The President (The Hon. Donald Thomas Harwin)
Tuesday 18 September 2012
took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
read the Prayers.
I acknowledge the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation and its elders and thank them for their custodianship of this land.
ASSENT TO BILL
Assent to the following bill reported:
Crimes Amendment (Cheating at Gambling) Bill 2012
TRANSPORT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (COMMUNITY ROAD SAFETY FUND) BILL 2012
Bill received from the Legislative Assembly, and read a first time and ordered to be printed on motion by the Hon. Duncan Gay.
Motion by the Hon. Duncan Gay agreed to:
Second reading set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
That standing orders be suspended to allow the passing of the bill through all its remaining stages during the present or any one sitting of the House.
LEGISLATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps
tabled the report entitled "Legislation Review Digest No. 25/55", dated 18 September 2012.
Ordered to be printed on motion by the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps
TRANSPORT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (COMMUNITY ROAD SAFETY FUND) BILL 2012
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY
(Minister for Roads and Ports) [2.57 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012 is to establish a dedicated fund—the Community Road Safety Fund—that will receive fine revenue from camera-recorded speeding and traffic light offences. The bill provides that the fund will be used to meet the cost of the Government in delivering road safety initiatives in New South Wales. In November 2011 a petition signed by 13,500 NRMA Motoring Services members in support of the hypothecation of fine revenue from driving offences to fund road safety was tabled in this Parliament. The Government has listened to the NRMA members and the wider community. Following the introduction of the bill by the Minister for Transport in the other place the NRMA raised concerns with a provision in the bill that it had not originally aired. We have made a minor amendment to the proposed bill to provide the community with certainty that all revenue generated by camera-detected offences will be directed only to road safety.
I hear quiet mutterings by the Opposition spokesman. No wonder Opposition members are quiet; this is something they had a chance to do for 16 years and they did not do anything. Today I have the privilege of introducing this bill knowing that it reflects broad community sentiment and will be another measure to strengthen the integrity of speed camera programs in New South Wales. Responsibility for the strategic direction and funding of the road safety program in New South Wales rests with the Centre for Road Safety within Transport for NSW.
Road safety programs are delivered by the Centre for Road Safety in partnership with operating agencies such as Roads and Maritime Services and other partners, including the NSW Police Force, the Department of Education and Communities, and local government. For this reason, the bill provides that the Community Road Safety Fund will be administered by Transport for NSW. These financial provisions are being introduced as an initiative of the NSW Speed Camera Strategy announced on 1 June 2012, which came about following feedback from the New South Wales community.
It is important to understand the context and reason for this new funding arrangement. The cost of road trauma in New South Wales is high. Each year approximately 400 people are killed and more than 26,000 are injured on our roads. While much has been done to reduce the road toll since the 1970s, ongoing commitment and funding is vital to reducing the cost of road trauma to the community. The New South Wales Government is currently finalising the development of a comprehensive NSW Road Safety Strategy, which will highlight our road safety priorities for the next 10 years. This strategy has been developed in consultation with community groups and stakeholders to ensure that it reflects best-practice road safety and community priorities. As the single biggest contributing factor to the road toll, speeding is a key area for action.
On average, about 40 per cent of deaths—or about 170—on our roads each year can be attributed to speed. Speed-related crashes also cost the community about $41.7 billion annually, and addressing this challenge will include, alongside other measures, implementation of the overarching NSW Speed Camera Strategy. The strategy was developed following the Auditor-General's review of speed cameras, which found that the right speed camera in the right location can save lives. The strategy outlines how speed and red-light speed traffic cameras are to be used in New South Wales to supplement traditional enforcement conducted by the NSW Police Force to reduce speeding and improve safety on our roads.
Camera programs are delivered in a partnership between Transport for NSW and Roads and Maritime Services. There is also close collaboration with the NSW Police Force to ensure that cameras are used strategically in locations where there is a known road safety issue. This targeted enforcement is part of the broader strategy to improve road safety, and is delivered alongside other measures in the road safety program, including engineering works, public education campaigns, education programs and enhanced police enforcement. Together, these road safety initiatives are critical to achieving the State Plan commitment to reduce deaths on our roads by 2021.
