plan is not considered to be a public document. The plan is the company’s document, which was prepared as a requirement of a condition of the mining lease. Public access to the plan is at the discretion of the company. However, I have recently reviewed the policy on this matter and I intend to approve, under section 365(e) of the Mining Act 1992, that after 1 January 1999 all mining operations plans should be available for public viewing. The Timbarra goldmine’s threatened species management plan is an appendix to the mining operations plan. The obligations to undertake water monitoring are set out in the conditions of the mining leases. The programme is to be undertaken in a manner determined by the appropriate regulatory agencies, that is, the Environment Protection Authority, Department of Land and Water Conservation, with analysis by the National Association of Testing Authorities registered laboratories.
(2) Refer to the above answer.
(3) The Timbarra goldmine will be a highly regulated mine. Development is subject to stringent development consent and mining lease conditions to minimise impact. The project has been subject to comprehensive environmental assessment indicating impact will be limited to the mine site itself.
BUILDING CONTRACT INSURANCE
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 13 October the Hon. J. F. Ryan asked me a question about builders insurance. I can now provide the following answer:
Under the Home Building Act a contractor who contracts with a home owner to undertake residential building work with a contract price exceeding $5,000 must take out insurance covering the work. If the contractor is contracting to supply his or her labour only and the contract price is less than $5,000 then insurance is not compulsory. Often home owners choose to purchase their own materials and they should be able to do so. Obviously an insurer will not cover a home owner in respect of materials they themselves supply. It is possible that an unscrupulous trader might attempt to induce a home owner into separately purchasing the materials in order to avoid taking out insurance. However, the Department of Fair Trading is not aware of any widespread practice of this kind.
As part of its overall compliance program the department monitors compliance with the Home Building Act with the detection of uninsured work being a priority area. The $5,000 insurance threshold is consistent with the level applying in other States. It must be kept in mind that, under the former government insurance schemes the cover for the trade work was funded primarily from licence fees. Under a private scheme, as now operates, funding must be provided by premiums. The current insurance threshold was set after taking into account the cost of insuring small jobs compared to the likely risk to consumers. Consumers who have work done to a
value under $5,000 still have access to the Building Disputes Tribunal. The Department of Fair Trading also provides advice and assistance to consumers regardless of the contract value.
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 21 October the Hon. R. S. L. Jones asked a question about greenhouse gas emissions. I can now provide the following answer:
The Government is committed to the development of ecologically sustainable industry in regional New South Wales seeking outcomes that both protect the environment and benefit regional economies. The Environment Protection Authority - EPA - is particularly concerned to ensure that the Timbarra mine employs a high standard of environment protection consistent with the sensitive nature of the site. The EPA advises me that it sought expert opinions from the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Land and Water Conservation in examining the risks associated in using cyanide in the heap leaching process, and to formulate the conditions of its pollution control approval.
The concept behind the design of the pollution control measures is to contain all cyanide within the area of the heap leach pad. An extensive monitoring and quality assurance program supports the system. These measures will also be supported by unannounced inspections by EPA officers. I am advised that Ross Mining has so far worked co-operatively with State agencies to address the issues of concern. The company has demonstrated that it will implement safeguards designed to protect ground water and local streams for stage one of the development.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTING POLICIES
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 16 September the Hon. D. J. Gay asked a question about local government accounting policies relating to Bellingen Shire Council. The Minister for Local Government has provided the following answer:
Mr Thompson’s statements originated when council’s finance manager proposed that council endorse various accounting policies in relation to asset recognition, create reserves for funding future capital purchases, use depreciation methodology and cost allocation for cost distribution. These policies are not new, nor are they specific to local government. They have been promoted by Australian Accounting Standards and indeed are integral to the running of any business - private or public. The Department of Local Government endorses Australian Accounting Standards and has issued two other documents, the Code of Accounting Practice and Asset Accounting Manual, to incorporate effective management and accounting practices in local government. These policies have been implemented by all councils in New South Wales successfully and are working well, even by councils smaller than Bellingen Shire.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 22 September the Hon. Franca Arena asked a question about monitoring advertisements. I now provide the following answer:
The Department of Fair Trading acts pro-actively in identifying and dealing with persons who breach fair trading laws in their advertising of goods and services. However, systematic monitoring of advertisements does not occur all the time. Usually such monitoring will form part of a particular program or project that targets certain conduct. The department is aware of the advertising by Hi-Tech Embryonics Pty Ltd - HTE - and has been making inquiries into its claims. Hi-Tech Embryonics has advised the department that the company offers boer goat breeders a means of increasing the size of their goatherds through superovulative embryonic transfer programs which allegedly outperform natural breeding cycles.
The Department of Agriculture has advised the Department of Fair Trading that superovulation and embryo transfer are now well-established reproductive techniques in animals. However, the future demand for boer goats and the market for goat meat cannot be accurately determined and therefore there can be no guarantees in this regard. Any offer that promises to double your money over relatively short periods needs to be approached with care and scepticism. Surveys and monitoring of marketplace conduct are standard compliance strategies adopted by the Department of Fair Trading. The industry sector and type of conduct subject to examination change in accordance with the department’s compliance priorities. The department does not require a formal complaint before it can take action.
BABY’S ARM INVESTIGATION
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 22 September the Hon. Elaine Nile asked a question about the discovery of a baby's arm in sewerage works. The Minister for Police has provided the following answer:
I am advised by Commander Crumpton of the Shoalhaven local area command that all avenues of inquiry were pursued with respect to this incident. The Ulladulla and district sewerage system was investigated and searches were made of all pumping stations in the system. These searches were continued on a daily basis for some days after the initial discovery of the arm. However, no further body parts were found. Local police arranged for the government medical officer to attend the scene. A subsequent post-mortem examination and forensic tests found the arm came from a foetus aged between 20 weeks and 36 weeks, but was unable to determine the cause of death or whether the foetus had achieved independent existence.
I am advised that police conducted comprehensive inquiries with local general medical practitioners, obstetricians and hospitals, and these enquiries are continuing. Furthermore, New South Wales police made a media address in print, on television and over the radio, calling for the mother to come forward and advising that there is a requirement to report stillbirths occurring after 20 weeks gestation. I am advised the investigation remains ongoing and the local coroner is regularly briefed on progress in this matter.
Questions without notice concluded.
OLYMPIC ROADS AND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY BILL
Message received from the Legislative Assembly agreeing to the Legislative Council’s amendments.
TOW TRUCK INDUSTRY BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [5.02 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner, the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, who spoke in support of the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
TRAFFIC AMENDMENT (TYRE DEFLATION - POLICE PURSUITS) BILL
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services), on behalf of the Hon. M. R. Egan [5.04 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The purpose of this bill is to allow the New South Wales Police Service to trial the use of tyre deflation devices in police pursuits. The trial will assess the potential of tyre deflation devices to reduce the risk to members of the public and police officers in such pursuits. This bill amends the Traffic Act 1909 to allow a general exception for police officers to deploy these devices, also known as road spikes. Although many pursuits are short-lived and do not result in injury or damage, a significant number of pursuits have posed a threat to other road users and their property. This year alone, police have pursued 228 vehicles involved in serious criminal offences including drug offences, ram raids, armed robbery, kidnapping, break enter and steal, and home invasions. A further 330 pursuits involved stolen motor vehicles. If the police discontinue a pursuit, they risk the offender continuing on and creating a greater threat of serious injury or death for innocent law-abiding motorists and members of the community. This Government wants to save lives by developing better methods for deterring pursuits.
The Government and the Police Service have been working together to examine a number of strategies that can be used to reduce risks in such pursuits. The option of using road spikes offers significant potential benefits. The devices are metre-long triangles of foam encasing hollow steel spikes. As the offending vehicle travels over the device, the spikes detach and lodge in the vehicle’s tyres, which gradually deflate so that the vehicle slows down within a short distance. Police tests under controlled road conditions have demonstrated the success of these devices in stopping high-speed vehicles. These devices have also been successfully deployed in the United States and in New Zealand. There are significant potential benefits in using tyre deflation devices. They allow police engaged in high speed pursuits to stop speeding offenders more safely; they allow police to halt pursuits more quickly, reducing the risk of injury; they act as a deterrent to engaging in high-speed pursuits and increase the likelihood of apprehension; and they make our roads safer for motorists.
The initial trial by the police will assess the operational effectiveness of road spikes and examine any safety implications for both police and the public. Before any trial commences the Police Service will draft standard operating procedures to cover the deployment of the spikes. These will be subject to approval from the Roads and Traffic Authority with input from the Attorney-General’s Department. As part of the standard operating procedures, road spikes will be used only with authorisation from a duty operations inspector or a local area commander. These guidelines will build on existing rules for the police when they engage in pursuits and urgent duties. Only trained senior officers will be able to use the devices. Training will emphasise safety considerations. During the trial period the police will use the devices at selected sites in metropolitan and rural areas. The trial will run for approximately 12 months. The Police Service and the Roads and Traffic Authority will then evaluate the effectiveness of the trial and submit a report to the Minister for Roads.
I note that the bill was amended in another place to create a better framework for the trial. I also note the support expressed for the bill by the Opposition in another place. In relation to the amendment, it is the intention of the Government to table the results of the trial and the final standard operating procedures four weeks before debate is undertaken on the motion to continue to allow the use of tyre deflation devices. This Government is committed to making our roads safer and to providing police with sufficient resources to enable them to play their part in assisting to achieve road safety. The trial of tyre deflation devices sends a clear message to irresponsible and criminal offenders behind the wheel who attempt to evade enforcement - they will be apprehended by police. The use of road spikes in police pursuits is another one of many road safety initiatives introduced by the Carr Government for the people of New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER [5.04 p.m.]: The Opposition is pleased to support the Traffic Amendment (Tyre Deflation - Police Pursuits) Bill. The objects of the bill are to enhance the commencement of a 12-month trial of road spikes throughout New South Wales and to examine the possibility of using road spikes permanently throughout New South Wales if the trial is successful. The Opposition has a number of concerns about the bill. It is important to acknowledge that this issue is not fresh and has not resulted from a serious motor vehicle accident following a recent police pursuit. It is yet another
example of the Government preparing itself for an election. Clearly, the Government is removing from the decks all possible law and order issues that it believes will fall.
In the last weeks the Government has been preparing for an election by introducing the home invasion legislation. The use of road spikes in police pursuits is another example of the Government getting serious about the causes of crime, which is representative of the rhetoric of the last few years. Four years ago Staysafe report No. 27 recommended the trial of road spikes in police pursuits, but the Government ignored it and it remained in limbo. When the Government realised that it did not have much to offer for the election it decided to beat its chest and say it was getting tough on criminals. It scratched around and said, "What can we put together in a brief in this last couple of weeks to make it look as if we are fair dinkum?"
The Opposition has been monitoring this issue for the past four years and throughout discussions over the past 10 years. Of course, since the Staysafe committee report on police pursuits was published the road spikes issue has come to the fore. In early 1996 the Police Service began a series of road spike trials at the police academy and there have also been trials in Canberra. No doubt in his reply the Minister will allude to the fact that this legislation will take the use of road spikes onto public streets. The Opposition accepts that proposal, but the road spikes trial has been on the drawing board for four years.
It is an indictment of the Government to say it will now conduct the trials on streets. Nothing happened in the interim between the Staysafe recommendation and the introduction of this bill. The Government will say, "We waited for technology to improve. The circumstances at that time were such that we felt advances were not in the best interests of the community, but changes have been forthcoming." The Government realises now that it has nothing to take to the community on law enforcement and it will try to hang its hat on this issue.
I have read the speeches of other members and it is interesting to note that many of them talked about police pursuits. Very little has been said in the debate about what constitutes a pursuit. Is it merely the point where blue lights and sirens are activated? Is it when a police officer is trying to stop an offender, which is the classic situation that comes to many people’s minds? Of course, there are many other cases where police are simply trying to catch up with an offender and excessive speed is used in the process. Does that constitute a pursuit for the purpose of this debate? I refer to the work done by the men and women of the police highway patrol. It is unfortunate that the highway patrol is often maligned. It not only reduces accident trauma on New South Wales roads but sometimes stops people for traffic offences who are wanted for more serious offences.
Some years ago an examination was made of the speeds being reached by members of the Gosford highway patrol. Quite often officers working on the F3 reached speeds well in excess of 200 kilometres per hour during a pursuit. That might seem like a ridiculous figure to many honourable members, but it is not. For example, a police officer may be working a mobile radar and an offender may be travelling at 150 or 160 kilometres per hour in the opposite direction - that is not an unusual speed on the F3. Therefore, the police officer must stop his vehicle, turn it around and then commence pursuit of the offending vehicle.
Police officers are putting their lives on the line for nothing more than a traffic infringement. Not all traffic offenders have committed other indictable laws under the Crimes Act; they may be simply exceeding the speed limit. The public often criticises members of the highway patrol and says that they are nothing more than revenue raisers for the Government. However, the highway patrol is playing a valuable role in law enforcement in New South Wales. It should be congratulated.
The promotion and utilisation of the traffic spike technology will fall primarily at the feet of highway patrol officers. Honourable members in another place have been told that the technology is currently available in the United States of America, New Zealand and Europe. I do not know whether police officers using this technology are specifically traffic enforcement officers - as are our highway patrol personnel - whether they are trained for the sole purpose of this sort of work or whether they are general duty police. However, I suggest New South Wales will utilise highway patrol officers to do this sort of work. It is important that highway patrol officers are consulted on this issue. Police in the traffic unit at the Ferguson Centre will be involved as well, but it is important that we utilise the expertise of the highway patrol officers.
There must be consultation in this regard. Some people may believe that using traffic spikes is simply a matter of putting them on the road and the offender running over them - end of the story. However, there may be situations where police are pursuing an offender who is a couple of hundred metres in front of them and, in turn, members of the
public may be in front of the offender. Therefore, it would be almost impossible for the police to put the road spikes on the road in such a way that they affected only the offender’s vehicle. In such cases traffic spikes will not be the answer. They are being promoted as a way to solve the number of accidents that occur as a result of pursuits. However, they are but another tool the Police Service will be able to use during police pursuits.
I cite a report in the well-read Toledo Blade about police officers who placed traffic spikes on the roadway to stop an offender wanted for allegedly knocking down a pedestrian. Police were pursuing the offender. The offender ran over the traffic spikes in a town called Fremont, puncturing two tyres. The police vehicle also ran over the spikes, puncturing all its tyres. It was incapable of continuing the pursuit. The offender continued, however, for another 20 or 30 minutes before another police officer put down more traffic spikes on the roadway. These traffic spikes punctured the remaining two tyres. However - surprise, surprise - the offending vehicle did not stop, even though it had four punctured tyres, and continued for another 10 miles at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.
That classic example indicates that traffic spikes will not work on all occasions. However, they will work sometimes. The expressways in the United States of America are not dissimilar to the expressways in New South Wales. Police will not continue the chase when their tyres are punctured and the offenders will escape. Traffic spikes are not the easy answer to police pursuits. Other methods are utilised in other parts of the world. For example, New Zealand uses road blocks. The Parliament should look at the methodology behind the road block system. It will not be the only answer but another answer to the problem.
People who ask why road spikes should be utilised need look no further than an incident that occurred on the F3 north of Sydney last Sunday. An offender rammed the random breath testing site at Mount White at about 2.00 a.m. before travelling another 50 or 60 kilometres to an area north of Wyong known as Wallarah Creek. The police pursued the offender, who was driving a stolen vehicle and who was wanted by police for armed robbery offences in the Hornsby area. They reached speeds of 160 kilometres per hour. When the police reached the Wallarah Creek area it was necessary for them to change from radio channel 87 to 89. The duty operations inspector then decided to call off the pursuit.
The pursuit had taken place safely for 50 or 60 kilometres, but once those involved entered the Newcastle district it was called off, which was unfortunate. The offender returned to the Sydney metropolitan area the next day and committed a number of bag-snatching offences. Had he been stopped on the F3 he may not have committed those offences the following day. Who knows what other crimes he may have committed had he not been arrested subsequently by the police?
Had road spikes been used, it may well be that the offender could have been stopped. People may have been spared the trauma of becoming the victims of crime some days later. On the other hand, had the road spikes been used and found to be not successful, other methods such as road blocks should have been considered and possibly employed to stop the offender from getting away. As I have said, the Opposition is pleased to support the Government’s initiative on road spikes.
It is important at the outset, however, to record the Opposition’s concern that this amendment to the Traffic Act is not the simple answer to police pursuits. The Government should go further and consider alternative measures such as road blocks and other processes that are being used elsewhere in the world. I am sure that law enforcement bodies in the United States of America and in New Zealand are not hanging their hats on traffic spikes only. The Government’s rationale behind this bill is simply to give it the ability in the lead-up to the State election campaign to say that it is doing something serious about police pursuits, when in fact it is not.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [5.21 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports this bill, which amends the Traffic Act to provide for the use by police officers of tyre deflation devices in the pursuit of vehicles. The bill allows police officers to use tyre deflation devices to assist them in stopping a vehicle. As the Hon. M. J. Gallacher has said, the use of road spikes in other countries, including the United States of America, has not always proved to be successful. One would imagine a car driving over spikes and having its tyres deflate instantly, but the process involved with this device is slow. It is possible that if the person breaking the law were a good driver he may be able to continue driving for a short time, even when the tyres were flat. It is not impossible to run a vehicle on the rims of tyres. The Christian Democratic Party supports the Government’s intention to have this device trialled at least. This is an attempt to assist the police in carrying out their duties.
We have witnessed the growth of a new phenomenon of people being prepared to take on the police. Sometimes people steal cars capable of very high speeds - often those cars are faster than police cars - and almost challenge the police to catch them. Offenders race through suburban areas at very high speeds of up to 150 or 200 kilometres per hour. By travelling at such high speed they put at risk the police officers who are trying to apprehend them and drivers of other vehicles who are going about their lawful activities. This tragedy has been evident in Sydney and in other capital cities. There have been instances of a pursued vehicle colliding with a car in which a family is travelling. Recently there was the tragedy of a family suffering deaths and injuries as a result of such a collision.
The police have no option but to carry out pursuits. I would be opposed to any directive for the police to not carry out pursuits. The police may embark on a pursuit for various reasons. It could be that they are following someone who has robbed a bank or a credit union or someone who has perpetrated a shooting offence and is racing away from the crime scene. It would be a further incitement for some people to break the law and organise a fast getaway if they felt that the police had their hands tied. There should be no encouragement for people to think that they can bluff the police and get away with it. The police have to play it tough, which may mean putting themselves at risk.
Our eldest son, Stephen, spent many years working with the highway patrol in the Blue Mountains, one of the areas of this State in which vehicles speed. It is to be hoped that this trial will be successful. As has been pointed out by the Hon. M. J. Gallacher, however, it will be necessary for the Government and the police to test other methods to assist in the pursuit of vehicles. Road blocks should be investigated. It would not be satisfactory to put a police car in a road block. Some criminals would be happy to drive into a police car or at the very least try to push a police car out of the way, which could well injure officers in a vehicle. Obviously, a road block would need to consist of something stronger than a Holden or Ford police car.
The number of vehicles pursued has increased over recent years. This year alone the police have pursued 228 vehicles involved in serious criminal offences including drug offences; ram raids; armed robbery; break, enter and steal; and home invasion. Ram raids have become more frequent. Shops selling attractive items sometimes have bolted to the ground outside great steel posts, which are designed to stop a vehicle from driving straight through the front window. Shops have been subject to ram raids even in Gerringong, a small village near where we live at Gerroa. That demonstrates the ruthlessness of criminals.
A ram raid involves a vehicle travelling at speed sufficient to smash straight into a shop, enabling offenders to grab whatever they can get hold of - often electrical equipment of some description - and then drive away before the police can arrive. It is when the police are alerted that the possibility of vehicle pursuit arises. This year there have been 330 pursuits involving stolen motor vehicles. Quite often the drivers of stolen vehicles are very young, sometimes even below the licensing age - I know of one who was only 14 years of age. It is a tragedy that young people are prepared to take such risks and put the lives of others in danger.
This bill is an attempt to save lives by implementing improved methods for police pursuits. Tyre deflation devices consist of metre-long triangles of foam encasing hollow steel spikes. The road spikes can be used in lengths from three to five metres, either locked into one another or placed in a nylon sleeve. As the offending vehicle travels over the device the spikes detach and lodge in the vehicle’s tyres, which uniformly and gradually deflate, so that the vehicle slows down within a short distance. Obviously, a vehicle cannot continue to travel at great speed when it has flat tyres. The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support this bill and looks forward to the results of this trial and the further standard operating procedures that will be adopted to assist the police in the use of these devices.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [5.28 p.m.]: I support the Traffic Amendment (Tyre Deflation - Police Pursuits) Bill.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: I can feel my tyres going down already.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Then perhaps the honourable member should go and have a cup of tea. This bill allows police officers to use tyre deflation devices to stop or assist in stopping more safely, more quickly and with less injury a vehicle that is being pursued by police. Tyre deflation devices are metre-long triangles of foam encasing hollow steel spikes. The road spikes can be used in lengths from three to five metres, either locked into one another or placed in a nylon sleeve. The spikes detach and lodge into the tyres of a pursued vehicle as it travels over the device. The tyres are uniformly and gradually deflated, so that the vehicle slows
down within a short distance. I asked the Minister’s advisers whether the devices could be put in front of speeding vehicles by way of helicopter, but apparently that method will not be tried just yet. A police car will have to be in front of a speeding vehicle before the devices are placed in front of that car.
The crossbench meeting was concerned about whether the tyres would deflate too quickly and the car would then career off the road. But apparently the devices will deflate the tyres in a slow, gradual process rather than with an instant explosion, which would obviously be counterproductive. An authorisation is needed so that police can conduct an initial trial to assess the operational effectiveness of the devices, and to examine the safety implications for both the police and the public. The trial will be conducted at selected sites in metropolitan and rural areas, according to standard operating procedures to be developed by the Police Service and approved by the Roads and Traffic Authority. The trial is expected to begin in February 1999 and run for twelve months.
The Police Service and the RTA will then submit to the Minister for Transport a report on the effectiveness of the trial. My two major concerns about the bill are: why are police officers to be given a general exemption from the Traffic Act 1909 to deploy tyre deflation devices, rather than a limited exemption for the period of the trial; and why will not the results of the trial - that is the report on the effectiveness of the devices - be tabled in Parliament? In my opinion only a limited exemption should be given, and the report on the trial should be tabled in Parliament so that members will have a basis upon which to decide whether to grant a further or general exemption.
My adviser, Jeni Emblem, rang the Minister’s office on Friday, 16 October, to raise these concerns. The Opposition subsequently raised this matter with the Government and the Minister addressed it in the lower House by inserting a sunset clause in the bill. The clause states that unless either House of Parliament passes a resolution to the contrary, the general exemption will cease to have effect one year after the day on which it commences. Stewart England, the ministerial policy adviser, has agreed to have the Minister give an undertaking in this House that the report on the effectiveness of the tyre deflation device trial will be tabled in Parliament in a reasonable period of time before a decision needs to be made about a resolution to extend the exemption. I support the legislation in the hope that it will save lives that, experience has shown us, can be tragically lost through police chases.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [5.32 p.m.], in reply: During the course of his contribution to the debate the Hon. M. J. Gallacher spoke of the need to consult with police. The reason for a trial is to ensure that police have an opportunity to examine the issues raised by the Hon. M. J. Gallacher. The police will conduct the trial, and the trial will be subject to standard operating procedures drafted, with input from both the Attorney General’s Department and the Roads and Traffic Authority. The principal focus of the exercise is safety on our roads, and the Government has introduced this bill to promote that objective. With those few comments, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
WATER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (DRINKING WATER AND CORPORATE STRUCTURE) BILL
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading), on behalf of the Hon. M. R. Egan [5.34 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The recent contamination of Sydney’s drinking water supply raised some very serious questions about public accountability and the protection of public health. So much so, that the Government ordered an independent inquiry, headed by Mr Peter McClellan, QC, to assess both the causes and public management of the first and subsequent contamination incidents. As honourable members will be aware, the Government immediately took control of the situation following the failure by Sydney Water and the relevant authorities to adequately inform the public of the initial outbreak of giardia and cryptosporidium in Sydney’s drinking water supply. As honourable members will also be aware, the McClellan inquiry has already produced two interim reports, the latter of which deals specifically with this issue of management.
The first interim report concentrated primarily on the possible causes of the contamination. These remain the subject of investigation by the McClellan inquiry. It is McClellan’s second interim report and its recommendations to which this bill relates. This second report identifies a number of important policy issues which need to be addressed to improve drinking water quality management. In particular, the second interim report has made a number of important
recommendations in light of the contamination incidents, including: that the statutory powers of the department of health be strengthened; and that the structure of the Sydney Water Corporation be reviewed. The legislative amendments proposed by the Water Legislation Amendment (Drinking Water and Corporate Structure) Bill 1998 address both these issues.
In respect to the Department of Health, the bill proposes amendments to the Public Health Act 1991 which will see: tough new penalties of up to $1.1 million for a corporation for the failure of any water supplier to inform the public regarding the safety of drinking water; the Chief Health Officer with the Department of Health carrying exclusive responsibility for the issuing of "boil water" alerts in relation to any supplier of unpackaged drinking water; new regulatory powers for the Director-General of the Department of Health; and the ability for health officials - on the Director-General’s authority - to inspect, sample, or obtain information in relation to the quality of unpackaged drinking water. Specifically, the bill proposes the insertion of a new part 2A into the Public Health Act 1991, which will deal with the safety of drinking water.
The proposed part 2A will apply to suppliers of unpackaged water, which includes Sydney Water and Hunter Water, local councils supplying water, and persons who supply water as part of a commercial undertaking. Included in part 2A is proposed section 10E, which provides that the Director-General of the Department of Health may declare that the chief health officer has the exclusive function of deciding whether to issue a "boil-water advice" in relation to any supplier of drinking water. The bill also proposes new regulatory powers for the Director-General of the Department of Health. Proposed section 10F allows a person authorised by the Director-General of the department to enter the premises of any supplier of drinking water and carry out certain examinations and inspections, take samples of water, and require the production of records.
Proposed section 10G provides the Director-General with the power to require a supplier of drinking water to carry out tests on water, or substances used in or produced by the treatment of water. Proposed section 10H provides the Director-General with power to direct a supplier of drinking water to produce information concerning the quality of drinking water and the methods by which the water has been treated. Proposed section 10M allows for regulations to be made regarding quality assurance programs to be undertaken by suppliers of drinking water. The bill also proposes severe penalties for breaching certain of the provisions in the proposed part 2A. Amendments to the Water Board (Corporatisation) Act 1991, the Hunter Water Board (Corporation) Act 1991 and the State Owned Corporations Act 1989 are also proposed by the bill.
The effect of these amendments will be to change the Sydney and Hunter Water Corporations from company state-owned corporations into statutory state-owned corporations under the State Owned Corporations Act 1989. The bill provides that when Sydney and Hunter Water are established as statutory state-owned corporations, there will be no material disruption to the business of the corporations. The proposed change will, however, improve the ability of the portfolio Minister to direct the corporations and to access information in the public interest. Under the company state-owned corporations model, the portfolio Minister is not entitled to access information that does specifically relation to the regulation of the operating licences of the corporations, even if such information is in the public interest. These proposed legislative changes also ensure the boards of these corporations must take into account government policy in their decision making.
As a result of the proposed changes, the portfolio Minister will have the power, under section 20P of the State Owned Corporations Act, to give the boards of Sydney Water and Hunter Water directions that are in the public interest. This will, however, need the approval of the Treasurer and requires consultation with the board of the state-owned corporation. The recent contamination events have highlighted the need for these proposed changes if the public interest is to be protected. Those events have also shown that in certain circumstances it will not be practical for the portfolio Minister to first consult with the boards of Sydney Water or Hunter Water before giving a direction in the public interest. Consequently, these proposed amendments enable the portfolio Minister to give a direction that is in the public interest without first consulting the relevant board if that is warranted on the grounds of urgency, public health or safety.
In addition, section 29 of the State Owned Corporations Act will enable the portfolio Minister to access information in the public interest. This bill is an effective and appropriate legislative response to the recent contamination of Sydney’s drinking water supply, and more specifically to the recommendations of the McClellan inquiry. It is about increasing public accountability as should be expected with such an important public utility. The priority of this Government has, and will remain, to protect public health. This bill ensures the most stringent measures are adopted to achieve this aim. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN [5.35 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose this bill. However, I must inform the House that at this moment discussions are ongoing between the shadow minister, community groups and members of the crossbench with regard to potential amendments to the bill. A while ago I got the impression that the Government desired to somehow gun this bill through this House before there was any opportunity for those discussions to take place. I can assure the House that I will do everything I can to ensure that those discussions take place.
The Hon. J. W. Shaw: You ought to be succinct, because there is no substance in what you are saying about that.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: The substance is that discussions are currently taking place. This bill is the only action that the Government has taken in response to the water crisis in Sydney a little more than a month ago. The Government has not announced any plan to clean up Sydney’s water. Honourable members have not received any overt knowledge about any investigation of new measures to enhance the water treatment process at Prospect. To date honourable members have had only obfuscation and cover-up from the Government. The Government will not allow this House to see documents that might be relevant. There has been an absolute intransigence on the part of the Government to let this House know anything with regard to the safety of our water or how it might have been compromised.
It could be said that one or two clauses of the bill are necessary simply because the previous arrangement made by this Government to politicise the leadership of the Water Board compromised the management of Sydney Water in that it would not swiftly and speedily make the public aware of when the water was at risk. Consequently, it has been necessary for the bill to provide for powers to investigate the quality of water with regard to health, and for the Minister for Health and his officers, without having to consult anyone within Sydney Water, to be empowered to make public statements about the safety of our drinking water.
Those powers have become necessary - as recommended in the report of Peter McClellan - because there was a doubt that the former Chairman of Sydney Water, the well-known Labor identity David Hill, might have obfuscated that important point when he should have been candid to the public about the potential risk to Sydney’s drinking water simply because at the time it would have been embarrassing for him and his aspirations as a candidate at the recent Federal election.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: An unsuccessful candidate.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: Indeed, he was unsuccessful, but at the time he had a conflict of interest. As Chairman of Sydney Water his duty to the public, the Government and even this Parliament was to inform us of the significant risk to our water quality. His conflict was that he was an Australian Labor Party candidate at the elections, and of course he was trying to make sure that he was not embarrassed personally by any bad news given to the public.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Are you aware that the former Chairman, John McMurtrie, read about his sacking by the Treasurer in the paper when he was replaced by David Hill?
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: No, I am not aware of that but it is not inconsistent with how this Government has managed Sydney Water. To some extent the public scrutiny of Sydney Water is out of control. I had the displeasure, one might say, of chairing the North Head sewerage tunnel committee, and my experience of getting information from Sydney Water was not pleasant. One of the most important facts I needed to know about the tunnel was the volume of water coming from a site in Lane Cove when it rained.
I was told that 840 megalitres a day would come from the site, which meant that a large facility would have to be built if the water was to be treated on site. Sydney Water did not tell me or the committee at the time, and the committee found out only by accident, that although that was the amount of water that would flow from that site, it would do so, at the most, for five minutes or an hour during any one year. I was given the impression that 840 megalitres would flow from the site for an extended period when the truth was that it represented all the water that would come from the site during the course of any one year.
The committee managed to discover that important piece of information only when the report was nearly completed. Of course, it meant that the technology required was significantly different. Instead of requiring a facility the size of a large football field at Lane Cove, it meant that a significantly smaller and cheaper facility could have been built at that site, which might have replaced the north side storage tunnel and obviated the environmental damage that will occur to the northern suburbs of Sydney as a result of that construction. But also it would have saved Sydney Water $200 million in capital works, an amount it would appear that is sorely needed by Sydney Water to address its capital spending.
I am told that Sydney Water’s capital expenditure from now until well after the year 2000 is fully committed to a series of environmental works, one of the most significant of which is the north side storage tunnel itself. It appears to have this capacity because the Government is focused on the need to do something about Sydney Harbour. The tunnel will make the water safe to swim in for an extra two weeks a year - a period in which it may well rain and no-one will want to swim in any event. Therefore the money will be squandered just to make the harbour look better for the Sydney Olympics - while the basic needs of the people of New South Wales to have a safe and potable supply of water are ignored by the Government.
The Government sought to find something it could do in Parliament so that it would be seen to be concerned. The bill looks lengthy, important and complicated but, in reality, with the exception of the powers given to the Minister for Health, it does nothing much more than allow the Minister to do pretty much what he has been able to do with a modicum of organisation all along - give instructions to the board of Sydney Water. The enhancement in the ministerial control over Sydney Water arises in schedule 3, which makes certain amendments to the Water Board (Corporatisation) Act. The amendment of most significance is the one that allows the Minister to give directions to Sydney Water in the
public interest. The bill will add a new clause 93A to the Water Board (Corporatisation) Act as follows:
(1) A direction may be given to the board of the Corporation under section 20P of the State Owned Corporations Act 1989 without compliance with subsection (3) of that section if the portfolio Minister decides that this action is warranted on grounds involving urgency, public health or public safety.
(2) The notice referred to in section 20P of the State Owned Corporations Act 1989 is to include a statement of the reasons for that decision.
The circumstances in which the portfolio Minister might make those directions have been left totally undefined. He is able to make those directions when he deems them to be in the public interest. It would be hard to imagine circumstances in which it would not be possible for the Minister of the day to give directions to Sydney Water that were not seen to be in the public interest. In response, the Government has said that it has been put to the Opposition that the concept of public interest is wider than the concept laid down in the existing legislation of commercial versus non-commercial; but never in the past has the Minister complained to the House that he has been stymied by the existing legislation. In fact, on a number of occasions the Minister has told the Parliament, either in ministerial statements or during question time in discussing other legislation, that he has been perfectly content with the existing structures for the administration of Sydney Water.
The Opposition has been left with the uneasy suspicion that the real motivation behind the bill was not a lack of power in the Minister but that the bill is just a showpiece to indicate to the public that the Government was responding to the crisis in Sydney Water. Accordingly, the Minister has brought forward a piece of legislation that can hardly be seen to be a strong response to the serious concerns raised.
Sydney must be the only place in the world where a government has attempted to respond to a water crisis with an Act of Parliament. I do not know that an Act of Parliament will be effective. What is probably needed is a significant increase in capital expenditure on the part of Sydney Water, but any increase in capital expenditure has been hopelessly compromised by at least two sets of decisions that I can think of. The first is the fact that the bulk of Sydney Water’s capital expenditure is tied up in the north side storage tunnel; the second is that the Government has been pillaging Sydney Water in order to increase its annual dividend take to patch up the problems it has with its own budget.
I recall members opposite becoming very concerned when the Greiner Government, at the time of the worst recession that this country has suffered in decades, needed to balance its budget. In those times of economic stringency it made two requirements of Sydney Water to deliver two $100 million dividends to the Government as a special one-off response to that particularly difficult crisis. This Government has had an unbelievable revenue windfall in stamp duties and land tax. Its receipts from those taxes have skyrocketed, yet the Government has still seen the need over the past three years to strip $820 million - not $200 million dollars over two separate years - from Sydney Water. How on earth will this crisis be solved when Sydney Water has been raided mercilessly and has had its capital works budget tied up in what is essentially a piece of window-dressing for Sydney Harbour?
I have had another concern about the Government’s response to the crisis of Sydney Water. Honourable members heard some time ago that residents of Sydney would receive a $15 rebate as some sort of compensation for their lost access to clean water during the crisis. It may interest honourable members to know that many people, for instance the residents of Penrith, who endured the crisis for almost three weeks, will not receive that rebate, useless as it is, because it has been specifically limited to a short period during the first week or so of the crisis. So parts of Sydney, such as Penrith, that endured the second cryptosporidium crisis for some weeks will get no benefit from the rebate while other parts of Sydney will receive the $15 rebate. Some people who thought they were due for a $15 reduction in their water bill might find they are sorely mistaken.
The House is still waiting for the documents that the Government is sitting on in the absence of its leader in this House, documents that may well be important in helping this House to judge whether there has been a sufficient response to clean up our water. Recently the Government announced that additional powers have been given to Mr McClellan to investigate the letting of contracts for the Prospect water treatment plant. In the circumstances I find it fascinating that there is to be a royal commission into occurrences during the term of the previous Government. Apparently it is all right for Mr McClellan to ask the Sydney Water Corporation to hand over whatever documents it thinks might be relevant to the recent crisis. It is amazing that there will be a royal commission into what will probably be a political point-scoring exercise for the Government on substantially old issues, yet we do not have access to information about the more recent crisis.
It is amazing that Mr McClellan will not have significant power to investigate the actions of the Government in, first, not giving timely information to the public when the water was known to be contaminated, and, second, in responding to recommendations by either Australian Water Technologies or Sydney Water about upgrades to the Prospect drinking water treatment plant during the time of its administration. The public will not wear a whitewash. I suspect that any report produced under those circumstances will be hopelessly compromised, because it appears that the Government is interested in political point scoring rather than making substantial changes to the Sydney Water Corporation. The Opposition will not oppose the bill, but it is certainly not impressed with it as a significant response to the questions that everyone in Sydney is asking about the quality of our water.
The Hon. I. COHEN [5.51 p.m.]: The Greens New South Wales support the Water Legislation Amendment (Drinking Water and Corporate Structure) Bill, which is long overdue. Because the legislation is a function of the competing priorities of implementing necessary change and being able to inform that process of change, it does not go far enough. I congratulate Mr Peter McClellan on his progress with the inquiry. His two interim reports have been informative, thorough and straightforward, and the legislation reflects a number of his recommendations.
His second interim report outlines a series of statutory powers of New South Wales Health that need to be strengthened, including, first, to require tests and other quality assurance processes to be undertaken by water suppliers; second, to require water suppliers to disclose to New South Wales Health a range of information that is necessary for the proper evaluation of drinking water safety; third, to declare public health alerts in relation to drinking water supplied by any authority; and, fourth, to consider whether New South Wales Health is appropriately resourced to accept the role as an effective regulator of the water supply.
The current capacity of the water distribution system must be bolstered by the development of improved technical knowledge of both Sydney Water and other water authorities. While the bill addresses some of the concerns listed by Mr McClellan, it does not provide for appropriate resourcing of New South Wales Health to cope with the increased regulatory powers. I am surprised that the Sydney Water Corporation is perhaps best known for its ability to be used as a milch cow by both the Government and the coalition when it was in Government, and yet no sum was allocated to New South Wales Health for its role in the regulation of Sydney Water. Whatever happened to user pays?
There is a role for New South Wales Health as a licenser of all water supply authorities and it should be able to charge a licence fee for this service. If there are continual breaches of a safe and reliable supply of water there should be a mechanism that allows the Government to rescind a water supply authority’s operating licence. Perhaps this could be provided in future legislation. It is quite clear that the bulk of Peter McClellan’s recommendations will not be able to be implemented by the Government. It seems that a strong motivation for this legislation is the fact that the Government is not willing to go to an election without having delivered something, however superficial it may be. The Minister’s office clearly stated that this legislation will not be postponed until after the third interim report of the inquiry is tabled, which is expected to be at the end of next week.
The Government will be able to say that it delivered the mechanism for providing safe drinking water to Sydney. I hope that the Minister is questioned by inquiring journalistic minds on how this bill actually delivers safe drinking water to Sydney. The bill is nothing but a small step towards that aim. The Minister will be anxious that there is not a similar water crisis prior to the election. If there is, the buck will fairly and squarely rest with him and the Government’s response. I hope for his sake and for the people of the State that when he reads this bill he sees, first, a clear and transparent process of setting water quality targets. The Chief Health Officer would benefit from being assisted by a health, science and water technology committee to determine water quality standards and to establish protocols relating to the issuing of boil-water alerts.
I hope the Minister sees, second, a process for making regular monitoring results available not only to relevant government departments such as New South Wales Health but also to the general public. Results, that is raw data from every department, should be published on the Internet within three days. In addition, there should be tabled in Parliament each quarter consumer confidence reports that analyse the available data - including literature reviews of relevant trends in environmental health in other ares, both Australiawide and internationally - and provide a complete overview of the current quality of water storages and quality of catchments.
I hope the Minister sees, third, provision for an expertise-based board that is well advised in ecologically sustainable development, public health,
consumer safety and communication. No specific organisation should have privileged powers over a public resource such as water. There are many other worthy organisations such as the Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Consumers Association and the New South Wales Labor Council, but the board positions should be linked to specific qualifications and experiences of individuals, not organisations. I hope the Minister sees, fourth, prohibitive penalties in line with the size of the corporations and the risk of civil litigation that could follow adverse test results.
Specifically the bill should increase penalties in new sections 10G and 10I to 10,000 penalty units in the case of a corporation, or 2,500 units in any other case. That would be consistent with other penalties throughout the bill and act as a disincentive to a water supply corporation deciding that it may be cheaper to pay the penalty than to allow inspection, or tests, to be carried out and face higher penalties or litigation. If the Minister does not agree that the bill delivers those fundamental issues he may need to consider how he will account to the people of Sydney should they face another water crisis before the election. Somehow I do not think his contention that "I was waiting for the final report" will be a strong argument, considering that he was prepared to move the legislation through the House. The Opposition will have plenty of ammunition and will tell the community that the Government was too busy to consult on this matter.
The Government will not consider reasonable amendments proposed by environmental and consumer organisations. The Government will meet with them, but only an hour prior to debate on the bill. This is not true consultation, which is what the Greens always ask for. It is more appropriately described as notification rather than consultation, and is not helpful. If the Government believes that notification is consultation, the bill will pass through seemingly unopposed. That is a shame because it results in legislation being rushed through the House. This issue is of the utmost importance as we face the coming summer. The Greens would like the issue to be outside the realms of political point scoring and it would like resolution and proper monitoring so that Sydney has safe drinking water. People should be kept informed, particularly as we approach the next State election.
I look forward to having time to consult on the amendments that have been drafted with the support of Dr Peter Macdonald. He is a seasoned campaigner on water supply, as his track record attests. He was a member of a committee of inquiry into Sydney Water and he is an activist for clean water. As a Green I look forward to the resolution of these problems so that we have clean drinking water and so that the catchments that supply our water are treated with the respect they deserve. The people should be able to drink Sydney’s water with a degree of confidence that they presently do not have.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [5.59 p.m.]: The Democrats are concerned that this legislation has been introduced before the McClellan inquiry has reported. It would be wiser to delay the legislation until the overall picture was clearer; action could then be taken. This legislation seems to give the corporation less autonomy and the Minister more influence, which may or may not be good. Obviously, that is when the report becomes important. The bill has some significant omissions. It does not provide a mechanism for setting minimum quality standards for drinking water, it does not require suppliers of drinking water to notify the Health Department when the supplier knows or suspects that the drinking water is or may be substandard, and it fails to impose sufficient sanctions or penalties on the Hunter Water Corporation and Sydney Water for contravention of licence conditions in regard to quality requirements.
The problem dates back many years. I can remember Bob Wilson complaining that the then Water Board had to set and monitor its own standards and then report its own breaches, basically because the Environment Protection Authority did not have the resources to do so. That problem does not appear to have been corrected in this legislation. Standards are set in the operating licences but they seem to be formulated in close co-operation with Sydney Water. That does not seem to be an adequate mechanism. The standard for potable water is not set. This legislation does not provide a mechanism for setting such a standard; it merely enables the director-general or the chief health officer to issue health alerts and carry out audits of water supplies to ascertain quality.
To my knowledge, water suppliers other than Hunter Water and Sydney Water have no standards whatever imposed on them. This amending bill can remedy that anomaly by requiring the operating licences of Hunter Water and Sydney Water to specify minimum quality standards. That would ensure that water quality standards are adequately specified by the licensor, that is, the Government. Incidentally, it is this Government that issued the inadequate licence to Sydney Water. As I said, this amending bill does not impose a requirement on drinking water suppliers to notify the relevant Minister or the Director-General of the Health Department when the supplier is aware or suspects
that the drinking water is substandard. That anomaly could be easily remedied by imposing a statutory obligation in that regard, and this amending bill should be the means by which that is achieved.