The Auditor-General's review of speed cameras, which was completed in July last year, also made a number of recommendations to strengthen transparency and improve public confidence in the road safety benefits of camera programs. The New South Wales Government accepted all the audit recommendations and the NSW Speed Camera Strategy outlines the range of measures introduced in New South Wales to ensure that camera programs deliver road safety benefits and meet community expectations. The goal of our camera programs is very simple: slow drivers down to reduce the likelihood and severity of crashes. For that reason we have implemented enhanced warning signage on approach to our red-light speed cameras and changed the name of these cameras to reflect the fact that they enforce both red-light running and speeding.
We have also enhanced the warning signage on the approach to mobile speed camera sites to ensure that drivers are aware of enforcement. This is about achieving a balance between fairness and ensuring that drivers who do the wrong thing are called to account. While the mobile speed camera program is being expanded to 7,000 enforcement hours per month, this is more than 40 per cent less than the Labor Government's proposed program of 12,200 enforcement hours per month. We also want the community to be confident that we are enforcing in the right place. We are determined not only to say that cameras are effective at improving road safety but also to provide the evidence.
Transport for NSW recently published the first annual speed camera review, which evaluated all speed cameras in New South Wales to ensure that they were actually delivering the promised road safety benefit. All this information has been made available online. The review highlighted how effective our fixed speed camera program has been, delivering an 87 per cent reduction in fatalities, a 38 per cent reduction in crashes and a 37 per cent reduction in injuries in the past five years. This is a saving of 53 lives. The bill is the next step in delivering on the Auditor-General's recommendations and increasing the transparency of speed camera enforcement in New South Wales. This bill will ensure that revenue from speed cameras is assigned directly to the vital road safety program in New South Wales that is overseen by the Centre for Road Safety in close consultation with key stakeholders and the community.
Motorists who are detected speeding or running red lights face both a fine and demerit points on their licence. This provides strong deterrence to drivers who would otherwise jeopardise the safety of our roads. To date, revenue collected from automated speed and traffic light enforcement has been paid into the Consolidated Fund. These funds have been directed to the delivery of all government programs, including, but not limited to, road safety. We know that there is broad community support for penalising drivers who do the wrong thing. However, the community also wants an assurance that revenue generated in the name of road safety is being used in a targeted way to improve our roads, educate road users and reduce the road toll.
Hypothecation of fine revenue is common practice in most Australian jurisdictions, including Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia. It has also been used in a different context in New South Wales. The Marine Rescue contribution from boaters in New South Wales is used in its entirety to fund Marine Rescue NSW, a volunteer-based organisation whose aim is to improve safety on the State's waterways. As noted, this bill will establish a special fund to be administered by Transport for NSW and is dedicated to meeting the costs of delivering road safety in New South Wales. The bill defines the type of fine revenue to be paid into the fund with reference to the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999. This is the key piece of legislation that defines and provides authority to conduct camera-based speed and traffic light enforcement in New South Wales.
All revenue generated from speeding offences detected by an approved speed-measuring device and recorded by an approved camera recording device, and traffic light offences detected by an approved camera detection device, will be paid into the fund. This includes offences detected by fixed, including school zone, mobile and red light speed cameras. The provisions specifically allow for revenue from heavy vehicle speeding offences detected by an approved average speed detection device, as used in the point-to-point speed enforcement, also to be paid into the fund. This means that all revenue generated by the four types of cameras used in New South Wales will be directed into the fund. It includes fines paid by individuals and also the higher penalty amounts paid by companies that refuse to nominate the driver responsible for a camera-detected driving offence.
The effect is simple: Drivers who ignore the law and put other road users at risk will be paying for road safety in New South Wales. The bill also includes a regulation-making power to allow for revenue from other speeding and red-light offences to be paid into the fund. Any regulation of that kind requires the concurrence of Treasury and is a measure to ensure efficiency and to futureproof the fund in the event of changes to speed or traffic light enforcement practices or adoption of new technologies. This is consistent with the intent of the bill and will enable a more flexible and timely process for minor changes. At this time revenue from speeding, red-light and other traffic offences that are detected by the NSW Police Force while on patrol will not be directed into the fund. As noted, the fund will be used to meet the cost of the Government delivering road safety initiatives.
The bill includes a broad definition of the road safety functions of Transport for NSW. The definition reflects the diverse work delivered by the Centre for Road Safety and its implementation partners. The key functions include developing programs, projects, strategies and campaigns to promote or improve road safety, and providing advice and assistance to public and local authorities to improve road safety by conducting road safety research and testing. In 2011-12 the cost to the State Government of delivering these road safety functions was $231 million. The figure excludes additional funds provided by the Federal Government to deliver road safety improvements under the Federal Black Spot Program. This represents a record investment by the State Government in road safety in New South Wales and, frankly, it is money well spent.