Apart from civil penalties under common law and the Trade Practices Act, no significant penalties are provided for water suppliers that deliver substandard drinking water. As no water quality standards seem to be imposed on suppliers, no penalties are imposed on the suppliers of substandard water; and as there are no stringent water quality requirements, such penalties are unlikely to be effectual. Moreover, the penalties are imposed on corporate entities, not the individuals responsible. In such circumstances the community ultimately pays through either increased charges or reduced dividends. The Democrats are of the view that standards are critical and that the legislation is going through somewhat precipitously as the McClellan inquiry has not yet reported to the Parliament. We suggest that these issues be addressed before the legislation is passed or even discussed further.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [6.04 p.m.]: The issue of Sydney Water and water quality has been with us for many years. Honourable members of this House would have been involved in or be aware of the various investigations into the quality of Sydney’s water that have taken place over the years. This legislation should not be necessary. The Parliament should wait for the McClellan report first and then take immediate action upon receipt of that report. Recently I was talking to the proverbial taxidriver, who said that he and other taxidrivers are saying the same thing - and they seem to know about everything that is going on. The taxidriver said, "Why don’t they just address the problem - spend whatever money is necessary and fix the cryptosporidium and giardia problem?"
It will cost a fair bit of money to fix the cryptosporidium and giardia problem. It is rumoured that it will cost up to $200 million to use the membrane filtration technology - I have talked about that in this House many times over the years. For some reason Sydney Water rejected Memtech. The company went overseas and has now been bought by an overseas company, which is a great tragedy. On 29 April 1993 I asked a question of the then Minister Robert Webster about the catchment and the money being spent on the water treatment plant. In his answer he said, among other things:
There is concern in the community about the amount of chlorine, alum and other chemicals that are being used in the treatment of the water we drink today.
He further said that the water:
will be equal to the very best in the world, because [of] the technology . . . It will be purer, sweeter-tasting and it will come to the consumers of Sydney in the very near future.
That has a ring of irony about it. Our water contains more chlorine than ever before; it tastes very strongly of chlorine. I have water filters to filter out the chlorine, as do other honourable members. Sydney’s water does not taste better; it tastes much worse than water elsewhere in the world. Apart from a lot of chlorine, which is dangerous to our health, the water also contains cryptosporidium. However, we do not know which species of cryptosporidium is in the water. In question time today the Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans asked about the species of cryptosporidium in the water. The answer to that question is important. Is the species a problem for humans, or is it a problem only for wallabies and other animals? The cryptosporidium may be quite harmless to humans, and we should find that out quickly.
On 2 August 1993 I issued a press release about the epidemic time bomb that would explode unless the Fahey Government took immediate action on effluent. That press release was quoted in an article in a recent weekend magazine. In my press release I pointed out that there was an attempt to cover up the cryptosporidium time bomb. During committee hearings chaired by Dr Peter Macdonald the Health Department representatives laughed at my constant questions about cryptosporidium and made light of them. Information from the Clean Water Coalition clearly shows that the Health Department is still not allowing access to information to people who ask questions about the quality of their water, especially those in country areas.
The Clean Water Coalition, which includes the Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Consumers Association and the Total Environment Centre, issued a media release a couple of days ago which shows what happens when people ask about the quality of their drinking water in different areas of the State. I shall put a few results on the record. Eurobodalla Shire Council in Batemans Bay provided information upon request, including Health Department data. In Inverell the Department of Land and Water Conservation provided only raw water quality data and the Health Department would not allow access to other information including the level of pesticides or pathogens.
In Bathurst, the council and the Health Department would not allow access to their information. In Broken Hill the Department of Land and Water Conservation provided raw water quality
information, the Broken Hill water board and the Health Department would not allow access to other information, including pesticides and pathogens. In Murwillumbah, which is quite near to where I live, Tweed Shire Council provided only raw water quality data but not pesticide testing, and the Health Department would not allow access to other information including pesticides or pathogens.
Coffs Harbour City Council provided only raw water data and the Department of Health yet again would not allow access to other information, including pesticides or pathogens. As the Clean Water Coalition says, the Department of Health needs to move from being a reluctant regulator to being a pro-active agency with full powers, committed to public disclosure. The Department of Health has had a poor record in the past couple of years on the question of cryptosporidium. This legislation gives it a stronger role to strengthen its powers. However, I wonder whether it will be adequate. It has been shown to be inadequate over the last few years and is inadequate today by failing to release information to consumers who ask about the quality of their water.
The Department of Health does not seem to realise that the public wants and demands action by it and Sydney Water. Frankly, I wonder whether the Department of Health is up to the job. For the last five or six years it has let us down on the question of cryptosporidium and giardia. The department should have insisted that the water filtration plants include the necessary technology to remove cryptosporidium and giardia; the department should have ensured that a provision to that effect was included in the contract.
On 31 May 1995 I asked a question about the contract and the company Lyonnaise des Eaux, which is part of a consortium involved at Prospect. That company faced serious allegations in France after allegedly providing $1.6 million to a government Minister in return for contract work. I wonder whether Lyonnaise des Eaux is a suitable company to be involved in filtering our water when clearly its filtration efforts have failed miserably. Our water seems to be worse now than it was before the Prospect plant was built. What do we get for our money and what did that company get for its money? What happened? How did the company become involved in the contract when it had a cloud over it in France? I suspect it is not a suitable organisation because clearly the contract has not worked and we are not getting the water we are entitled to get.
I have a letter from the Environment Liaison Office, which includes the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the National Parks Association of New south Wales, the Total Environment Centre and Greenpeace. They are concerned that the legislation pre-empts the next interim report of the Sydney water inquiry and they ask that the bill be deferred until the release of that report, which is due next week. I agree that we should not consider this matter before the next report is released.
The report may well force a change in the legislation, and until it is released we will not know. The Environment Liaison Office remains unconvinced of the necessity to change the corporate structure of Sydney Water and states that whilst the necessity for access to information and directive powers in times of emergency is understood, there are a number of benefits conferred by the current company SOC status. Honourable members will be aware that if Robert Webster had had the numbers he would have privatised both the Hunter Water Corporation and Sydney Water Corporation.
The Hon. D. F. Moppet: That is not so.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I think you will find it is. All corporatisation has led to privatisation. If the coalition Government had the numbers in both Houses it would have privatised Hunter and Sydney water corporations, as it would have privatised the electricity industry. Everything was for the chopping block.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: That was never on the plan.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Not in the term of that particular Government perhaps, but it would have happened.
The Hon. D. F. Moppet: It was never on the plan. There was always a clear distinction made between water, electricity and telephone.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I do not agree with you at all.
The Hon. D. F. Moppet: You are verbalising.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I am not. It happened in Victoria. Why would it not happen in New South Wales given the right conditions? The former coalition Government did not have the support of the upper House anyway, and that is one reason to keep the upper House intact, to make sure that these things are not rammed through. We probably saved Sydney Water and Hunter Water from being privatised.
In July when I was in the United Kingdom there was a big article in the city section of the Daily Express of Saturday, 28 July, which referred to water shares soaring on a $7.4 billion American bid for Wessex Water, one of the smaller corporations in the United Kingdom. That was the first attempt by an American buyer, Enron, to get into Britain’s water industry. Enron, a large corporation in the United States of America, has a £12 billion turnover. The global water business is worth £180 billion a year. It is a gigantic privatised business and it would include presumably non-privatised business as well. It is a huge growing business around the world.
The article states that 25 large municipal water companies are moving out of state hands in the next year, including Berlin, Moscow and Turin. All round the world water companies are being privatised and I suspect that at some point in the next century New South Wales will see privatisation. On 22 October in another place the honourable member for Manly asked a question about possible privatisation by stealth. He asked whether the Minister was aware that section 5 of the Act, which deals with the prohibition of sale or disposal of shares, had not been reintroduced.
Clause 22 of this bill states that the constitution of the company or any of its subsidiaries may provide for the transfer of any shares in the company or such subsidiary to the ministerial holding corporation or any other person. Perhaps I am misreading the bill, but if it means that they can be transferred to any other person, could they not be privatised? I would like an answer to that question. Is it possible to privatise? I do not think it is going to happen. I do not think the Government or any government would do that. It would be a crazy move, but if the shares can be transferred to any other person, does that mean Lyonnaise des Eaux or Enron? What is "any other person"?
I have a number of questions about the legislation that I will raise in Committee, for example, the board of the corporation which has been reconstituted. I believe there should be other representatives of community organisations on the board as well as the Labor Council. Why just the Labor Council? I believe the Nature Conservation Council or an equivalent public body should be there to balance out other community interests, particularly the environment and water quality, which will not be necessarily represented on that board.
I believe the legislation is probably unnecessary. I understand the Government wants to be seen to be taking action and the Minister wants the additional powers to be able to wrest control, I suppose, of Sydney Water and the Hunter Water Corporation. That is understandable, but we are jumping the gun to a certain extent. We should be waiting for the McClellan report to be finalised to find out what we should be doing. I suggest as a result of that report we will probably be looking at more legislation in a couple of weeks time. It is time to deal with the subject properly. It is time we received clean water without chlorine, alum, cryptosporidium or giardia.
The money spent paying for the Prospect treatment plant and other treatment plants was money badly spent so far as I can see. We are entitled to demand the best water in the world as was claimed by Robert Webster. We are not getting it and it is time for action now. If Sydney Water has to spend another $200 million making sure the water is adequately cleaned up, then it should do so. People would be prepared to pay an additional 2¢ or 3¢ a kilolitre to ensure that they can drink the water without any worries. I do not oppose the legislation but I do not support it either.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [6.20 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Water Legislation Amendment (Drinking Water and Corporate Structure) Bill, which will amend the Public Health Act 1991, the State Owned Corporations Act 1989, the Water Board (Corporatisation) Act 1994 and the Hunter Water Board (Corporatisation) Act 1991. It will strengthen the powers of the Health Department concerning the safety of drinking water, replace the companies responsible for water supply and other matters in the Sydney and Hunter regions with new statutory corporations, disestablish those companies as company State-owned corporations and establish the new statutory corporations as statutory State-owned corporations, and facilitate the giving of certain directions to boards of statutory State-owned corporations and the compliance by them with any such directions.
We sympathise with the statements of Dr Peter Macdonald in the other place because he has spent much time in the Manly area following up matters relating to water and health issues. In my speech preparations I made the same observation as Dr Macdonald. During debate in the other place he said:
It seems that the Government is anxious to be seen to be taking action, more than actually doing something about this issue.
The bill is largely about creating a perception, if not a myth, that corporatisation of Sydney Water somehow contributed to the contamination of Sydney’s water. The Minister said that he
needed the powers proposed by the bill. Indeed, the Minister for Health now has many of the powers that the bill purports to provide. In addition, the Minister responsible for Sydney Water, the Hon. Craig Knowles, has considerable clout when it comes to Sydney Water, as he did in respect of its former chairman, David Hill.
After reading the bill and some background papers about the proposals I noted that in the second interim report of the Sydney Water inquiry Mr Peter McClellan, QC, recommended that the Health Department be given statutory powers to do certain things. It seems strange that he recommended that the Health Department needs powers to declare public health alerts in relation to drinking water. The proposed amendments to the Public Health Act 1991 will give the Health Department statutory powers to declare public health alerts in relation to drinking water.
We have always assumed that the Health Department was the overriding body responsible for the health of New South Wales citizens and that it did not need more powers. If someone said that the water was contaminated and was a health risk, it would seem strange for the department to say, "Sorry, we cannot do anything about it because we do not have the powers." If that were true, every Act would have to be examined to ensure that the department had powers in relation to food, air, gas, fuel, et cetera - things that could injure people in various ways.
To say that the Health Department did not have those powers is merely a smokescreen. I believe the department has the powers and is responsible, with the Minister for Health, to take whatever action and make whatever statements are needed to protect the health of the people of New South Wales. The bill has included the recommendations of the inquiry that water suppliers disclose to the Health Department a range of information necessary for the proper evaluation of drinking water safety and undertake tests and other quality assurance processes.
As other speakers have said, this seems to be a piecemeal bill which may result in further amendments unless the Government believes that with the end of the session approaching, it is better to do something than to leave it until later. Dr Refshauge said that the interim report found that conflicting public health messages were issued by Sydney Water and New South Wales Health during the contamination incident. He said this was due to a failure to identify in advance an appropriate procedure vesting authority in an appropriately qualified person.
The press release prepared by Sydney Water appeared to be a factual warning to the public. Mr David Hill edited that release and deleted some information from it. It could be argued that he made those alterations because he did not want to frighten people or he did not want the matter sensationalised. The original statement was accurate and did not appear to cause any confusion. The only confusion was Mr Hill’s overriding interference.
Sydney Water was clear about its line of authority and about what the public was to be told. It was hindered in carrying out its duty by Mr Hill, who I believe was influenced by the impending Federal election and pressure as a candidate for that election. His actions may have been designed to protect the State Government in some way as it approaches an election on 27 March. The role of Sydney Water and the Health Department has been the subject of much controversy. I am concerned that the department acknowledges its responsibility to New South Wales citizens. The buck stops with the department.
Reference was made in earlier debate to problems with water in other parts of the State. It was said that there were no water pollution or contamination problems in the Illawarra, yet documents sought by this House and reluctantly supplied by the Government show that the Illawarra was included in the contamination alert although that information was never made public. That information led me to consider that perhaps the controversy over the proposed sewerage plant in Rose Valley related to possible health dangers. Excess sewage water, not solids, will be used on local dairy farms. I am not a scientist, but it is obvious that cows will eat the grass that will be watered with sewage waste, and that grass is turned into milk. New South Wales Health is responsible to ensure that the process presents no risk to the health of its citizens.
The bill will require water suppliers to disclose to New South Wales Health a range of information necessary for the proper evaluation of drinking water safety and to undertake tests and other quality assurance processes. Professional testing must be carried out at least daily. Contamination can flare up one day, subside the next and flare up the following day.
The Government needs to ensure that tests are carried out frequently so the public can rest assured that it is safe to drink Sydney water. We have always prided ourselves on the quality of the water supplied by the Sydney Water Board. Some people have alleged - perhaps it is true - that water
contamination was discovered but not followed up by former governments and that we did not have the expertise to prove that it was a danger to public health.
It is dangerous to work the other way, in what I call a reactive way - that is, with New South Wales Health monitoring the situation and assuming that everything is all right if no-one gets sick. That is a dangerous policy. For example, pensioners or people who live alone may not consult a doctor when they suffer from severe diarrhoea. They may think it is the result of a general health problem rather than the result of drinking contaminated water.
It is dangerous for a government to take a negative approach: if there are no complaints everything is all right. It is not safe for a government to adopt such a policy. Water should be tested sufficiently to ensure that it is safe. Obviously, if people get sick the cause must be followed up - whether it is food or water. Every so often there are scares with contaminated meat or other products and people suffer severe illness as a result. The Christian Democratic Party supports this bill. As the honourable member for Manly said, this bill is a Clayton’s bill and a knee-jerk reaction so the Government is seen to be doing something. Nevertheless, we support the bill and will be monitoring the situation very closely.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading) [6.31 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate and for their general support for the bill. The bill is consistent with the interim recommendations of Mr Peter McClellan, QC. There is nothing inconsistent with the recommendations of the person who conducted the inquiry. The Government has acted promptly to change the law broadly in accordance with those recommendations. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
[The President left the chair at 6.33 p.m. The House resumed at 8.00 p.m.]
CRIMINAL PROCEDURE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BAIL AGREEMENTS) BILL
BAIL AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading) [8.03 p.m.]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
The Government is pleased to introduce the Bail Amendment Bill, which is the result of a comprehensive review of the Bail Act recently undertaken by the Government. The review was undertaken because the issue of bail remains a matter of ongoing community concern. The proper balance between protection of the community and the rights of the accused is an important matter which warrants regular monitoring. Concern about the issue of bail has been heightened by a number of recent cases, including the tragic death of two Bega schoolgirls. I will not comment on the details of these cases, as the court proceedings in relation to all these cases have not yet been finalised.
The review of the Bail Act concluded that the Act was generally working well. It achieves an appropriate balance between the protection of the community and victims on the one hand, and the rights of accused persons on the other. However, a number of areas for improvement in the criminal justice system were identified, particularly in relation to serious offenders. The Government is moving promptly to address these areas of concern. The Government now introduces the Bail Amendment Bill. This bill is part of a series of measures being undertaken by the Government to ensure that the criminal justice system swiftly, efficiently, and justly deals with persons charged with serious criminal offences.
In summary, the bill restricts the availability of bail to serious offenders in two main ways. First, the presumption in favour of bail for certain serious offences is to be removed. Second, the police and courts must consider an additional factor, namely the protection of the community when a person charged with a serious offence is seeking bail. The bill also makes a number of miscellaneous amendments to address issues which were raised during the conduct of the bail review. Having outlined the main features of the bill, I seek the leave of the House to have the remainder of my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
I turn now to the specific provisions of the bill. Most importantly, items  and  of schedule 1 to the bill remove the presumption in favour of bail for eight serious offences. These offences have been identified as appropriate for the removal of the presumption in favour of bail by virtue of their serious sexual or violent nature. These offences are in addition to the offences for which the presumption in favour of bail has already been removed. There is no presumption in favour of bail for serious drug offences, armed and aggravated robbery offences, murder, and domestic violence offences.
The offences for which the presumption in favour of bail is to be removed are manslaughter; malicious wounding with intent; aggravated sexual assault; assault with intent to have intercourse; sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age; assault with intent to have intercourse with a child under 10 years of age; homosexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age; and kidnapping. This amendment will require the court to more carefully examine whether bail should be granted to persons charged with any one of these eight serious offences. This will make it more difficult for a person charged with any of these eight offences to obtain bail.
The second significant provision contained in the bill in relation to serious offenders proposes an amendment to section 32 of the Bail Act. Under the proposed amendment, the court or authorised officer will be required to take an additional factor into account when deciding whether or not consideration of the protection of the community permits a grant of bail. Pursuant to item  of schedule 1 to the bill, when a person is charged with a serious offence, the court or authorised officer will be required to consider whether or not the person is already on bail or parole for a serious offence.
It is important to note that, in this context, the definition of "serious offence" is not the same as that used in items  and  to remove the presumption in favour of bail. The definition will be broader than just those offences for which the presumption in favour of bail is to be removed. In item  the definition of "serious offence" will include - but not be limited to - the following factors: whether the offence is of a violent or sexual nature; the likely effect of the offence on any victim and on the community generally; and the number of offences likely to be committed. Accordingly, this provision is applicable to a much broader range of circumstances than the provision which removes the presumption in favour of bail.
Again, this provision will make it more difficult for serious offenders to get bail. Pursuant to items  and  of schedule 1 to the bill, minor amendments are to be made to section 32 to make the section more readily understood. The bill also amends the provisions in relation to bail and domestic violence in order to ensure that these provisions are more clearly understood. The current sections in the Bail Act in relation to bail and domestic violence are rather convoluted and difficult to follow. Items  to  of schedule 1 to the bill amend sections 9A and 9(5) to clarify and simplify the provisions in relation to bail and domestic violence. This will ensure that those applying the Bail Act are in no doubt about the effect of these provisions.
In simplifying the provisions only one change of substance is being made. This is being done to ensure that victims of domestic violence receive proper protection from the law. Currently, section 9A removes the presumption in favour of bail for all domestic violence offences and those breaches of apprehended domestic violence orders which involve an act of violence or intimidation. The current section 9(5) removes the presumption in favour of bail for domestic violence offences where the defendant has breached a bail condition imposed for the protection of the victim. The irregularity is that section 9(5) does not currently apply to breaches of apprehended domestic violence orders involving an act of violence or intimidation.
The Government considers that it is anomalous that the protection afforded to victims of breaches of apprehended domestic violence offences involving violence or intimidation is not identically extended to that afforded to victims of domestic violence offences. Accordingly, the Government will extend the application of the protection which is currently contained in section 9(5) to victims of breaches of apprehended domestic violence orders where the breach involves an act of violence or intimidation. In short, a gap in the protection afforded to victims of serious breaches of apprehended domestic violence orders is being rectified by the Government.
The next substantive measure included in the bill relates to persons with an intellectual disability. Item  of schedule 1 to the bill includes a provision to ensure that accused persons who suffer from an intellectual disability are not unfairly dealt with under the Bail Act solely because of their disability. This provision implements recommendation 6(h) of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission report on people with an intellectual disability in the criminal justice system. This report identified that persons with an intellectual disability can have difficulty in understanding and complying with certain bail conditions.
The provision ensures that, before an authorised officer or court sets bail conditions for a person with an intellectual disability, the officer or court must be satisfied that the bail condition is appropriate having regard to the accused person’s capacity to understand and comply with the bail conditions. This amendment will operate both to improve the protection afforded to the community and address the needs of persons with an intellectual disability. It will achieve this by improving compliance with, and understanding of, bail conditions imposed by the police and courts on persons with an intellectual disability.
In addition, the bill contains the following measures to improve the operation of the Bail Act. By item  a new section 39A is to be inserted in the Bail Act to facilitate arrangements for entering sureties interstate. This is a vital first step in improving the efficiency of the process for implementing bail agreements. This proposal arose out of submissions to the bail review. By item  a new power to permit a senior police officer to review the decision of a more junior police officer to refuse bail is to be created. This is to prevent an accused person from being unnecessarily detained, pending a court appearance.
This proposal implements recommendation 91(a) of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which recommended that police be empowered to review a decision by another police officer to refuse bail. By item  section 54 will be amended to ensure that continuing sureties are notified of variations to existing bail conditions. This implements the recommendations of Kirby P. - as he then was - in the case of Thomaskakis v Sheriff of NSW. That case highlighted the fact that failure to notify an existing surety of a change in the bail conditions can have serious consequences for the surety.
The amendment provides the existing surety with an opportunity to consider whether or not he or she wishes to remain a surety in light of any new bail conditions imposed by the court. This will reduce the likelihood of sureties unwittingly losing the money which they have put up as bail, and will improve the capacity of the surety to monitor the accused whilst he or she is on bail. As I have already mentioned, this bill is just part of a package of measures being undertaken by the Government to improve the protection afforded to the community and victims from serious offenders.
Two further initiatives currently being undertaken by the Government are worthy of brief mention here. Firstly, the Government is preparing to make a regulation to ensure that the bail regulations comply with the charter of victims rights.
This regulation will provide additional information to victims of sexual assault and other personal violence offences about the outcome of bail applications and any conditions imposed. Secondly, the bail review conducted by the Government highlighted the need to ensure that accurate and complete criminal histories are placed before the court on bail applications.
The Government has made a number of administrative improvements to ensure that this occurs. In particular, improvements are being made to ensure that additional information about any breaches of periodic detention orders and other matters are included on criminal histories tendered to the court on bail applications. In short, this bill has been carefully drafted to achieve an appropriate balance between the protection of the community and victims, and the rights of the accused. In particular, the bill addresses the need to provide proper protection to the community and victims from serious offenders. It is a delicate task to balance these important principles of the criminal justice system. I am confident that this bill achieves that aim. I commend the bill to the House.
I now move on to the second bill, the Criminal Procedure Legislation Amendment (Bail Agreements) Bill 1998. This bill provides for amendments to be made to the Bail Act 1978 to allow for the enforcement of bail agreements under that Act. It also provides for amendments to be made to the Justices Act 1902 and other Acts to abolish various recognisances under those Acts. The Fines and Forfeited Recognisances Act 1954 currently provides a mechanism, known as the "estreats" process, to enforce bail undertakings and recognisances set by the Children’s Court, Local Court, District Court and Supreme Court. The estreats process is said to arise out of the old English practice of extracting or copying a recognisance that has been broken from the records of a court of law, and returning it to the Court of Exchequer for prosecution. The English system has essentially been preserved in New South Wales by the Fines and Forfeited Recognisances Act.
The need to have such an enforcement mechanism arises because of the requirement, whenever a bail undertaking or recognisance is imposed by a court, for there to be an undertaking to forfeit an amount of money in the event that the bail undertaking or recognisance is not complied with. When an accused person breaches a bail undertaking or a recognisance, not only is the accused called before the court to answer the breach of that undertaking, but separate estreats proceedings need to be instituted to recover the amount of money agreed to be forfeited. Currently, all courts forward all forfeited bail undertakings and recognisances to the Estreats Court, which is simply a special list maintained by the District Court.
The present system is antiquated, cumbersome and time consuming. It requires that virtually all matters be dealt with by the District Court, regardless of which court the person was bailed to appear before, and requires that all matters be listed before the court even though the accused or surety has no desire to argue that the money should not be forfeited. It is proposed to streamline this procedure by removing the need for an estreats roll and by having the court which handled the original matter deal with any action arising from the forfeiture of the bail undertaking. Further, matters will only be listed before a court where the defendant or surety makes an application for the matter to go before the court.
The bill provides for a new part 7A of the Bail Act which replaces the Fines and Forfeited Recognisances Act in respect of forfeited bail undertakings. It is also proposed to ultimately repeal the Fines and Forfeited Recognisances Act when amendments to abolish recognisances under the Crimes Act 1900 are introduced. I now turn to the specific provisions of the bill. The bill provides that a court may make a forfeiture order in relation to any bail money agreed to be forfeited, when an accused fails to appear in court in accordance with his or her bail undertaking. Forfeiture orders may not be made, however, if more than three years have elapsed since the accused failed to appear before the court.
Following the forfeiture of a bail undertaking the registrar of the court will be required to notify each affected person, that is any bail guarantor and the accused, of the forfeiture order. Affected persons will also be notified that the order will be automatically confirmed within 28 days of service of the notice unless an application objecting to the confirmation is filed. Informal objections to the forfeiture order, made before notice of the forfeiture order is served, may also be heard by the court. An informal application could arise in circumstance in which an accused arrives late at court, but after the forfeiture order has been made, or in which the accused appears on another day shortly thereafter.
Applications are to be heard on an individual basis in the court which forfeited the bail and the Crown will be a party to the proceedings. On the hearing of an application the court may confirm the forfeiture order, reduce the amount to be forfeited or set aside the forfeiture order. In the case of a bail guarantor, the court may reduce the amount to be forfeited or set aside the forfeiture order, when it is satisfied the guarantor took all reasonable steps to ensure that the accused person complied with the relevant bail undertaking.
When a forfeiture order is confirmed in circumstances in which money has not been deposited or security has been given, the matter will be referred to the State Debt Recovery Office for enforcement in accordance with the provisions of the Fines Act. When money has been deposited it will be remitted by the registrar into consolidated revenue. When a forfeiture is confirmed automatically after the expiration of the statutory review period of 28 days, the registrar of the court is required to notify each person affected by the order that the forfeiture order has taken effect. An application may then be made by an affected person to set aside the forfeiture order within 12 months of the confirmation of the order. The lodging of an application results in a stay of enforcement of the forfeiture order until the application is heard.
If the court is satisfied that notice of the initial forfeiture order was not served on the applicant and the applicant was not aware the forfeiture order had been made prior to the expiration of the statutory review period, it is required to conduct a hearing and determine the application in the same manner as if an application had been made prior to the expiration of the statutory review period. As soon as a forfeiture order takes effect, bail money which has been deposited is forfeited to the Crown and bail money agreed to be forfeited becomes payable to the Crown. When security has been deposited, however, no action is to be taken to realise the security for 12 months from the date of the order. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that security, in particular land, is not disposed of until the expiration of the period within which an affected person may apply to have the forfeiture order set aside.
In respect of forfeiture orders confirmed, following an application to the Local Court, there will be a right of appeal to the District Court under section 122 of the Justices Act 1902. The bill also provides for an offence of fraudulently disposing of property which has been deposited as security in respect of a bail undertaking and for the revocation of a bail
undertaking where the bail security is no longer intact. An example in which bail security would no longer be intact is when a surety has died and the property has passed to his or her beneficiaries. Notice of the court’s intention to revoke a bail undertaking must be served on the accused prior to the court revoking it. The accused must then, within 28 days, demonstrate the bail security is still intact or arrange for replacement or supplementary security.
The bill further provides that an authorised officer, before whom a bail undertaking is given, must ensure that any person who enters into an agreement is aware of their obligations under that agreement. They must also be made aware of the consequences that may flow if the accused fails to comply with the bail undertaking. In relation to recognisances, as I indicated earlier, the bill provides for amendments to be made to the Justices Act and other Acts to abolish the various recognisances under those Acts. With the exception of recognisances to prosecute appeals, recognisances referred to in the Justices Act are now rarely used. Moreover, in those circumstances in which recognisances are relied upon, it is considered that more effective mechanisms can be used to achieve similar results without incurring the administrative difficulties which arise in enforcing a breached recognisance, particularly when there has been an undertaking to forfeit an amount of money.
The bill therefore deletes all of the provisions in the Justices Act relating to recognisances and provides alternative procedures in circumstances in which recognisances are currently relied upon. In most instances, the provisions of the Bail Act will be relied upon for this purpose. Similarly, in those rare instances in which a witness is taken into custody, the bill provides a mechanism for the witness to be released upon entering into a bail undertaking. These provisions are consistent with section 566 of the Crimes Act 1900 which provides that a witness who is apprehended on a warrant for failing to attend a trial may be released on entering a bail undertaking to appear at the trial.
In relation to appeals, rather than relying upon the entering of a recognisance to stay the order of the Local Court, the bill provides that such orders will be stayed in most cases on the notice of the appeal being given. When the accused is in custody or the matter relates to an apprehended violence order, however, the orders of the Local Court will only be stayed on the entering into a bail undertaking. This provision complements identical provisions in the Justices Legislation Amendment (Appeals) Bill 1998, which is currently before the House. The bill also provides for recognisances to be abolished in other Acts, such as the Coroners Act 1980 and the Local Courts (Civil Claims) Act 1970.
Recognisances under the Crimes Act 1900 are not included in this bill. It is proposed to abolish these recognisances in a sentencing bill, which I expect will be introduced into the House later this session, or next session. In conclusion, the measures being introduced by the bill represent a further step in the Government’s broader strategy to reform the structure of the court system and to make it more efficient in the interests of the users of that system and the wider community. I commend the bills to the House.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS [8.06 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose these bills. The New South Wales Bar Association has indicated that it supports the ongoing review of the law relating to bail. It is an important aspect of the administration of criminal justice, as the Bar Association has indicated, which requires us all to be vigilant to ensure that there is a correct balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual. My colleague Mr Tink, who is a member of the lower House, indicated some concern as to the presumption against bail having been removed. It is alleged by the Government that there has been a removal of a presumption against bail. That confidence is not shared by my colleague.
The Hon. J. W. Shaw: We’re right.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: In this regard Mr Whelan indicated that the comments of the honourable member for Eastwood would be taken into consideration by the Attorney General. On that undertaking, the Opposition will not oppose these bills and proceeds on the basis that the Attorney General will respect the statement made by the Minister in the lower House and take into consideration the concerns expressed by the honourable member for Eastwood.
The serious offences referred to in the bills are indeed serious. They include: wounding with intent to cause bodily harm, resisting arrest, aggravated sexual assault, assault with intent to have sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age, assault with intent to have sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age, homosexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age, and kidnapping. These are serious offences and are appropriately referred to in the legislation. The Bar Association believes that the current legislation places significant restrictions on the granting of bail to persons who have been accused of a breach of an existing domestic violence order who have a history of violence, and that the distinction is important. In a letter the Bar Association states:
The restrictions on Bail for repeat offenders, and recognised, established cases of threatened violence can be justified. The same kind of restrictions having the practical consequences of detention in custody, cannot be justified where the legitimacy of the complaint has not been established in court.
The provisions of the bill relating to domestic violence deal with what appears to be a growth area of the law and is of great concern to citizens. With those words, the Opposition does not oppose the bill and calls again on the Minister to take into consideration the concerns raised by Mr Tink, who lead for the Opposition on this bill in the lower House.
The Hon. I. COHEN [8.12 p.m.]: The Greens are concerned about varying aspects of the amendments to the Bail Act. The Greens do not
have any concerns with the Criminal Procedure Legislation Amendment (Bail Agreements) Bill. It is important to take a step back and look at the role of bail in the criminal justice system, the current problem of overcrowding in our prisons and the impact of a term of imprisonment of a person awaiting trial. In 1997 in a parliamentary briefing paper entitled "Bail in New South Wales" Rachel Simpson analysed, among other things, the history and purpose of bail in New South Wales.
She stated that the emphasis of modern bail lies in the notions of release and liberty based on the fundamental concept of the presumption of innocence. The major aim of the original Bail Act was to balance the concerns of the accused with community concern for safety. This reflected the concern of the bail review committee which predated the Act. The committee was established in 1976 and the Act was enacted in 1978. The concern that was expressed in the report of the committee was as follows:
It is difficult to overstate the importance of bail. At every stage of the often slow progress from arrest to trial and defence someone must decide whether the accused will be allowed to continue his or her normal life while awaiting the next step, or whether she or he must be held in custody. Every decision involves balancing the right to liberty of someone who is legally presumed to be innocent, against the need of society to ensure that accused people are brought to trial.
However, the problem has since shifted from an emphasis on bringing the accused to trial to protecting the community from possible violent acts while the accused is on bail. Over the years the Act has been amended mostly to remove the presumption in favour of bail for certain offences. In 1986 the Act was amended to deny the presumption in favour of the grant of bail in certain drug offences. In 1987 an amendment meant that bail could not be granted where there was an appeal against a conviction or sentence on an indictable matter unless it was established that special or exceptional circumstances exist justifying the granting of bail. In 1987 an exception to the presumption in favour of bail was made in the case of a domestic violence offence if the accused person had previously failed to comply with any bail conditions imposed for the protection and welfare of the victim.
In 1988 a presumption against bail for certain drug offences was created. That was the first time the Act contained a presumption against bail for any offence. In 1993 the exceptions to the presumption in favour of bail were extended to include domestic violence offences where there had been a history of violence. The issue of the removal of the presumption in favour of bail for certain offences is particularly evident in the Bail Amendment Bill as it intends to remove the presumption in favour of bail for certain offences considered to be serious violent and sexual offences. In particular, manslaughter, wounding, et cetera, with intent to do bodily harm or to resist arrest; aggravated sexual assault; assault with intent to have sexual intercourse; sexual intercourse with a child under 10; attempting, or assaulting with intent, to have sexual intercourse with a child under 10; homosexual intercourse with a male under 10; and kidnapping.
The amendments to section 32 set out the criteria to be considered in bail applications. In summary they are: the probability of whether the person will appear in court in respect of the offence for which bail is being considered having regard to a range of matters; the interests of the accused; the protection of the alleged victim, his or her close relatives and any other person in need of protection because of the circumstances of the case; and the protection and welfare of the community. The Bail Amendment Bill amends section 32 to require the consideration of whether an accused person was on bail or parole for a serious offence when the person is charged with a serious offence.
However, as the Minister for Police said in his second reading speech, the definition of "serious offence" is not the same as that used elsewhere in the bill to remove the presumption in favour of bail. The definition will include things such as whether the offence is of a sexual or violent nature, the likely effect of the offence on any victim and on the community generally, and the number of offences likely to be committed or for which the person is being granted bail or released on parole. I have received a number of letters from the Law Society regarding the proposed amendments. On 21 September I received a letter in which the following was pointed out:
The Bail Act amendments proposed by the Government are an inappropriate response to criticisms in the press that the criminal justice system is "a system in tatters". The Government seeks to divert attention from:
•the lack of resources available to the NSW Police Service and Corrective Services in monitoring people’s compliance with bail conditions and attending periodic detention, and
•the lack of resources which would provide the various arms of the justice system with the technological ability to maintain proper records and share information, which results in deficiencies in material and evidence being presented to the authorised officer or the court asked to consider bail applications.
The letter continued:
At a time where there is a record number of remandees in custody - 1,182 as at 6 September 1998, claims that large numbers of people charged with committing crimes are being granted bail inappropriately appear difficult to substantiate.
In another letter to my office dated 15 September the Law Society documented the steady increase in the number of people, including juveniles, who are remanded in custody pending trial. Remanded inmates have increased from 800 in 1996 to 1,033 as at 31 August 1997 and to 1,168 as at 30 August 1998. The Law Society has many concerns with the Bail Act and would like it to be amended. Patrick Fair, the President of the Law Society, stated in a letter to the Attorney General that the society believes that a number of significant factors contribute to the high rate of people on remand attaining custody.
The Law Society made the following suggestions for amendments to the Bail Act 1978, which may help to reduce the number of people detained in this way. I will not read any more of this letter from the Law Society. I think that the Attorney has a copy of it. Suffice it to say that the Law Society has concerns and would like the Government to make a number of amendments to the Bail Amendment Bill, which I am sure that the Attorney General will address in good time
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN [8.20 p.m.]: I support the Criminal Procedure Legislation Amendment (Bail Agreements) Bill and the Bail Amendment Bill. I followed the debate in the other place and questioned some of the offences that were not included in this legislation. The Bail Amendment Bill will remove the presumption in favour of bail for manslaughter, malicious wounding with intent, aggravated sexual assault, assault with intent to have sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years of age, assault with intent to have intercourse with a child under 10 years of age, homosexual intercourse with a male under 10 years of age, and kidnapping. As the Minister said in the other place:
This amendment will require the court to more carefully examine whether bail should be granted to persons charged with any one of these eight serious offences. They will make it more difficult for a person charged with any of these eight offences to obtain bail.
The honourable member for Eastwood raised some of the flaws in this legislation when he pointed out that a number of offences still have a presumption in favour of bail, offences such as the use or possession of a weapon to resist arrest, malicious wounding or infliction of grievous bodily harm, attempts to choke, cause bodily injury by gunpowder and dangerous driving occasioning death, amongst others. The honourable member for Eastwood questioned why these offences still maintain a presumption in favour of bail. The Minister then said:
The honourable member’s contribution ignores the fact that anyone charged with such offences is unlikely to receive bail and for practical reasons no person will be granted bail.
If that is the case, surely the same theory would apply to the eight offences contained in the Bail Amendment Bill. Why, therefore, is the House debating the bill? If the Minister is sure that the courts would not grant bail in the event of someone being charged with the offences outlined by the honourable member for Eastwood, why is he not equally sure that the courts would not grant bail for the eight offences contained in this bill? While I agree with the intentions of the Bail Amendment Bill, and I intend to support it, it strikes me that this is yet another example of the Government rushing through legislation without bothering to discover whether it can improve it.
The Government surely has an obligation to protect all citizens of New South Wales from criminals. Serious offenders - and I would regard the offences outlined by the honourable member for Eastwood as serious - should not be given a presumption in favour of bail. This Government has not bothered to carefully examine the legislation that it is amending to discover where else it may be deficient; it has simply slapped together some legislation so that it can say in the upcoming election, "We have been tough on crime and tough on criminals." The reality is that the Government can only say, "We have been sort of tough in some areas that we have bothered to have a brief look at."
As I said earlier, the Bail Amendment Bill has decent provisions, and I support them, but because of the Government’s laziness it lacks depth. It has failed the people of New South Wales in other areas. The Minister said in relation to the other offences raised by the honourable member for Eastwood that in the event of someone being granted bail the police would appeal against the decision. Therefore, the Minister is endorsing further costly legal action when the matter could simply have been resolved by the Government taking a more diligent approach to drafting legislation. It seems that this is yet another piece of legislation that the coalition will have to amend when it regains government in March next year and sets about repairing the damage that this Government has inflicted on the people of New South Wales.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [8.24 p.m.]: The Bail Amendment Bill is being
presented ostensibly to address problems that arose in the murder of the Bega schoolgirls. One of the persons convicted of those murders had been granted bail because charges pending against him were not fully put before the court when bail was applied for. The Government says that the bill will solve the administrative problem that led to that recent horrendous tragedy. It also will remove the presumption in favour of bail for eight further serious offences: manslaughter, wounding with intent, aggravated sexual assault, assault with intent to have sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse with a child under 10, attempting or assaulting with intent to have sexual intercourse with a child under 10, homosexual intercourse with a male under 10, and kidnapping.
The bill also provides that there will be no presumption of bail in relation to contravention of apprehended domestic violence orders when an accused has failed to comply with certain bail conditions. This does not mean that persons charged with these serious offences cannot get bail; it just means that the presumption is that they will not. The provisions of section 32 of the Bail Act must be taken into account in all bail applications, such as whether the accused will appear at the hearing, previous non-appearances, seriousness of the offence, likelihood of the accused approaching the victim, relatives or witnesses, how dangerous the accused is to the community and the likelihood of the accused committing further offences while on bail. It is sometimes an assessment of the character of the accused that will decide whether the accused will get bail.
If the accused had committed a crime of passion, even though it were serious, and had no previous history of violence, he or she might get bail. However, if the accused was a violent repeat offender he or she probably would not. The danger is that this bill, with the ever present call to get tougher on criminals, will inevitably mean that the gaols will be filled with prisoners on remand. Prisoners on remand are still in prison. In some cases innocent people spend a long time in prison on remand for offences that much later they are found not guilty of.
The results of recent Government decisions on law and order can be seen in the number of remandees - in 1996, 800; in 1997, 1,033; and in 1998, 1,168. No doubt this bill will result in a further increase. A further concern is that the present financial crisis in the public sector will mean the allocation of less money to courts leading to even longer delays and accused persons, some of whom will be found innocent, spending more time on remand.
The Australian Democrats believe that consideration must be given to alternatives to remand, such as electronic monitoring. Not only is it more appropriate in many cases but it is also cheaper than housing a person in custody, which, according to the 1996-97 Corrective Services annual report, then cost $144.76 a day. No doubt it would cost more now. I would be pleased if the Attorney could address these matters in his reply. Certainly the Democrats do not want people who are serious risks to the community being given bail and released to offend again. On the other hand, the Democrats are always worried that gradual increments in the get-tough-on crime push will have a cumulative effect on the justice system and lead to more punitive punishment.
The Democrats believe that the Criminal Procedure Legislation Amendment (Bail Agreements) Bill is a sensible reform that will abolish recognisances and replace them with bail undertakings. The change is not so much in substance as in name. The streamlining of the present system is well overdue. The Australian Democrats hope that the courts will use their discretion. Tougher penalties would be an unfortunate result of what is basically a well-intentioned piece of legislation.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [8.30 p.m.]: It is understandable that the Government would wish to introduce this legislation because everyone in the community, apart from offenders, supports its intent. I flag the concerns that I and other honourable members have expressed about the number of remandees in prison awaiting trial and I will also relay some information I have received from the Council of Civil Liberties about the Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre - the MRRC. In the past year there have been 10 deaths at the MRRC, which is a 900-bed maximum security prison that is promoted as taking the Department of Corrective Services into the new millennium. It was built in the metropolitan area to accommodate mostly remand prisoners. Despite national and international evidence highlighting the deficiencies and dangers of warehousing large numbers of prisoners, tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars were spent on this prison.
The MRRC has been plagued with technical, operational and industrial problems that should have been foreseen. Those problems have now reached a crisis point. During recent strike action at the prison the inmates went quite crazy. The entire complex was manned by the executive staff and the inmates were locked in their cells. Some of them went crazy with the sensory deprivation that necessarily goes with lockdowns. When the MRRC reopened, there
was a television set in every cell, but, the population being what it is, the television sets were soon broken. They were of poor quality, and those that were not deliberately smashed have since broken down. The net result is that there are not enough sets to go around, which means that inmates in one-out cells have no sensory stimulation at all - no television, no radio, and although many cannot read, access to the library is extremely limited for those who can.
Prisoners commit suicide or die because of a lack of sensory stimulation, and that situation has been intensified by increasingly restrictive bail conditions. As the Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans said, and as the Attorney General said in response to a question from me recently, that resulted from decisions by judges, not from legislation. Any legislation that changes presumption of bail to presumption against bail will exacerbate the problems. Over the past five years there has been a 30 per cent rise in remandees, and that is further exacerbated by the delay in the criminal courts dealing with cases. Sometimes cases are delayed for more than a year. There may well be hundreds of people in gaol, not on bail, who should not have been denied bail. This needs further investigation.
With so many people awaiting trial it may be necessary to build another institution or to house remand prisoners in suitable alternative premises. The continuing increase in the remand population will result in more deaths and more riots. Remandees may be found not guilty at trial, but by the time they are released from prison they will have been alienated from society. We should urgently look at the conditions of remand centres, particularly the MRRC, to determine whether they can be improved so that remandees do not become more socially maladjusted during their time in prison. I support the legislation but point out that it will exacerbate the current conditions.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading) [8.34 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate and for their support of the bills. The only substantial question that was raised is whether there ought to be more offences in respect of which the presumption of bail should be abolished. This has to be considered against the background of criminal law in which the general rule is that there is a presumption in favour of bail. In 1993 the coalition Government removed that presumption in respect of murder and domestic violence offences. The legislation extends the removal of that presumption. One honourable member referred to the increase in the remand population in recent years, which is borne out by the statistics. That has occurred not because of any legislative intervention but because the courts have been tougher on the granting of bail.
This is the first substantial revision of the bail system for quite a time. Following the change by the coalition Government in 1993, this Government is now prescribing a raft of serious offences in respect of which there will not be a presumption in favour of bail. Predictably, the Opposition says that that is not going far enough and that perhaps the legislation should include more offences. I assure the House that the serious offences specified in the legislation have been carefully selected on the bases of, firstly, the maximum penalty that the Legislature has assigned to those offences and, secondly, the prevalence of those offences. Matters raised by the honourable member for Eastwood in the Legislative Assembly tend to attract a maximum penalty well below the 25 years for the offences prescribed in this legislation. Some of them are rarely dealt with in our modern criminal justice system.
Contrary to some suggestions made in passing during the debate, this legislation has been carefully considered. The offences have been carefully selected and specified and this adjustment is not in disconformity with any basic principle of the criminal law. Rather, it is a measure calculated to enhance the community’s safety. I suspect that no member of this House would say even in relation to serious allegations of criminal behaviour that bail should never be granted. I would be surprised if anyone went to the extreme of saying that in an allegation of murder there could never be a case in which bail should not be granted. There can be exceptional cases in which, either because it is absolutely clear to the court that the defendant will appear for trial or where there is thought to be no further danger to the community, or for other reasons, the court would grant bail.
Bail is a difficult issue. Once one accepts that even with serious crime a case can be made for the granting of bail, it comes down to the difficult discretion of the court, based upon the likelihood of the defendant appearing at trial and the threat to the community if the defendant is allowed to go free. These matters are best left to judges and magistrates. If this legislation is passed, in the serious offences specified there will not be a presumption in favour of bail. The legislation also makes a series of generally accepted and appropriate technical changes to the bail system, with which no-one has found any difficulty. I commend the legislation to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bills read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MINES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MINES SAFETY) BILL
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [8.39 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The Carr Labor Government has a strong commitment to improving safety and health in the mines of this State. The mining industry in New South Wales is a major employer and export earner. Our safety standards are world class but, as recent events have shown, constant vigilance and improvement is still needed. The legislative framework for mining safety is contained specifically in two statutes, namely, the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982 and the Mines Inspection Act 1901. In the last session Parliament passed a series of amendments to the Mines Inspection Act which put it in complete conformity with the International Labour Organisation’s convention on safety and health in mines. Those amendments also incorporated changes recommended by the Government’s mine safety review.
Not long after my colleague the Minister for Mineral Resources announced the mine safety review, four men were killed at Gretley colliery, near Newcastle, when their mining machine broke into the flooded workings of an old coalmine, abandoned over 80 years earlier. The Minister promptly ordered a judicial inquiry into the causes and circumstances of that accident. The inquiry, headed by Judge Staunton, produced a 750-page report which was handed down on 7 July this year. The report of the Gretley inquiry made 43 recommendations. At the time of the report’s release, the Government, through the Minister, made a public commitment to implement each of them.
Quite a number of the recommendations concern amendments to the Coal Mines Regulation Act. Fortunately, many of the changes could be made quickly and, thus, could be included in the Government’s legislative program for this session of Parliament. Consultation has taken place with industry and unions, many of which took a close interest in the Gretley inquiry and the mine safety review. Other changes recommended by the inquiry are being looked at by a special task force convened by the Department of Mineral Resources and comprises both industry and union representatives.
The Gretley judicial inquiry was the first such inquiry into a coalmining disaster since 1979, and the first inquiry conducted under the current Act. As such, the experience of Gretley has led to the proposal of some amendments to the provisions dealing with formal investigation of occurrences at mines to provide more cost-effective alternatives and to remedy some unforeseen shortcomings in existing provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Act.
Dealing first with the changes arising from the Gretley recommendations, amendments will be made to section 60 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act to make it clear that persons who are being interviewed by an inspector of coalmines are obliged to provide their answers straight away, not after an interval of 24 hours. A mistaken view had arisen in the industry that inspectors did not have the right to have their questions answered immediately. Judge Staunton criticised that view and recommended that the legislation be changed so as to make the true position clear. However, a person who genuinely cannot answer a question immediately can be given time to check facts so as to ensure that the answer, when given, is complete and accurate.
The amendments allow an inspector to give the interviewee sufficient time to come back with the answer. However, in the interests of timely investigation and reporting, the amendment provides that the interval cannot exceed 24 hours. At present, accidents and dangerous occurrences at coalmines are investigated by the district inspector, who also has other roles in the administration of the Act. These include various approvals and consents required by the Act and the regulations under it. Sometimes those roles may be seen to conflict. For that reason, the Gretley inquiry recommended that there should be an autonomous investigations unit.
It is intended that the unit conduct investigations of fatalities and other serious occurrences, especially where an earlier approval or other action by the district inspector or other departmental personnel may have borne some relationship to the event under investigation. The mine safety review also advocated a special investigation group, with independence and special expertise, within the Department of Mineral Resources. The amendments to both Acts create a statutory office of "investigator", giving such persons the relevant powers of inspectors. These will include power to enter premises, inspect documents, interview people and compel answers in the same way that an inspector presently can.
Offences relating to the obstruction of inspectors and the giving of false answers will be extended to aid the role of investigators as well. The investigations unit will be answerable to the Director-General of the Department of Mineral Resources, in the interests of keeping it independent of the present inspectorate and at the same time ensuring that it is properly accountable. The functions of the investigators are set out in new section 93C. Most importantly, an investigator will investigate all future fatalities in mines. This will ensure a uniform approach to all such incidents, and provide the Department of Mineral Resources with essential information with which to determine whether there have been breaches of the mine safety legislation or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The investigations unit will, therefore, have an important role to play in the department’s new enforcement policy, which has been developed in the wake of the Gretley findings. The amendments allow the Director-General to give the unit a proactive role, as well as one of response to particular incidents. It can look into issues relating to safety and health across all mines, occurrences that presently are not prescribed as reportable, and the conduct or discipline of people in mines or practices at mines which have safety and health implications or which might otherwise be relevant to the operation of the principal legislation.
Independent, expert consultants can also be appointed temporarily as investigators to assist the unit or to conduct special investigations on the department’s behalf. When members of the unit are conducting an investigation at a mine, the normal government inspectors and union-elected check inspectors continue to carry on their respective functions, with the exception that the government inspector cannot interfere with the unit’s investigation. The unit, in turn, will not
interfere with the regular inspector’s monitoring of safety within the mine. Protocols will be drawn up and agreed with the mining union to ensure that the union’s district check inspectors are kept abreast of investigations and given opportunities to liaise closely with the investigators during the course of the investigations.
Judge Staunton’s report noted that there was nothing explicit in the Act that required the inspector to make any kind of report on the investigation of that event. The amendments take this recommendation forward and incorporate it into a new system for conducting preliminary investigations and providing interim reports. The Director-General of the department will nominate an officer or officers to receive each preliminary report and forward all those of specified categories which need a decision as to whether further investigation is merited and if so by whom, be it the district inspector, another inspector or members of the investigations unit.
One of the practical problems that arose from the aftermath of the Gretley tragedy was what was to be done about the shafts of the old, abandoned mine that caused the flooding. Judge Staunton recommended that section 121 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act be amended to provide that complete back-filling of mine entrances may be required when the mine is being abandoned. Section 121 presently refers to actions such as fencing off entries and closing them with barriers, plugs or seals. Complete back-filling provides a further safe option in appropriate circumstances.
The Gretley inquiry was conducted by a body known as the court of coalmines regulation. This is constituted by a judge of the District Court, usually assisted by lay experts known as assessors. These people are drawn from the industry so that the court can have the benefit of advisers with appropriate qualifications and experience. The last judicial inquiry into a coalmining disaster was held in respect of the Appin explosion in 1979, under the previous Coal Mines Regulation Act 1912. Judge Goran sat with assessors, and acknowledged in his report how useful the assessors had been.
Unfortunately, the provisions in the 1912 Act were not completely carried through to the 1982 Act, with the result that Judge Staunton was unable to appoint assessors to help him in the Gretley inquiry. That shortcoming is to be corrected with an appropriate amendment to section 151 of the Act. Judge Staunton, with his wide experience of major public inquiries, made a further recommendation regarding the protection of witnesses who testified against the interests of their employers. This is a sensible recommendation, given that the inquiry had the same powers as coalmines inspectors and, as such, could compel answers to questions under section 60 of the Act, even if those answers were capable of incriminating others.
I have developed that concept further to insert a new section 168A in the act. This section will extend witness protection to anyone who co-operates with inspectors, the investigation unit, a court holding a judicial inquiry or others, to whom I will refer shortly. Any employer who dismisses an employee or disadvantages someone in their employment because that person has co-operated with the authorities will be guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty will range from $4,400 to $11,000. There will be an affirmative defence available to employers who can demonstrate that the dismissal or disadvantage was justified for reasons other than co-operation with the authorities.
When implementing the Gretley recommendations, it was noticed that some of the reforms could usefully be extended beyond the coalmining sector to metalliferous mines and quarries. For that reason, the Mines Inspection Act is to be amended as well. In particular, the formation of the investigations unit, the procedures connected with preliminary investigation and reporting, the powers of inspectors and investigators, and the investigative functions of union check inspectors will be mirrored in the Mines Inspection Act. So will provisions for offences connected with frustrating the work of inspectors, investigators and others. The special reporting and judicial inquiry provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Act were invoked for the first time in the Act’s life as a result of the tragedy at Gretley.
The resulting close analysis of those sections revealed other issues which it is worthwhile attending to at this time. The scope of special reports to the Minister under section 94 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act is very limited. At present it is only possible for a Minister to direct a report into an accident causing death or serious bodily injury, or a so-called "dangerous occurrence". This expression, along with "serious bodily injury", is closely defined in regulations, thus narrowing the range of issues that can be reported on. Furthermore, the Minister can seek such a report only from an inspector of coalmines. If the Minister is concerned about mining practices which might be adverse to the health and safety of workers, there is presently no alternative, in terms of a formal investigation, but to institute a judicial inquiry.
Amendments to section 94 will firstly broaden the range of matters covered. Apart from prescribed types of accident and dangerous occurrence, the range will include anything relating to the safety, health, conduct or discipline of persons in mines, any relevant practice at a mine or any occurrence that is not of a prescribed kind. Again, this power can be used proactively. The broadening of section 94 underscores the modern attitude to safety at work, exemplified by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In seeking special reports, the Minister of the day will be able to direct persons other than inspectors to provide them. Thus, members of the new investigations unit, or mine safety officers, may be directed.
It will also be possible to request a special report from someone other than a departmental employee, for example, a private sector expert, on the management of gas outbursts. In such a case that person will be given appropriate powers of investigation while the material for the report is being gathered. The special reporting provisions of the Mines Inspection Act will also be amended to mirror the changes to the Coal Mines Regulation Act. The current arrangements for special or formal investigation under the Coal Mines Regulation Act are limited to special reports on named subjects and judicial inquiries. Although they have their place, judicial inquiries involve significant time and expense.
Sometimes the issue to be considered does not warrant the administrative and financial cost of mounting a full judicial inquiry. There should be a middle way. Therefore, this bill allows for the constitution of a board of inquiry to conduct a public inquiry into the sorts of issues that might previously have been dealt with by a judicial inquiry. The board is constituted by a person nominated by the Minister. This gives some flexibility as to who is to be appointed, but of course the person appointed must be suitably competent, qualified and unbiased. The board can also be assisted by assessors appointed by the Minister. It will be able to take testimony on oath, and will be supplemented with appropriate powers like those of departmental inspectors and investigators.
The procedure at boards of inquiry is intended to be as informal as possible. A board will not be bound by rules of
evidence, and it will have discretion as to whether or not parties may have their legal representative present. It goes without saying, though, that the board will treat people fairly and observe the principles of natural justice. These initiatives are intended to cut through the delays inherent in formal legal proceedings and to cut the cost, both to government and to parties to the inquiry. They also have the advantage of being less threatening to witnesses, thus encouraging them to speak more frankly.
The Minister who calls a board of inquiry into being can stipulate that it must report within a given time. Due to the broad range of issues that can be dealt with by a board of inquiry, the Minister can also give more specific terms of reference. This is intended to speed up the business of the inquiry and encourage the board to report as quickly as possible. Similar provisions are being introduced into the Mines Inspection Act. That Act presently does not contain any provisions for formal or judicial inquiries. The present provision for judicial inquiries in the Coal Mines Regulation Act will be retained so that the most important matters can still be investigated by a judge and assessors.
I now turn to a series of amendments recommended by the mine safety review. As well as a separate investigations unit, the review recommended that the mining and coalmines inspectorates be supported by appropriately qualified persons, described as mine safety officers. As their name implies, mine safety officers will be concerned with a broad range of safety issues in mines. The amendments to the Coal Mines Regulation Act and the Mines Inspection Act give those officers some statutory roles and functions, including investigative functions and selected powers to support them. It is envisaged that mine safety officers will be able to investigate a variety of occurrences that do not cause death or injury, and which would otherwise take up the time of inspectors.
To that end, mine safety officers will be given inspectors' powers to enter mines and relevant workplaces, question persons found there, and obtain relevant documents, samples and other evidence. They will also be able to notify mine officials of matters of concern. However, safety officers will not have powers to stop production at mines or issue improvement notices; these more serious actions will remain the exclusive province of inspectors. The inclusion of these functions in both Acts will enable mine safety officers to operate in both the coal and non-coal sectors.
An investigation into a mining incident will often require the people doing the investigation to visit some place other than a mine. For example, they may have to visit the premises of an equipment manufacturer or supplier. The current wording of section 60(1) of the Coal Mines Regulation Act only allows an inspector to obtain protected statements from persons found at a mine or elsewhere but employed at the mine. This can be an impediment to the inspector getting to the bottom of the matter being investigated.
Therefore, it is proposed that inspectors, and people who have the same relevant powers, be given the power to obtain protected statements from persons employed at some place other than the relevant mine. This is, of course, provided that the power is used in aid of an investigation into a mining incident. This important caveat underscores the separate roles of government mining inspectors and industrial inspectors employed by the WorkCover Authority
It is also intended to translate these amended provisions into the Mines Inspection Act to cover the non-coal sector. Lastly, the bill contains some consequential amendments to the Defamation Act 1974. That Act presently gives absolute privilege to special reports under section 94 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. Certain reports under the Mines Inspection Act were also given absolute privilege by amendments passed last session. The further amendments capture the broader range of reports that will be generated by inspectors, investigators, boards of inquiry and mine safety officers under the present amendments.
The Gretley inquiry also observed that reports of investigations should be more easily available to the public. Protection from defamation action is thus an important part of the whole picture. The amendments to the Defamation Act will give the makers of departmental reports an opportunity to report frankly, without fear or favour. In concluding the formal component of my speech on this important piece of legislation, I believe that this series of reforms is an important part of this Government’s ongoing commitment to the improvement of safety and health in the State’s mines.
This Government is totally committed to mine safety. There have been 22 deaths in the mines since this Government has been in power. We cannot afford to have precious positions taken by any vested interest to oppose these changes. The change is vital. It has been identified in the mine safety review and it has been identified by Judge Staunton. This is not an overhaul of the Mines Inspection Act or the Coal Mines Regulation Act; this is the implementation of those changes that were recommended by His Honour Judge Staunton and Susan Johnston in her inquiry. In the past few days there was concern about what might be in the legislation. This bill reflects the recommendations of both inquiries. I commend the bill to the House and I ask for the full support of every fair-minded person in New South Wales to ensure that the provisions become law at the earliest possible moment.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING [8.40 p.m.]: Tonight I attended the launch of a fascinating book called At the Coalface. That book deals with the history of mining in New South Wales and a number of people who were involved in the industry, what they described as the human face of coalminers and their commitment to the early days of the industry. I say to Fred Moore, Paddy Gorman and Ray Harrison: the book gives a fascinating view of the old days, especially in underground mining, and the difficulties and mateship that went with it.
It follows that there should be no doubt that the Opposition does not oppose the Mines Legislation Amendment (Mines Safety) Bill, but the Opposition will move 14 amendments in Committee which we believe in all sincerity will enhance the legislation by improving the administration of mine safety. I do not know of any member of any Parliament who would not wish to improve mine safety. Mining is a difficult and highly dangerous job, but it creates a camaraderie and fellowship among those involved in the industry. The bill addresses the 43 recommendations concerning mine safety made by Judge James Staunton in his judicial inquiry following the unfortunate and regrettable Gretley mine disaster.
Honourable members will recall that four miners were killed in the Gretley mine on 14 November 1996 when their mining machine broke through to flooded workings of an old coalmine that had been abandoned at least 80 years earlier. Underground miners take great risks, and on this very sad occasion they did not know about the flooded workings, but when they broke through, the force of the water wreaked havoc and devastation beyond the belief of most people. Only those who have worked underground understand the impact of this havoc on the miners.
I understand that the 1996 accident was not caused by one momentous incident; it resulted, as can happen in underground mining, from a series of small errors by the management team at the colliery and officers of the Department of Mineral Resources. Unfortunately, when all these small errors were compounded they became a catastrophe. The inquiry’s recommendations, which are clearly taken up in this legislation, aimed to make it easier to investigate mining accidents, and I am sure all honourable members will support that objective.
This bill builds on the mines inspection amendments dealt with by the House in June of this year. It will enhance the role of mines inspectors and create a new role of mine safety officer. It makes it clear that persons being interviewed by an inspector of coalmines are obliged to answer immediately, not after an interval of 24 hours. However, persons who cannot answer the questions posed may have time to ascertain the facts and to come back to the inspector with complete and accurate answers, as I am sure everyone involved in the industry would want to happen. However, it is noted that this interval of time cannot exceed 24 hours. To that end, some concern has been expressed to the Opposition about the requirement to answer an inspector’s questions "forthwith" - to use the word in the bill.
Regrettably, the Minister has failed to adequately consult many levels of the industry on this legislation. Mine managers, owners, the staff association, the officials association and the New South Wales Mineral Council were not adequately consulted during the drafting of the bill. Indeed, the Minister seems to have struck a deal with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union - the CFMEU - on the eve of a strike scheduled for 13 October 1998 concerning the role of chief inspectors. The Minister in the other place said in reply:
The role of a chief inspector will not be diminished which will address the concerns of the CFMEU.
The Minister appears to have accommodated the concerns of the union over the need to consult other major players in the industry. The Minister should consult not only the unions, as is right and proper, but also the other members of the industry to ensure that what is achieved at the end of the day is valid and correct for the whole union, because mining is one of the most important industries in New South Wales. At the time the Gretley inquiry report was tabled the Minister promised full consultation. That promise was not fulfilled.
A letter of 22 October from the New South Wales Coal Mine Managers Association indicates that the approach of the Government and the Department of Mineral Resources to consultation was completely inadequate in formulating the legislation. Interestingly, the letter sets out some of the existing roles. The association reasonably states that coalmine managers in New South Wales have a vital role in managing the safety and operation of coalmines. Indeed, it is correct to say coalmine managers have specific and onerous functions and obligations, many of which are prescribed in the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982.
Coalmine managers hold statutory appointments under that Act and are personally responsible and accountable. They take their significant responsibilities most seriously, as indeed they should, and they work hard to improve mine safety. They become a natural and highly visible focal point when significant incidents occur at mines. One would have thought that the Government would consult coalmine managers on such an important issue.
The Gretley review recommended that the mining and coalmines inspectorates be supported by qualified people to act as mine safety officers. The bill details the statutory roles and functions, including investigative functions, to be carried out by these officers. As honourable members will be aware, these officers will investigate various occurrences that have not caused death or injury but would otherwise take up the time of the inspectors. Mine safety officers will be granted the power to enter mines and relevant workplaces, to question persons there, and to obtain relevant documents, samples and other evidence. However, mine safety officers will not have the right to cease production at mines or to issue improvement notices. These matters and orders should and must remain the right of mines inspectors.
The bill will clearly enable boards of inquiry to be established to investigate serious accidents and dangerous occurrences and incidents in mines, and
to confer the necessary powers to allow a board of inquiry to operate. The only investigative responses available to date have been for the Minister to direct a special investigation or a full judicial inquiry into an accident. The boards of inquiry will, therefore, be set up as what might be called a mid-level response to mining accidents.
I bring to the attention of the House the Opposition amendments that Opposition members will speak to in general before dealing with them in detail in Committee. It is the view of the Opposition that these amendments will allow for natural justice to operate for any person making a claim in respect of a serious accident or a dangerous incident at a mine. At no time should natural justice be denied. The amendments will also insert a provision for natural justice and fairness to be considered during the deliberations of boards of inquiry. All people involved in mining would agree that these are fair and reasonable provisions that should go hand in hand with attempts by all people to ensure that accidents, no matter how serious, do not happen and, if and when they do, to find the cause and prevent them from happening again.
These amendments are supported by the New South Wales Coal Managers Association, which has indicated to me that a bill which deals with the same subject matter, which aims to sensibly address procedural fairness and natural justice issues in a way that would not interfere with the effectiveness of an inquiry, is to be introduced into the Queensland Parliament. Division 2 of that bill reads, in part:
181(1) When conducting an inquiry, the board of inquiry -
(a) must observe natural justice; and
(b) must act quickly, and with as little formality and technicality, as is consistent with a fair and proper consideration of the issues.
(2) In conducting the Inquiry, the board -
(a) is not bound by the rules of evidence; and
(b) may inform itself in any way it considers appropriate, including holding hearings; and
(c) may decide the procedures to be followed for the inquiry.
(3) However, the board must comply with this division and procedural rules prescribed under a regulation.
Procedural fairness and representation
186(1) In conducting the Inquiry, the board must give a person concerned in the serious accident or significant incident the opportunity of defending all claims made against the person.
(2) The person may be represented before the board by a lawyer or agent.
It would seem to me that the amendments I will move in Committee are fair and reasonable and support natural justice. I believe that the Government will have no difficulty in accepting the proposed amendments on the basis of ensuring fairness, equity and natural justice.
The Opposition's amendments will also seek to allow draft findings to be issued from boards of inquiry so that the draft findings and the reasons for those findings could be available for study and comment by interested persons. Such a process would allow inaccuracies to be identified and resolved before a final report is released. It is very difficult to interview people shortly after an accident when they are still trying to come to grips with what has happened yet want to comply and ensure that what has happened never happens again to them or their colleagues.
These are important amendment given that there is no right of appeal, as I read the legislation, from a board of inquiry’s conclusion. I would be most concerned if the Government chose for whatever reason not to agree with the amendments. To reject them would do the people and workers in the industry, particularly the underground industry, a great disservice. Those who have been underground and seen the working conditions should ensure that every opportunity is given to make mining safer than it has been in the past, and to ensure that mining disasters such as the Moura, Gretley and South Coast accidents never occur again.
The Opposition also wishes to include in the bill a requirement that mine safety officers and investigators be competent, qualified and unbiased, as outlined in the Minister’s second reading speech. Many in the industry believe that those words should be incorporated in the bill. It is important to reflect on the fact that the current legislation has come about following tragedies in mines and the loss of life. We can only hope that the legislation before this House will assist to make our State’s mines safer to work in and that the procedures to investigate accidents and pinpoint areas requiring remedy are more efficient so that we do not have another accident in the mines of New South Wales.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [8.56 p.m.]: This important bill, which amends the Coal Mines Regulation Act and the Mines Inspection Act, implements recommendations for reform of mine safety arising from the Government’s ongoing mine safety review and the judicial inquiry into the
Gretley colliery accident in November 1996. More specifically, the bill covers a range of matters to be dealt with in special reports and inquiries are to be broadened; a person’s duty to co-operate with government inspectors is clarified; and investigation of fatalities and other serious accidents is given more structure and the role of the district inspector more clearly defined.
A special investigations unit is to be established to investigate selected fatalities and incidents; inspectors are required to make formal reports of the investigations; provisions for the sealing off of abandoned colliery entrances is strengthened; inspectors will have the power to gather evidence outside mine sites; the Minister’s discretion to order special reports on coal mine safety issues is widened and alternatives to full judicial inquiries introduced; courts involved in judicial inquiries will be assisted by expert assessors; mine safety officers will be given limited investigative powers to investigate less serious occurrences at mines; and reports on investigations will be privileged for the purposes of the defamation law.
The Opposition did not oppose the bill in the lower House but reserved the right to move amendments in the upper House if it is not happy with the Minister’s response to the concerns raised regarding boards of inquiry, and legal representation and powers, some of which were expressed by the Minerals Council and members of the Collieries Staff Association. Those concerns include: clear conditions should be set for experience, qualifications and independence of board members; witnesses should be entitled to the same legal representation as a board of inquiry in terms of natural justice and procedural fairness; and the powers of the board should be clarified to avoid unnecessary legal processes, that is, those who appear before a board may be made to swear an oath, yet the board is not bound to act in a formal manner and is not bound by rules of evidence.
The Minerals Council is pleased with the Minister’s response in his reply to the concerns raised by the Opposition on behalf of the council in the second reading debate and has accepted the Minister’s assurance that his speeches are legally recognised as relevant to the future interpretation and application of the bill and will not therefore be seeking amendments in the upper House. The amendments drafted by the Opposition are not necessarily fully desired by the Minerals Council. The CFMEU is satisfied that the bill will enhance the investigation process so as to ensure full and proper disclosure of the circumstances surrounding any incident and that it will make industry more accountable and will assist in preventing further accidents in the industry.
The Minister said in his second reading speech that the Gretley inquiry observed that reports of investigations should be more easily available to the public to justify giving special reports under new section 94 absolute privilege, that is, protection from defamation action. Further, the bill does not require such reports to be made public, but section 93D(4) merely allows the Minister to publish them if he sees fit and whenever and however he thinks fit. Section 94(4) gives the director-general a similar discretion in relation to reports by investigators. Recommendation 31 of the Gretley inquiry states that reports on investigation of fatalities, serious bodily injuries and dangerous occurrences should be made public, and only in the case of a proposed prosecution, subject to the right of the director-general to defer publication of the report or aspects of the report pending such prosecution.
On 23 October my adviser rang Mr Ken Long, the Minister’s adviser on this bill, to draw his attention to this anomaly. Yesterday my adviser spoke to Rod Morrison from the Department of Mineral Resources, and he assures me that while the bill provides both the Minister and the director-general with total discretion as to the publication of special and investigator reports, departmental policy stipulates that information relating to investigations will be publicly available unless there is some overriding requirement for confidentiality, such as a pending prosecution. However, the policy in question - the approach of the Department of Mineral Resources to enforcement of health and safety standards in mines - is merely in draft form and is still open for discussion. Therefore it does not at this time limit the Minister’s discretion under section 94(3) of the bill.
Christine Pedder, one of the Minister’s policy officers, has advised that because the bill does not mirror exactly recommendation 31 of the Gretley inquiry - because of a recommendation from Parliamentary Counsel based on the fact that internal disciplinary proceedings may also warrant the delay of the publication of reports - the Minister would be prepared to have the Government give an undertaking in the upper House to the effect that at this point it is envisaged only that the publication of investigation reports or parts thereof will be delayed where either prosecution or internal disciplinary action is pending.
However, other instances may arise that warrant deferring the public dissemination of
information. She indicated that the exact form of words to be used in the undertaking will be provided to members on the crossbench as soon as possible. I have not yet received that undertaking. However, this does not limit instances in which the director-general or the Minister can refuse to publish parts of or entire investigative or special reports. At the very least, the Minister should give an assurance that the Minister and the director-general will provide written reasons upon application by any person. I support the legislation.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [9.02 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Mines Legislation Amendment (Mines Safety) Bill, the objects of which are: first, to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982 and the Mines Inspection Act 1901 to confer functions on persons appointed as investigators and mine safety officers, and other persons, relating to the investigation of matters under those Acts; second, to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982 and the Mines Inspection Act 1901 to enable inspectors and other officers to enter workplaces, apart from mines, for the purpose of investigating matters relating to accidents and occurrences in mines; and, third, to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1982 and the Mines Inspection Act 1901 to require preliminary reports to be made by inspectors relating to serious accidents and dangerous occurrences and incidents in mines and to provide for investigation of certain matters by investigators rather than inspectors involved with mines and reports as to investigations.
The bill deals with boards of inquiry, delegation of powers and the requirement for unused mine shafts and outlets to be fully sealed, filled, or provided with approved enclosures, plugs or seals. The bill was introduced as a result of the judicial inquiry into the accident that killed four employees at the Gretley colliery in November 1996. The recommendations of that inquiry have been embodied in this legislation, and will greatly improve the current provisions. Coalminers work in extremely dangerous conditions, and we have heard of gas explosions, ceiling collapses, and miners tragically being trapped in a sealed mine following an explosion. It is heartrending for relatives to discover that their husbands or sons are buried in a mine - a mine that becomes their tomb.
In spite of the special consideration that has justifiably been given to miners to ensure the greatest degree of mine safety possible, at times inexplicable events occur. When the Standing Committee on Law and Justice investigated workplace safety, its aim was to completely eliminate accidents. Although that may sound a little idealistic or optimistic, we must move in that direction, and the bill seeks to achieve that goal. A letter from John Maitland, National Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, indicated the union’s support for the bill. Mr Maitland stated:
The NSW State Government has introduced the Mines Legislation Amendment (Mines Safety) Bill into the Parliament. The Bill deals with the formal investigation process to be undertaken where there have been incidents of accidents or injuries at a coal mine.
The content of the Bill has been discussed with representatives of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union which represents the overwhelming majority of mine workers particularly underground mine workers in NSW. The Union and its members are satisfied that the proposed legislation will enhance the investigation process so as to ensure full and proper disclosure of the circumstances surrounding any incident.
We believe the Bill will make the industry more accountable and will assist in preventing further accidents and injuries in the industry. We would appreciate your support for the Bill when it reaches the upper house and are available for any discussions or clarifications that you may seek or require.
On behalf of mine workers and their families, I thank you in anticipation of your support.
The CFMEU has our full support for the bill. The views of the union that represents miners must always be given serious consideration by Parliament. The bill will broaden the range of matters that can be dealt with in special reports and inquiries, while providing further and more cost-effective alternatives than those currently in place. Changes to section 60 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act will clarify a person’s duty to co-operate with government inspectors, ensure that investigations of fatalities and other serious incidents in coalmines will be more formally structured, and provide that the role of the district inspector will be more clearly defined.
The bill will lead to the creation of a special investigation unit, which it will report to the Director-General of the Department of Mineral Resources. Its role will be to investigate selected fatalities and incidents where an independent eye is needed. Inspectors will be required to make more formal reports of their investigations, including any appropriate recommendations. Inspectors’ powers will be widened to allow them to gather evidence outside mine sites when investigating fatalities or incidents occurring at coalmines.
The Opposition’s proposed amendments seek to include in legislation reference to the rules of natural justice and a provision that those who are appointed under the legislation as investigators, consultants or members of a board of inquiry be appropriately
qualified, competent and unbiased. Apparently the Minister in the other place used those words when he gave assurances that that would happen. As the Minister has made the Government’s position clear, I do not know whether the amendments are necessary. Perhaps the Minister might respond to that point in his reply to the second reading debate. The New South Wales Minerals Council has presented a submission giving its position on this bill. The council has stated:
It is of great concern to Council member companies that the Minister and the Department did not consult on the detail of these complex amendment proposals until after the Bill was drafted.
Upon the tabling of this Bill on 14 October 1998, the Council identified a number of serious deficiencies in the Bill, which gave rise to genuine concerns that the Bill would not achieve its stated aims of improving health and safety in mines.
Regularly we are told that there has been full consultation on legislation and then hear major stakeholders say that consultation did not occur or was not sufficient. The council was particularly concerned that provisions for the composition and procedural conduct of boards of inquiry were incomplete. It stated:
We believe that this would significantly impact on the ability of these Boards to quickly investigate and report on the causes of fatalities and other serious mining incidents, as intended.
I assume that the Government is taking those concerns on board. The council stated:
The Minister addressed some of Council’s concerns about Boards of Inquiry and other matters in his Second Reading Speech on 14 October 1998, and after further representations, clarified other matters in his Address-in-Reply on 21 October 1998. The Council has accepted the Minister’s assurances that these Speeches are legally recognised as relevant to the future interpretation and application of the Bill.
The council, under the hand of executive director Denis Porter, concluded as follows:
In the interests of avoiding a potentially divisive political debate on this matter, the NSW Minerals Council is not seeking amendments to the Bill. We are however, considering the need for regulations to address some of our concerns.
A major overhaul of legislation relating to mine safety is planned over the next couple of years. The Council will be seeking an assurance from the Government that the process of consultation will be transparent and timely so that the final legislation produces the best outcomes for health and safety.
The submission is lengthy and I have read only part of it. I seek leave to table the submission in its entirety.
The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support this bill. We will not support amendments if they are not required and if concerns have been covered by the Minister’s statement.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [9.13 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Hon. J. H. Jobling, the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile for their support for the bill. There is nothing more important than legislation that is designed to protect workers and relieve families of the anguish and uncertainty of an unsafe workplace. I wish to highlight some of the concerns raised in the course of the debate. New section 93D of the Coal Mines Regulation Act - and new section 47I of the Mines Inspection Act - require investigators to make reports which the Director-General of Mineral Resources can make public if he sees fit.
In exercising that discretion the director-general will, of course, have regard to the public interest, and particularly the interest of the mining industry, to be informed of the causes and circumstances of accidents or the results of investigations into matters of mine safety. The Government has given number one priority to mine safety. To back up this level of commitment it has provided an additional $8.2 million, to be spent over the next three years, to work with the industry to make continuous improvements. The Government is also fully cognisant of the damage and heartache that comes to a family when a mine tragedy strikes.
It is important that when an investigation identifies a dangerous occurrence, a systems failure or an equipment failure the issue is communicated to the industry as quickly as possible and in as much detail as possible. This ensures prompt corrective action that prevents recurrences and saves lives. However, there are some cases in which publication of a report or parts of it should be postponed in the public interest. It is anticipated at this time that the circumstances under which exceptions would be made would relate to matters in which prosecutions were intended or internal disciplinary procedures were pending.
The Gretley report, in its thirty-first recommendation, recognised that it is sometimes appropriate to restrict access to investigators’ reports for such reasons. I should like to address a broad range of concerns dealing with other matters. There should be no doubt that boards of inquiry are bound by the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness. They will be conducting public inquiries, for a public purpose, at the direction of the responsible Minister. It is axiomatic that a public
inquiry is bound by the principles of public law. It is likewise unnecessary to legislate that a board must act within its terms of reference. If it exceeds its terms of reference it will be acting beyond power and liable to correction by either the Minister or the courts.
The purpose of the inquiry and the matters that the Minister directs it to look into - that is, its terms of reference - will obviously be made well known to the industry and other interested parties. Part of running an efficient and focused inquiry involves telling people exactly what the inquiry is about. The composition of a board by one person is intended to speed the progress of the inquiry and ensure that it is as focused as it can be. The Government’s view is that it is easier for one person to maintain order and focus than it is for several. Assessors sitting with the board can advise and, under this umbrella, they will be able to make suggestions or recommendations on procedural matters as well as contributing their special expertise to the inquiry.
The broad-brush approach to boards of inquiry in the bill is deliberate and is intended to fill a significant gap in the Coal Mines Regulation Act between special reports and judicial inquiries. It is also intended to fill a larger void in the Mines Inspection Act, which makes no provision for any kind of formal inquiry. If it is necessary to enlarge on some details, such as practice and procedure, the detail can be provided in manuals, guidelines, or possibly, if appropriate, regulations. It is noteworthy that the industry and employee organisations have given support to the principle of boards of inquiry as an efficient and effective alternative to formal investigation through a judicial inquiry. With such in principle support, there should not be any difficulty in making boards of inquiry work.
Honourable members will be aware that the New South Wales Minerals Council recently wrote to all members of the House supporting the bill, in light of public assurances by the Minister, and indicating that no amendments are necessary from its point of view. Industry consultation concerning these amendments began on 10 August 1998, when an extraordinary meeting of the joint safety review committee was convened to brief all industry representatives on the proposals before they went to Cabinet. All of the proposed amendments, including those dealing with alternatives to judicial inquiries, were put before this meeting and received everyone’s in principle support.
The joint safety review committee includes representatives of the mining unions, the miners and the managers. Consultation has continued on the operation of this bill in the overall context of mine safety legislation and policy, and the general law. In spite of the timetable, the mining industry has had the benefit of full and open consultation on these reforms and its major players have accepted them. On behalf of the Government I thank all of the representative bodies that took the trouble to comment on these important reforms.
It was alleged in another place that the Minister had done a deal to accommodate the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union - CFMEU - and thus presumably gained its support for the bill. This so-called deal allegedly revolved around the role of the union-elected check inspectors in the investigation of fatalities and other major incidents at mines. The Minister has dealt with that issue in another place and has put that matter to bed. The only concern of the union was that the check inspectors might be sidelined if an investigation was taken over by the new departmental investigations unit.
There has never been any intention, as was alleged by the Opposition, to enlarge or strengthen the power of check inspectors. The new subsections to be inserted in section 91 provide that the role of the check inspector will not be diminished or enlarged as a result of these amendments. Implementing these changes within the industry will necessarily require new procedures and regulations, if appropriate. In further developing its investigation procedures the department will take on board the views of all relevant parties. When the issue of the visibility of departmental procedures has been raised in the course of consultation about the bill the commitment has been made by the department that the procedures will be open and publicly available. That commitment will be honoured and everyone will know where they stand in the course of an investigation.
In conclusion, this bill implements recommendations of the independent mine safety review and the judicial inquiry into the Gretley mine tragedy conducted by Judge Staunton. In 1999 a major review of mine safety legislation is planned to be undertaken on a tripartite basis involving industry, unions and government in order to continue the improvements commenced in this legislation and to adopt contemporary practice in occupational health and safety.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile asked about the Government’s attitude to proposed amendments of the bill in Committee foreshadowed by the Hon. J. H. Jobling. I have adverted to some of those matters during the course of my reply. Putting the
matter quite bluntly, the Minister advised that he does not wish me to accept any of the amendments to be moved by the Hon. J. H. Jobling partly for the reasons I have given and partly because it seems that representative bodies are not seeking amendments.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Surely the bipartisan result in which we are interested is what happens to underground miners.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: We are indeed interested in what happens to underground miners. It can be taken as read that all honourable members in this House and in the other place are in favour of mine safety. People of goodwill can differ from each other in regard to what needs to be done to achieve a particular outcome. With those few words, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Schedules 1 and 2
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING [9.26 p.m.], by leave: I move Opposition amendments Nos 1 and 8 in globo:
No. 1 Page 3, schedule 1, proposed section 12A. Insert after line 25:
(2) A person is not to be appointed as a mine safety officer unless the person is, in the opinion of the Director-General, appropriately qualified, competent and capable of exercising, without bias, the functions of a mine safety officer.
No. 8 Page 20, schedule 2, proposed section 35. Insert after line 23:
The Opposition believes that it is imperative in the interests of fairness and justice that a mine safety officer will not only be appropriately qualified and competent but will exercise his duties without bias. The inclusion of these amendments will not cause any distress to the Government. The Minerals Council, whilst it has written and suggested it is not seeking amendments to the bill, also pointed out that a clarification of the bill would limit as far as possible the occurrence of injunctions, court appeals against inquiries on procedural matters and such legal issues that interrupted and unnecessarily lengthened the judicial inquiry into the Gretley disaster. Nobody wishes to prolong such inquiries and it is important that they be resolved.
The Minerals Council advised the Opposition that that view was based on sound legal advice and, on investigation, that seems to be so. Therefore, I hope the Government will not consider these matters to be trivial. These matters correspond to the draft points in the legislation to which I have referred in my second reading speech and which have been the subject of a long and exhaustive consultative process. It should be placed on the record that the Minerals Council said that it is imperative to look at the situation and that it is considering the need for regulations to address some of its concerns. The Minerals Council went further and suggested that a major overhaul of legislation relating to mine safety is planned over the next couple of years and that the council is seeking the Government’s assurances that the process of consultation will be transparent and timely so that it will produce the best outcomes for health and safety. Clearly this is important.
In moving these amendments the Opposition is trying to make the legislation clear and transparent and would put to the Government that the amendments in no way impinge on or damage its legislation. They make it clear that in the event of another tragedy like Gretley or an accident in underground mining the person appointed by the director-general as the mine safety officer is completely qualified, is competent, and will exercise without bias the functions of a mine safety officer. I commend the amendments to the Committee as desirable in the interests of all those who work in underground mines.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [9.31 p.m.]: I assure the Committee that the Government certainly treats seriously the concerns that the Hon. J. H. Jobling is expressing. However, the Government is opposed to the amendments for the technical reason that I will now articulate. I am advised that the provisions that the Hon. J. H. Jobling is seeking to insert in the Coalmines Regulation Act and the Mines Inspection Act respectively via these amendments do not rightly belong within this legislation. The power to appoint mine safety officers is not conferred under this legislation but, rather, under the Public Sector Management Act. I am further advised that section 26(1) of that Act provides the appropriate safeguards
sought by the Hon. J. H. Jobling. So for that short, but nonetheless cogent, reason the Government is not willing to accept these amendments.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [9.32 p.m.]: It is true to say that the power to appoint a mine safety officer is contained in the Public Sector Management Act, and section 26(1) confers some of the powers raised. The amendments, as the Hon. J. H. Jobling says, do not cause any problems that I can detect. They make what one might call a motherhood or a fatherhood statement because one would hope that the person appointed would be appropriately qualified, competent and capable of exercising without bias the functions of a mine safety officer. These amendments will ensure that the director-general gains that opinion about the person even if the director-general is not empowered to determine the person’s employment. That power is evidently in the Public Sector Management Act. Therefore, I do not understand why there is objection.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [9.33 p.m.]: Just to make it clear, I wonder whether the Minister could re-emphasise the point made earlier that the Minister in the other House gave the assurance that this would be the policy. I said that there was no need for the amendments in the belief that the Minister had given that assurance in his second reading speech. Will the Minister repeat his words? It is a machinery matter. By voting against the amendment we are not saying we want biased, incompetent people; we are simply saying that it is covered already in the earlier debate in the other place.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [9.34 p.m.]: I am not sure that I am in a position to repeat verbatim what the Minister in the other place might have said. I will not attribute statements to the Minister that he might not have made. I really have to rely on what I have already said to the Committee: that the particular safeguards sought to be inserted in this legislation by the amendments moved by the Hon. J. H. Jobling are already contained, on my advice, in the Public Sector Management Act and, in particular, in section 26(1) of that legislation. The Hon. R. S. L. Jones has asked whether it might be provided for here. It is not generally good public policy or practice to repeat in different pieces of legislation, in what might be thought to be a redundant fashion, a similar or the same provision. The Government relies on the fact that an appropriate provision is made under the Public Sector Management Act and that, therefore, there is no need to provide it under this legislation as well.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [9.35 p.m.]: Just to clarify that, no less an authority than the shadow minister in the other place wrote to me on 27 October as follows:
(2) A person is not to be appointed as a mine safety officer unless the person is, in the opinion of the Director-General, appropriately qualified, competent and capable of exercising, without bias, the functions of a mine safety officer.
The second, further amendment, results from comments made by the Minister in his second reading speech where he has made reference to consultants appointed as investigators, and the Boards of Inquiry person as having to be ‘competent, qualified and unbiased’. The industry believe those words should be incorporated in the Bill and extended to Investigators and Mine Safety officers who can be appointed under the Act.
That was the point I was making.
The Hon. J. R. Johnson: That does not make it right, though.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I am not saying that. Mr Turner supports the Minister. He said that the Minister said it in the other place. I am sure he would not say that if it had not happened. They are arguing that because he said it there we should put it in the bill here.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Public Works and Services) [9.37 p.m.]: In further support of what I have said to the Committee already, I have had handed to me a copy of a letter said to have been written by the Minister to Mr J. B. Simpson, President of the New South Wales Coal Mine Managers Association, which, in the relevant paragraph, states:
The appointment of persons as Investigators or Mine Safety Officers will be controlled by the Public Sector Management Act 1988. In particular, this requires a Departmental Head to have regard to the nature of the duties to be undertaken and the abilities, qualifications, experience, standard of work performance and personal qualities relevant to the performance of those duties. This makes the specification of these matters in the Bill superfluous.
So the Minister is saying in that letter to that official of the Coal Mines Managers Association that given that a similar provision is made under the Public Sector Management Act it is unnecessary to do so under this legislation.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING [9.38 p.m.]: The Minister has argued this evening for technical reasons. He has attributed certain statements which I think are doubtful and that I question have been made. He has referred to section 26(1), "Selection for appointment to be on merit" of the Public Sector Management Act. For the benefit of honourable members and the Minister, the section states:
A Department Head shall, for the purpose of determining the merit of the persons eligible for appointment to a vacant position under this section, have regard to:
(a) the nature of the duties of the position; and
(b) the abilities, qualifications, experience, standard of work performance and personal qualities of those persons that are relevant to the performance of those duties.
I draw to the Minister’s attention - and if need be I will pass the document over to him - that there is absolutely no reference to the question of exercising those duties without bias. The word "bias" does not occur and has not occurred in that statement. The Minister has given the House no assurance about section 26(1). There is nothing in the document. I put to the House that, whilst the Minister may argue that this is a motherhood statement, no assurance has been given. What has been put to the House is indeed a motherhood statement. What is the problem with what the Opposition has put to the House? It is my belief, looking at the letter from my colleague the shadow minister for mineral resources in the other House, John Turner, that the argument put by my colleague Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile to this House -
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: The last paragraph on page 1.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: I have read the last paragraph. I ask Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile and the Minister: what is the problem with a motherhood statement that simply protects people from a future difficulty? The argument of bias is clearly not contained in section 26, which covers the selection for appointment on merit. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government is objecting with such vehemence to a position that is eminently safe and is arguing that the reasons for it are technical. There is no doubt that it is not contained in the Public Sector Management Act; there is no doubt that the players in this industry, whether the Australian Collieries Staff Association, the New South Wales Coal Mine Managers Association or the New South Wales Minerals Council, would be interested in ensuring the best outcome. I contend that the amendment should be accepted.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS [9.41 p.m.]: I support the comments of my colleague the Hon. J. H. Jobling in relation to the appointment of a mines safety officer. The point has been made that the statements are motherhood and the Opposition accepts that, but it is fair to say that the use of the term "without bias" is not covered in section 26(1) of the Public Sector Management Act. Even if it were covered, it is a very good principle that in the important Mines Legislation Amendment (Mines Safety) Bill we clearly articulate what extra safety requirements are needed.
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA [9.42 p.m.]: The Hon. J. M. Samios makes a lot of sense, even though I really do not see the necessity for inserting the section. This is important legislation; people reading it will not refer to the Public Sector Management Act. I cannot see why the Minister will not accept this amendment, which, after all, states that "A person . . . appropriately qualified, competent and capable of exercising, without bias, the functions of a mine safety officer". It should not be necessary to refer to another Act. The provision should be clearly stated in this Act and therefore made easy for everyone.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING [9.43 p.m.]: It is appropriate that I correct a comment made by a member of this House relating to a letter from my colleague John Turner. I place on record that paragraph so there is no doubt.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer: Is it relevant to these amendments?
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: It is relevant, Minister, and deals specifically with the word "unbiased". The letter stated:
The second, further amendment, results from comments made by the Minister in his second reading speech, where he has made reference to consultants appointed as investigators (S93E), and the Boards of Inquiry person as having to be "competent, qualified and unbiased".
The word "unbiased" is clearly used. The letter continued:
The industry believe those words should be incorporated in the Bill and extended to Investigators and Mine Safety Officers who can be appointed under the Act.
I place that on the record so there is no doubt about what my colleague said and no doubt about the letters he wrote to the members of the crossbench. A copy of that letter is addressed to the Hon. Franca Arena, as it is to other honourable members. The words "without bias" are important and they need to be there for the protection of members of the industry and to ensure that further investigations will result in no more disasters in underground mining.
Question - That the amendments be agreed to - put.
The Committee divided.
Mrs Arena Mr Lynn
Mr Bull Dr Pezzutti
Mrs Chadwick Mr Ryan
Mr Cohen Mr Samios
Mr Corbett Mr Rowland Smith
Mrs Forsythe Mr Tingle
Mr Gallacher Mr Willis
Mr Hannaford Tellers,
Mr Jones Mr Jobling
Mr Kersten Mr Moppett
Dr Burgmann Mr Primrose
Ms Burnswoods Ms Saffin
Dr Chesterfield-Evans Mrs Sham-Ho
Mr Dyer Mr Shaw
Mr Kaldis Ms Tebbutt
Mr Kelly Mr Vaughan
Mrs Nile Tellers,
Rev. Nile Mrs Isaksen
Mr Obeid Mr Manson
Dr Goldsmith Mr Johnson
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendments agreed to.
Schedules as amended agreed to.
Progress reported from Committee and leave granted to sit again.
RESIDENTIAL TRIBUNAL BILL
FAIR TRADING TRIBUNAL BILL
CONSUMER CLAIMS BILL
Bills received and, by leave, read a first time.
Suspension of standing orders agreed to.
MOTOR ACCIDENTS AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 15 October.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD (Leader of the Opposition) [9.56 p.m.]: The coalition does not oppose the Motor Accidents Amendment Bill. The Government has lauded the introduction of this bill as a step towards achieving a reduction in green slip premiums. Honourable members have heard both the Attorney and the Premier announce that the cost of green slip premiums will fall as a result of this Government initiative. My response to that is, "Rubbish!" Absolutely no part of this bill will achieve that.
I hope that I am proven wrong but I am fairly certain - indeed, as confident as I am of the fact that I am standing here - that this measure will not reduce the cost of green slip premiums. The legislation will not result in lower premiums but it may intimidate insurers into possible premium increases. In a so-called free market system in which the green slip regime is supposed to be competitive, it is interesting that the Government’s approach is to legislate intimidation.
The bill is significantly flawed, and I shall detail how I perceive it will operate. It is one of those bills that a government introduces when it wants to be seen to be doing something but which will achieve very little. Honourable members will recall that earlier this year the House amended the Motor Accidents Act to allow solicitors and their plaintiff clients to negotiate legal fees.
The Government, and specifically the Premier, proceeded to say that green slip prices would increase because this House amended the Act to allow plaintiffs and their lawyers to negotiate their own fees. That statement is acknowledged as being wrong by anyone who has any knowledge of this area. If it was not unparliamentary language, one would say that the Premier’s statement was a bald-faced lie. However, I do not use unparliamentary language so I will merely say that the Premier misled the community when he said that amendments made to the Motor Accidents Act by this House caused an increase in green slip premiums. They did not and they will not. However, the Premier seeks to reintroduce amendments which will delete those changes.
So far as I am concerned, the Premier will have his day. If this bill is passed we can continue to make the point that as a result of the tardiness and ineptitude of this Government, green slip premiums continue to rise. It is also interesting to reflect on the way the legislation was created. It was not the result of the creative efforts of the Attorney General, who had responsibility for the Act. This legislation is the result of the creative efforts of the Cabinet Office. There was no consultation with the Law Society or the Bar Association on it. There was
no consultation with the insurance industry. The Motor Accidents Authority is the statutory board with responsibility for the administration of the motor accidents scheme but there was no consultation with the motor accidents board. I understand that there was no formal consultation with the Motor Accidents Authority on this measure.
This legislation was solely politically inspired within the Premier’s office. The Government wants this bill. The Government can have this bill but the bill will not have any of the impact advocated by the Premier. Following the election in March next year we will revisit this legislation to correct those measures that are not appropriate and will, on a long-term basis, adversely impact on the operations of the scheme. The bill now allows the Motor Accidents Authority to reject green slip premiums if the authority is of the opinion that, having regard to actuarial advice, the premiums are excessive. The current scheme is aimed at making certain that all insurers are sufficiently liquid to meet their liabilities under the scheme. This legislation will now require the Motor Accidents Authority - the MAA - to exercise a greater oversight.
The Minister said that the bill will allow the current financial situation of insurance companies to be examined. The bill will amend section 15B to allow for a wider consideration of the financial position of the insurers by the MAA in determining whether a premium should be accepted. What does that mean in real commercial-speak? It means that if insurance companies are making a profit in other areas of their business, be it household, workers compensation or fire insurance, the MAA will be able to direct insurers to reduce their premiums because the authority regards the premiums as being excessive given that the insurers are making profits in other parts of their operations.
The Motor Accidents Authority will be able to direct insurance companies to effectively administer a cross-subsidy scheme in order to sustain the motor accidents scheme. If the Government thinks that insurers will remain in the motor accidents insurance business as a consequence of that measure, it is deluding itself. Already two insurers have pulled out, and there is no way motor that accident insurers will stay in the scheme unless they are able to operate at a reasonable profit.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Unless they make a buck out of it.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: Absolutely. If they are not going to make a buck out of it for the risks involved they will not remain in the business. The honourable member knows that. He was in business and he tried to make a buck out of it. If he was not successful he did not stay in the business. The insurers have indicated to me that, if as a result of other insurers pulling out they end up having to take up a sufficiently large proportion of the scheme, and that significantly increases their liabilities, they may consider getting out as well because they can afford to carry only so much of the risks without having to bear the burden themselves.
If the Government, as a result of these amendments, starts interfering in the market, we will see a collapse of the scheme. This will be a problem. It may well be that some people in the Government take the view that this is good, because I do know that one of the options being considered by the Premier’s office was to move to the tax scheme operating in Victoria. Members of the Labor Party will recall that this was acknowledged by the Premier in a caucus meeting when he directed the Attorney General to look at returning to the old, single insurance scheme under the old GIO.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Which went bankrupt in the amount of several million dollars.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: It was close to several billion dollars. There has never been a report on the final costs of the winding-up of the old scheme.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: It was a cover up.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: The Hon. Richard Jones said it was a cover up. There was no cover up, because there was no statutory reporting mechanism on the wind-up of the old scheme. The wind-up of the old scheme was covered out of taxpayers’ funds. When I was the Attorney General billions of dollars was paid out trying to finalise that old scheme, but some members of this Government would like to go back to that system. I warn honourable members that the Government’s interference could lead to a collapse of our current motor accidents scheme.
The Government proposes also to abandon the current concept of commercial arbitration of disputes by an arbitrator who is a fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, and proposes that this will now be done by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. At least under the current scheme, which is meant to be about actuarial assessment of costs, the structure provides that if there is a dispute it should be arbitrated by someone who knows what he is dealing with. IPART does not have the statutory skills in this area or a provision to take them on
board. The Government has decided to refer disputes to IPART to arbitrate. This again has the potential to undermine the confidence of insurers in the scheme. Their confidence is an important component in maintaining investor confidence. That is why MMI and AMP, which was a strong advocate of the scheme when it first started, pulled out. The Government's proposals present a problem to the industry.
The Government proposes amendments to section 45 to establish a mechanism to ensure that insurers deal with their obligations to meet reasonable and necessary treatment and rehabilitation expenses. That requirement results from the Stubbs case. I have met the grandmother of the Stubbs children and discussed the extreme difficulties she has experienced in securing the necessary level of treatment and rehabilitation for the children she now looks after because of the death of their parents and other siblings. I welcome this amendment because it is beneficial and I commend the Government for it.
The other part of the bill that requires comment is the introduction of a new management scheme for motor accident claims seeking to encourage conciliation. Honourable members will be aware that I am a strong supporter of conciliation and mediation as a mechanism to reduce costs. However, in this bill the Government has introduced a legalistic and overmanaged model. Every commentator to whom I have spoken has commended the approach of the Government, but the structural approach that will be established will increase costs rather than reduce them.
Rather than a mechanism likely to encourage settlements of disputes without the need for lawyers, it is more likely than not that the bill will guarantee the involvement of lawyers at every stage. Costs will increase significantly and early settlements will be unlikely to eventuate. However, that is the Government’s problem. Adequate consultation with the Law Society, the Bar Association and insurers would have resolved the issue. However, the Government wants this scheme and it can wear the consequences. We will revisit it to correct it. I understand that the Government has received a lengthy submission from the Bar Association and has met with the association in recent days.
The association recommended a number of amendments. I am told the association believes that the Attorney General will accept those amendments. If that is so, again that is an acknowledgment that had the Government consulted the appropriate bodies it could have produced a better bill. I have not heard whether the Government will pursue amendments to the bill. I have made it clear to insurance companies, the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association, those concerned with the interests of plaintiffs, and the legal fraternity that I will not place the Opposition in a position in which the Government can falsely accuse it or this House of driving up premiums based on bare-faced lies.
As I say, if the Government wants this scheme, it can wear it. I give a commitment that upon the coalition’s return to government on 27 March it will continue to monitor the operation of the Motor Accidents Act and it will continue to control as best it can the costs of this scheme. Significant changes could be made to achieve a favourable outcome, but none of the approaches taken by the Government has embraced those changes. The coalition will pursue such matters in consultation with the insurance industry and other interested parties - something this Government did not do. The problems manifest within this bill will be corrected at that time.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [10.14 p.m.]: The Australian Democrats acknowledge that green slip premiums have increased, and that people now pay the true cost of green slip insurance cover and are not being subsidised by the taxpayer. The market is setting the level. People should bear in mind that claims have diminished, especially those staged in industrial estates late at night by family members, as exposed by various current affairs shows. I am always suspicious of these so-called frauds as the reason for high premiums. My experience has been that genuinely injured workers compensation claimants endure a totally unreasonable level of surveillance and harassment for the production of film footage of allegedly fraudulent injuries.
Fraudulent claims impose a cost on everyone, especially the innocent victims who may need lifelong care. On other occasions I have spoken in this House about the poor management of workers compensation claims by insurance companies and I only hope that the management of third party claims is better. As I am not entirely confident of this result, I support increased scrutiny of third party premiums by the Motor Vehicle Accidents Authority, as will be achieved by schedule 1, and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, as achieved by schedule 1.
I am impressed also that new subsection (6) of section 15B provides a mechanism to resolve disputes over reasonable and necessary payments. These disputes can lead to insurers refusing to pay for medical treatment, resulting in patients waiting
ages for their matter to be resolved. Doctors are reluctant to do elective operations on these patients under Medicare because they receive half the fee and the doctors know that there is likely to be a legal headache before the matter is resolved. Victims must wait for their cases to go to court and cannot work in the meantime. This is a sure-fire recipe for personal disaster.
I note that the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association is pleased that conciliation mechanisms have been improved. The Justice Research Centre stated in its August report that legal costs in cases in which litigation has commenced are on average 10 times higher than in cases resolved without litigation. Clearly conciliation is important in resolving disputes and reducing costs. On the positive side, I believe that through these reforms the cost of green slip insurance will eventually stabilise. I would go one step further and say that driver education and behavioural training will also bring down the cost of green slips through a reduction in accidents.
BHP showed corporate responsibility by properly training its drivers. In 1993 the crash rate for head office vehicles was 107 out of 400 cars. In 1996 its fleet of cars numbered 850 and after driver training the crash rate was 106 cars. This represented a 50 per cent decrease on the 1993 figures. It does not take Albert Einstein to figure out that for all the extra kilometres travelled the results are outstanding. The Democrats maintain that Staysafe should examine the introduction of driver education courses as an alternative to imposing fines on people for speeding. The statistics I have referred to support that course. I call on the Minister to consider this approach as opposed to simply slugging motorists with increased fines and the loss of double demerit points for speeding on long weekends.
If an infringement notice can produce a changed driving attitude rather than an empty wallet, the process may go a long way to reducing road trauma. I urge people to put things into perspective. Many people have no qualms about paying $1,500 or perhaps $2,000 to insure a car but baulk at paying $400 or $500 to insure against injury or permanent disability if their car and the three children in the back seat are hit by another vehicle. I venture to suggest that this sort of cover may not seem like a bargain when making the payment at registration time, but as a doctor who has seen the results of severe road trauma in accident and emergency rooms, I assure honourable members that the cost of treatment and rehabilitation is considerable. The Australian Democrats support the bill.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS [10.19 p.m.]: I refer to the speech made earlier by the Leader of the Opposition, in which he indicated that the amendments proposed by the New South Wales Bar Association would be accepted by the Government. We now have a letter from the New South Wales Bar Association which indicates that there is a difficulty in the acceptance of these amendments. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the letter from the New South Wales Bar Association dated 19 October addressed to the Hon. J. W. Shaw, Attorney General.
Motor Accidents Amendment Bill 1998
Thank you for providing us with an opportunity of commenting on the above Bill.
I understand Dr Andrew Morrison, RFD S.C. has already spoken with you about changes we believe might beneficially be made to the Bill.
This letter builds on Dr Morrison’s remarks to you.
The Bar Association is of the view that there are five major matters that need to be addressed in the Bill.
1. The continued exemption of Motor Accidents Act 1988 preliminary payments from the scheme introduced in 1991 means that a major departure from that which is required continues in existence - see the criticism of the Court of Appeal Stubbs v NRMA Insurance Limited (1997) 42 NSWLR 550 @ 573. This can be remedied by the repeal of the exemptions which relate to motor vehicle accident cases, namely s.76H of the Supreme Court Act 1970 and s.61 of the District Courts Act.
2. The proposed s.82D(4) requires Plaintiffs to make an offer greater than their own original offer if they are to receive costs, irrespective of having made an offer greater than the insurer’s offer. Plaintiffs should not be obliged to bid against themselves in this regard. The provision will discourage acceptance of conciliators’ assessments.
3. The notice provisions are totally unworkable. Notice is required within six months of the accident in all cases, including, for example, 2 year-old paraplegics, brain damaged victims etc. This notice sets in motion the provisions of the bill and would see offers made and the whole procedure effected within 10 months of the accident. Penalties attach to failure to beat the offer. Why should infants or those unable for 10 months after their accident to attend to their own affairs be treated this way? In like vein, particulars are required under S.43A, 44C (or 50A), S.48 and Part 9 of the District Court rules, all within the same period of 6 months. This should increase costs considerably, with no benefit to anybody.
It would seem preferable for those catastrophic cases where the plaintiff will obviously have very significant
medical and other support needs, and where a full assessment is not possible for a substantial period, to be exempt from the limited notice period.
It would also seem preferable to combine the particulars required by s.43A, s.44C and Part 9 to avoid duplication and unnecessary expense to the scheme. (The s.48 particulars should be retained for the insurer’s protection).
4. The conciliation procedure will take place at a time when the outcome of injuries will be problematic, and both insurer and Plaintiff will be erring on the side of caution. Far from achieving a higher settlement rate, it is probable that costs will simply be increased as additional procedures are built into progress of the matter. There is also the possibility of professional negligence actions in respect of matters incautiously settled at an early point in time. A routine is likely to develop by which solicitors protect themselves when settling matters prematurely. This will be at a cost to the plaintiffs.
5. For all the reasons which we discussed and on which we corresponded earlier this year, the Bar Association remains strongly opposed to the proposal for a regulation to be made setting costs that will override a costs agreement.
I would be happy, along with members of the Bar’s Common Law Committee, to meet with you to discuss the above proposed amendments to the Bill.
I have written in similar terms to the Hon. John Hannaford, Shadow Attorney General.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [10.20 p.m.]: A few days ago other crossbench members and I had a meeting with the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association. I am pleased to say that the meeting and a subsequent meeting with the Attorney General’s staff were highly productive. The Attorney General is very receptive, unlike some Ministers, in looking at the legislation and accepting amendments where they are appropriate. The discussions that took place between representatives of the Attorney General’s Department and the Motor Accidents Authority, Law Society members and the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association have led to a number of amendments that will be moved by the Attorney General in Committee. We expressed concern when the APLA raised these matters with us.
These concerns include that there be two streams of cases - minor cases and claims that are capable of early resolution, to which new section 44C provisions will apply, and other cases in which early resolution is unlikely due to instability of medical condition; that provision be made to allow for the early commencement of court proceedings to determine liability separately; that cost penalties in the bill be changed so as to not so heavily penalise the claimant, that is, that new section 82D be amended so that each party pays its own costs; that provision be made so that section 45 can be enforced; that section 43A and new section 44C be amalgamated so as to avoid duplication; and that the embargo on motor accident victims receiving interim damages under the Supreme Court and District Court legislation be lifted. I understand that most, if not all, of these have been accepted and I am most grateful for that. Otherwise, we would have to fight for them in this House.
When I went through the legislation recently I was concerned about a number of points that I have put, through my adviser, to the Attorney General’s Department, to which I have not yet received satisfactory answers. One of these concerns related to new subsection 8(b) of section 13. This provision covers the cancellation of a third party policy in respect of a motor vehicle the registration of which is cancelled under division 3 or part 4 of the Act because a cheque was not covered or a credit card failed to meet its obligations. Paragraph (b) provides for the restoration of a policy, including retrospectively. What concerned me was, if a person removed money from an account and the spouse paid the policy by cheque not knowing that the money had been removed by the other party, whether that person would automatically receive restoration respectively. While the insurance was cancelled those persons could have an accident and be liable for a large amount of money, when the cancellation was not their fault at all. I wondered whether that would be covered by section 13(8)(b), and I have not yet received a satisfactory response to that question.
I wondered also whether there was a right of appeal under new subsection (6) of section 15B. I understand that the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal does not have appeal rights, but presumably there would be some sort of appeal right from the tribunal’s decision. I have not received a reply to that inquiry either. I also asked what standing the code of practice had under new section 40B(4). It has been confirmed that it has no legal standing but it has licence condition powers. New section 45A(6) provides:
The Authority may decline to deal with, or may defer dealing with, the matter under this section or may withdraw the matter from arbitration:
Paragraph (d) specifies, "for any other reason that appears to be sufficient to the Authority." That seems to be a very broad power and I felt there should be an appeal right to that provision as well. New section 50G(2) provides:
The insurer is required to pay to the Authority the fee prescribed by the regulations in respect of a reference under this section. The Unit may decline to proceed with the reference unless the fee is paid.
I asked what happens at that point, and I wondered whether that enabled court proceedings to be commenced in respect of the claim concerned. As far as I can determine, I have not received a satisfactory response to that question. I hope I receive some response to these questions. I also asked why, under new section 56, guidelines should not be provided to the courts as to the amounts that should be awarded, and whether there should not be disclosures of offers and counter offers. Surely, if there were disclosures of both offers and counter offers, that should not be a problem for the court, which may well need some guidance. Apparently there is a precedent in other cases that no guidance is offered, but, again, I have not received a satisfactory response to that question.
Another question I asked was about "protected information" in new section 132B(7). I asked if there had been consultation on whether this protected information is adequate for the insurers, or whether the provisions should be expanded, and what consultation there had been on what "protected information" actually means. I would be grateful if that was answered as well. New section 132C(3) provides that a report may identify particular insurers. If a report identifies particular insurers it could affect their businesses quite severely; it could cost them tens of millions of dollars.
I wondered whether an insurer would have any right to look at the document before it was published to ensure that the information was correct and whether the insurers would have some right of appeal against what was in the report. If the report does identify a particular insurer it could cost that insurer half its business, and it concerns me that the bill does not appear to contain any provision to allow the insurer to have any say. In Committee I propose to move an amendment to new section 82D(2). Under that provision claimants may be liable to significant costs if they refuse an offer and go to court. That provision appears a number of times in the legislation. It states:
If the amount of damages assessed by the conciliator is less than or equal to the amount of the insurer’s offer under section 50D, the claimant is liable to pay the insurer’s legal costs and the prescribed conciliation fee.
The claimants may not know that they will be liable for costs as well, and they may go blithely into a court case not realising that they face more costs than they expect. The Attorney General’s officials have seen the merit of notifying claimants that they would be up for costs as well. That issue will be discussed at the Committee stage.
There are several problems with the bill. There is a need for more consultation. I have identified a few concerns, as did legal professionals. Those concerns have been addressed. Obviously, the bill is not by any means perfect. I am concerned that the Parliament will pass the bill with possible flaws and that this legislation will have to be revisited next year. It is to be hoped that there will be no major problem. I do not share the view of the Leader of the Opposition on the bill; I think that this measure will probably save costs. I do, however, share some concerns of the insurers, and can understand their reluctance to have their businesses exposed.
I do not consider that this bill has adequate safeguards to protect insurers from competition. The penalty for disclosing information is really not high enough to deter anyone from disclosing information. A person might be fined for disclosing information but an insurance company could make a great deal of money as a result of that disclosure. This legislation should be better thought out and mulled over before it is passed. It is hoped that there will be the opportunity for more detailed consideration of the bill at the Committee stage. I believe the bill to be flawed at present.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Dorothy Isaksen.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Fair Trading) [10.31 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
DEFECTIVE VEHICLE LEGISLATION
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN [10.31 p.m.]: This evening I draw the attention of the community and the Attorney General in particular to representations I have received from constituents dissatisfied with the remedial processes available in this State for circumstances in which new cars do not meet the reasonable expectations of the purchaser - in other words, when the purchaser feels that he or she has bought a "lemon". When talking about a motor vehicle in New South Wales the word "new" does not necessarily equate with an unused or a reliable car.
In fact, the Federal Court in Annand & Thompson Pty Ltd v Trade Practices Commission in 1979 found that the word "new" can mean, among other things, that the vehicle has not suffered from significant deterioration or been used to any significant extent, or even that the vehicle is one that has suffered a measure of damage but that the damage has been quite effectively repaired or any damaged part replaced and the vehicle is otherwise as new in every respect. It is not uncommon for a new vehicle to break down as a result of human error in manufacturing. Consequently, in some cases the price consideration paid for new goods by a consumer to a dealer may differ radically from what is received. Furthermore, the inconvenience of a defective new car sours the entire transaction.
It is understandable that the name "lemon legislation" has been given to the American body of law which ensures that consumers get what they pay for - whether it be a new car, truck, boat or other like product. Based on a United States of America Federal statute known as the Magnuson Moss Act of 1974, lemon law applies to vehicles used for personal, family or household purposes. A lemon is, for example, a new automobile with a defect that substantially impairs its use, value or safety and which, after consistent attempts - in New York city that means three to four attempts - cannot be repaired or has been off the road for more than 30 days in its warranty period.
If the court determines that a person’s car is a lemon, the manufacturer must either refund all that person’s money or give him or her a new car - and the choice is that of the purchaser. Australia requires equivalent protection for consumers. Such a law would acknowledge the huge financial commitment that families and individuals make when they purchase a new car, often for safety purposes - for children, for example - or for other essential reasons such as reliability. New car manufacturers are obliged only to fix defects, continually, until the warranty runs out. Afterwards the consumer is financially burdened with repair costs.
Persistent problems mean that the purchaser’s benefit from a new vehicle is outweighed by the detrimental impact on day-to-day life. American lemon law recognises this as being unjust, whereas avenues of redress in New South Wales are limited. One option in New South Wales is to seek a remedy through the trade practices legislation and the Sale of Goods Act relying on standard express or implied warranties. However, the consumer will not recover the full cost of the car and is unlikely to be awarded a new car unless a deliberate misrepresentation by the dealer is proven. Difficulties associated with this option are highlighted by the various meanings attributed to the word "new", as I have mentioned.
A second alternative is to approach the Department of Fair Trading, which then contacts the motor dealer and, if a resolution cannot be reached, has the car inspected by a qualified technician. The technician submits a written report to the Motor Vehicle Disputes Committee, the members of which represent key industry bodies. An article appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 April 1998 by Phil Scott estimated that 150 new car disputes arise in New South Wales annually and that at least 30 of those disputes appear before the Committee.
The Committee has limited power, however, and can only make recommendations to the Director-General of Fair Trading. If still dissatisfied, the final alternative for the consumer of a lemon new vehicle in New South Wales is to take the matter to the Supreme Court - and imagine the cost of that. New South Wales needs lemon legislation. It should be the first Australian State to introduce such legislation.
HOMEBUSH BAY PARKING
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [10.36 p.m.]: This evening I shall speak about parking at Homebush Bay and, particularly, of problems I experienced last Sunday. When raising these issues I realise that I am in a position, as a member of Parliament, that is not enjoyed by others who may have experienced problems similar to those I encountered on Sunday. On Sunday I attended the Access Equity Expo at Hall 4, Homebush Bay, in my capacity as a volunteer with the Paralympics. I worked on the Paralympics stand for about three hours. I do not intend to use that position to draw political points, but the Government should be aware of several occurrences.
First, a majority of those attending the exhibition were confined to wheelchairs, and there were a number of aged people. They attended the exhibition to see displays on disability access issues. At least 50 per cent of those attending - possibly more - were in wheelchairs. Those people were told that they would be able to park in an access car park. The access car park is located at the back of hall 4. Those who were not accompanied by someone able to push the wheelchair were required to negotiate their way a long distance from the car park at the back of the hall, down the side of the hall to the front of the hall.
Person after person raised the issue of difficult access from the car park with those of us on the
Paralympics stand. People want to know that Sydney will get it right for the Paralympics. The location of access car parks in relation to various venues was the first issue. In the case to which I refer the problem would not have been encountered had there been a door at the back of hall 4, fairly close to the car park. There is no door. Although that issue may appear to be minor, it is a difficulty that needs to be corrected if Sydney is to appear at its best for the Paralympics and for many other exhibitions held at the showground.
When I arrived at Homebush Bay I held an official exhibitor’s pass. I made no reference to parking and had no difficulty with the concept of paying to park or even parking at some distance. As I had to attend another event shortly after being at Homebush Bay, however, I needed to have my car with me. Parking officials were easily identified by their bright yellow and green shirts; they were clearly authorised parking officials. I told the first parking official I encountered that I had an official exhibitor’s pass. He directed me as to where I should go.
When I approached that car park I was instructed by another official to go further down to an area marked "Exhibitors’ Car Park". When I drove there, with many other cars ahead and behind me, I was told that there were about 150 places left. The sign on the side of the road had "P" for permit and although I realised I did not have a permit I parked my car because I had been directed there. During the course of the morning while I was on the stand I spoke to an official who indicated that one of his tasks was the co-ordination of casual workers. He mentioned that there had been problems in co-ordinating the parking with the Olympic Co-ordination Authority and the Royal Agricultural Society and also problems with the various instructions given to casual employees.
Quite clearly last Sunday various instructions had been given to employees, not all of which suggested there was co-ordination. When I returned to my car it had a parking ticket, as did every other car in the row. I have no difficulty paying that parking fine and I am not raising this matter for that reason. However, I wonder about all the other cars in that row. Many people in their employment may have parked there and their companies may pay the fine, but others could be volunteers working in various capacities, including some of the disability sports groups. I would not like them to have received a parking ticket.
I raise the problems of co-ordination of advice being given to people using the facilities and of access to parking. It is well and good to advertise that parking is available, but people should not have to push their wheelchairs a long distance. I was advised that it was very difficult for some people to access the particular hall. The Government needs to get these matters right for the Paralympics and other events.
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA [10.41 p.m.]: A few years ago, after the death of pioneers in the field of multiculturalism, such as Walter Lipman from Melbourne and Vlado Menart from Sydney - significant figures in the establishment of ethnic communities councils in their respective States - I reflected on the fact that the founding of different structures to promote multiculturalism in Australia had not been researched or documented properly. Our pioneers were dying, and our history was being forgotten. I thought that it was time to call together some of the people who had been involved in the founding of multicultural Australia to discuss the best way to document this movement and to honour the pioneers who have been involved in it.
In 1993 a meeting took place at Parliament House. Following the meeting the multicultural Australia project steering committee was established, which included Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, me, my colleague the Hon. J. M. Samios, Ross Tzannes, Bill Jegorow, King Fong, Edna McGill, Stepan Kerkyasharian, John Brennan, and people representing SBS and other important multicultural structures in our society. It is impossible to mention all the people who have been involved but I know that when the project will be officially launched next February they will all be given due recognition. After years of research, the recording of interviews, the assembly of documents and historical photographs, "The Making of Multicultural Australia", a unique project of national cultural significance, emerged.
A three CD-ROM set was developed by the Board of Studies and the University of Technology, Sydney, with the assistance of various bodies whose representatives participated in the steering committee. The first CD-ROM entitled "How did our Multicultural Society Emerge?" is a self-running documentary of Australian multicultural history. The multimedia documentary of commentary, videos and images will run for more than an hour if left untouched. At any of the 50 stages in this history the user can step out to a menu from which many additional detailed interviews, documents, videos and images on that topic can be explored. The six main sections of the documentary history are:
"Before the Australian nation", "White Australia", "From assimilation to multiculturalism", "Multiculturalism in practice", "Transforming multiculturalism" and "This generation".
The second CD-ROM is entitled "Is Australia a Multicultural Society?" and contains six major topics which explore more than 1,000 items of commentary, photographs, video clips, audio interviews, written documents and artworks. The sections are: "What is a multicultural society?", "Who participates?", "Viewpoints on multicultural Australia", "Keeping it together", "A festival of the arts" and "A community story". The third CD-ROM entitled "A Multicultural Research Library" contains an anthology of more than 2,500 pages of key documents in the history and exploration of Australian multicultural issues. I have asked that this material be also provided to the Parliamentary Library because members of Parliament will find the material useful. The material will be available to all Australian libraries and to both high school and university students.
The set is an incredibly valuable documentation of the development of multicultural Australia. The project will be officially launched in February 1999, and I will keep the House informed of where the launch will take place. Having seen the preview of this excellent project, I wanted to put on record and congratulate everybody involved with it - the Board of Studies, the Ethnic Affairs Commission and Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, who has been one of the main supporters and developers of such an important project that is part of the history of Australia. We must not forget that this history of Australia would have been forgotten in the next few generations if it had not been recorded properly.
RURAL HUMAN RIGHTS
The Hon. JANELLE SAFFIN [10.46 p.m.]: On 12 August the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Commissioner, Chris Sidoti, addressed the Western Australian conference of the Country Women’s Association in a series of bush talks on the topic of human rights in regional, rural and remote Australia. I commend the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for this excellent and timely initiative. I first heard an excerpt of Commissioner Sidoti’s talk broadcast on the radio when I was driving out in the bush and I thought, "At last the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission will take on real meaning to country people." My experience of country New South Wales and country Australia is that while I have a passion for human rights, which I have made obvious here, sometimes people in the bush say, "What are they talking about? It is all to do with the city or international issues. It doesn’t relate to us."
The bush talks are a series of consultations to identify human rights issues and to detail how human rights are applicable to everyone, particularly Australians living in rural and especially remote areas. The bush talks program commenced earlier this year has been conducted in South Australia and other places. However, the Western Australian bush talk addressed issues facing country towns and looked at the human rights dimensions of those problems in an attempt to remedy them. At this stage the program is primarily concerned with listening to the concerns of country Australians.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Chris Sidoti; the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Professor Alice Tay; and staff commenced the talks and visited areas in Western Australia. The bush talks have four main objectives. First, to seek to inform country Australians about their human rights and the role of the commission, which is a small attempt to overcome the so-called "sandstone curtain" of the Great Dividing Range. Chris Sidoti said in his speech that one woman wrote:
Education and promotion campaigns never seem to get past the Great Dividing Range. Rural communities have been left behind in the social changes that are occurring to people on the eastern seaboard.
Second, to provide a forum for country Australians to voice their human rights concerns. Third, to identify key human rights issues for rural Australians which the commission can take up and do further work by an inquiry, a submission to government, a report, or a project in partnership with a local government authority or a State or national representative organisation. The commission is open to ideas. Fourth, to develop practical solutions to the main human rights problems that are raised. Commissioner Sidoti said that in March in Tamworth he was told:
People in rural Australia know they’re hurting, but they don’t know the solutions.
The commissioner identified what is meant by "human rights". He said:
Human rights belong to every person by virtue of birth. They are not only for majority groups or for minority groups.
Human rights not only include civil and political rights but also include the right to an adequate standard of living. The enjoyment of this right
requires, at a minimum, adequate food and nutrition, clothing, housing and necessary care such as health and medical services. Human rights also include the right to work, the right to social security and the right to education, all of which impose an obligation on all governments to give assistance to families in need. One of the major areas of concern that is raised all the time is the decline in social services.
Honourable members have been hearing lately about the real problems bank closures are causing and would know of the closures in New South Wales. However, in Western Australia 45 shires have no direct access to a bank branch. All the States and Territories are now facing similar problems. I read in a report that 14 per cent of people in the United States of America no longer have a bank account. Without a bank account one becomes a non-citizen in any society. I hope we do not go that way.
The Hon. ELAINE NILE [10.51 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House an email message from a Louisa Moore that went to every member’s office at 8.49 a.m. on 23 October through the Internet. The subject of the message was "if you thought Fred Nile was bad". I found it deeply offensive. Part of the message read, "It has come to my attention that ‘Rev’ Fred Phelps". The message went to the Granville electorate office of the Hon. Kim Yeadon, the Minister for Information and Technology, and from that office was sent to everyone. Already staff members who have seen it on the Internet have approached our staff members. Appendix A, entitled "Guidelines for the Use of the Internet", to the Parliament of New South Wales Internet Policy reads:
Users have a duty of care to ensure that any messages sent via the Internet through e-mail, news groups or mailing lists contain NO indecent, vulgar, inflammatory, discriminatory or intimidatory language likely to bring the Parliament, its Members or its staff into disrepute.
The policy continues:
All e-mail users should observe the normal etiquette applying to other forms of correspondence or communication. Users should be aware of the Parliament’s e-mail policy and guidelines for storage of electronic information.
Chapter 8-1.3 of the December 1997 edition of the personnel handbook, entitled "Model Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures", reads:
The people of New South Wales have a right to expect the business of the State to be conducted with efficiency, fairness, impartiality and integrity.
Public employment carries with it a particular obligation to the public interest. It requires standards of professional behaviour from staff that promote and maintain public confidence and trust in the work of government agencies.
Although no one set of rules can answer all ethical questions, a code of conduct provides an organisation with an ethical framework for the decisions, actions and behaviour of its staff. In this regard it explains the principles covering appropriate conduct in a variety of contexts and outlines the minimum standard of behaviour expected of public employees.
Chapter 8-1.4.1 says:
They should not engage in activities, at work or outside work, that would bring the public sector into disrepute:
Chapter 8-1.4.9 says:
Use of official facilities and equipment
Employees are expected to be efficient and economical in their use and management of public resources, including their own work time. They should be scrupulous in their use of public property and services.
Some honourable members may not have seen the message because their staff may not have picked it up. I ask the Attorney General to investigate the transmission of the message from the office of the Minister for Information Technology as I believe disciplinary action should be taken against the person responsible. I do not think many members here would be pleased to have their name thrown up in a similar way in a subject heading.
The Hon. I. COHEN [10.55 p.m.]: The forests of north-east New South Wales encompass one of Australia’s, and thus the world’s, primary centres of biodiversity. North-east New South Wales currently has less than 10 per cent of its land area in national parks, giving it the worst forest reserve system anywhere in Australia. I bring the forest issue to the attention of the House because it is very much in focus at present.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: It means you cannot see the woods for the trees.
The Hon. I. COHEN: The Hon. D. F. Moppett will have to do better than that if we are to have an intelligent debate on the issue. The honourable member’s problem is that he cannot see the jobs in the trees. The recommended reserves put forward by the conservation movement in what is termed the public interest plan will add 860,000 hectares of forest to the national parks estate, with an additional 280,000 hectares to be added over the next 10 years. Conservationists used the advanced
computer software C-Plan and data on 800 plants, 140 animals, 200 forest ecosystems, old-growth rainforest, wilderness and a multitude of other values to identify the most important forests needed to meet the national reserve criteria.
A total of 1,137,000 hectares of forest were needed to achieve an average of 98 per cent of conservation targets. This was then revised using social values and reserve design, including an expert-derived wildlife corridor system to identify priority areas for reservation, a scientific-based reserve system management. I know that Don Page and the Hon. D. F. Moppett looked at the display today. I hope that some National Party members go to the National Party party room and have intelligent and worthwhile discussion on the potential for finding ways to have a meeting of minds.
Conservationists are now proposing that the identified areas be immediately protected. They encompass 860,000 hectares of forest and achieve an average of 90 per cent of targets. In order to maintain timber supplies the additional areas initially identified as necessary for reservation should be phased into the reserve system in the next decade. The public interest plan incorporates numerous fragments of very poorly reserved forest ecosystems on Crown land, which need protection and rehabilitation. Aboriginal rights over such lands also need recognition, respect and resolution.
Existing and proposed plantations, value adding and new wood products offer a secure future for the timber industry. The current five plus five year wood supply agreements, which expire in 2007, are set at unsustainable levels. According to State Forests data the public interest plan would enable existing wood supply agreements to be met for their remaining eight years before reducing to a sustainable level of logging. Substantial reductions in timber volumes will then be needed. There must be a thorough reappraisal of available timber before any serious consideration is given to extending wood supply commitments.
We are working here towards an ecologically sustainable forest use. State Forests and the timber industry are pushing for widespread clear-felling and reduction in protection for threatened species and water quality. If State Forests gets its way, large areas of public forest will be clear-felled over the next 20 years. Conservationists are asking the New South Wales Government to maintain and improve the current regulatory regime over forestry operations. New measures recommended by expert flora and fauna panels to better protect threatened species must be implemented.
The proposed State Forests clear-felling regime must be rejected. We must move towards restoring our native forest structure and diversity and stop trying to convert them into plantations. That does not mean that plantations, themselves developed out of bare land, are not an excellent opportunity, both for the industry and for conservation. Under the plan immediate job losses are not required. Through industry restructuring, workers displaced will be re-employed elsewhere in the timber industry. Potential forest-based employment in many other industries has been identified - for example, tourism, education, reafforestation and plantations, reserve management and natural resource planning, research and development, regulation and enforcement, film industry services, information technology, forest foods and other products, forest repair and rehabilitation.
The discussion paper of the North-East Forest Alliance - NEFA - outlines innovative ways to create forest-based jobs in New South Wales. As well as that, never before have we seen new jobs from carbon credits; never before have financial markets been prepared to pay for the benefits that forests provide. A carbon credit trading scheme could fund plantation establishment and the restoration of degraded forests. Honourable members have an historic opportunity to get conservation and sustainable work in the forests of northern New South Wales right. I just hope that the major political parties, Government and Opposition, listen to the reasoned argument of the conservation movement.
Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 11.00 p.m.