The intent of establishing the Community Road Safety Fund is to maintain State road safety funding at the level of at least $231 million, indexed for consumer price index increases. Revenue will drop as people are influenced by road safety initiatives and cameras. The Government will then top up that revenue out of consolidated revenue so it never falls below the $231 million indexed for consumer price index increases. That is a bonus that the Government will probably never reach. Each and every year the broad range of initiatives delivered within the road safety program are prioritised by Transport for NSW based on evidence-based analysis of issues and risks that lead to crashes in New South Wales. The initiatives combine engineering solutions with proven enforcement and education programs. Community and stakeholder input is sought on an ongoing basis through the Road Safety Advisory Council's consultation for development of road safety strategies.
Ensuring kids are safe near and on the road is always raised as a priority for the community and the Government shares that concern. Initiatives in the road safety budget to ensure the safety of children include the Government's $17 million commitment to install flashing lights in school zones over the next four years. The commitment includes the original funding of $13 million plus a further $4 million to install flashing lights in country and regional school zones. That is in addition to the ongoing funding for school crossing supervisors and other safety initiatives around schools. These measures are combined with school education programs delivered in partnership with the Department of Education and Communities.
Road safety messages also reach local communities through the Centre for Road Safety partnership and funding support for council road safety officers. The local government program operates in regional and remote areas as well as towns and cities. This enables us to address different road safety concerns at a grassroots level. All these initiatives contribute to keeping children and local communities safe and will be funded by the Community Road Safety Fund. As the Government has consistently maintained, speed cameras are in place to supplement and not replace hands-on police enforcement. In a practical way this fund will strengthen and ensure increased police presence on our roads. The road safety budget includes an allocation to fund additional high-visibility enforcement by the NSW Police Force such as random breath testing and roadside drug testing operations. This cost will be met by the fund ensuring an even greater police presence on our roads during high-risk periods.
The budget also includes ongoing delivery of the targeted road safety engineering projects that have been established under the road toll response package. The program of works was developed to address the spike in the road death toll in 2009. It has provided ongoing funding for high-priority engineering and review work delivered by Roads and Maritime Services and local government. Works include the installation of roadside safety barriers, route safety reviews of State highways, the installation of pedestrian fencing, targeted motorcycle safety works and the development of pedestrian and motorcycle safety strategies. Under the proposed arrangement money to deliver this and other road safety engineering works will continue to be provided by the fund.
The Centre for Road Safety also funds the newly established central business district motorcycle squad to address congestion and road safety issues in the central business district. This will also be resourced through the fund. Last but not least, Transport for NSW develops targeted public education campaigns to raise awareness of unsafe driving behaviours, including speeding, drink driving, fatigue and not using seatbelts, and these campaigns are high profile and effective. Most recently, Transport for NSW launched the Plan B campaign targeting drink driving. This campaign was launched with the full support of the NSW Police Force and is yet another example of the type of initiative that the fund will support. The road safety program is a priority of the Government and it is delivering real benefits for the community.
The introduction of this fund will enable State funding of the road safety program to be maintained into the future at the record high 2011-12 level of $231 million and, as I said earlier, indexed for consumer price index increases. The bill also provides funds other than fines revenue to be directed into the Community Road Safety Fund to ensure that the road safety budget is maintained at current levels. Speed camera programs are expected to generate less money than the current road safety budget. It is important to note that projected revenue is based on current speeding behaviour. Speed and red light cameras in New South Wales are designed—and have been proven—to change driver behaviour through increased compliance with road rules. As outlined in the NSW Speed Camera Strategy the mobile speed and red light camera programs will expand over the next two years.
In the short term, greater enforcement will result in a higher number of infringements and in higher revenue. Over time, however, we will see the number of infringements issued at camera locations and associated revenue decrease. The recent annual review of speed cameras clearly shows this downward trend at most fixed speed camera locations. That is consistent with international research and infringement trends in other jurisdictions. The Government is not fussed about this because it is a good outcome for road safety. If the Government is getting less money it means fewer people are speeding. The Government neither expects nor desires the initial increase in revenue to be ongoing. For this reason the bill enables additional funds to be directed from Transport for NSW funds to the Community Road Safety Fund. That will ensure that there will be enough in the fund to maintain State Government road safety expenditure at least at current levels.
Consistent with the financial duties of Transport for NSW, under the Transport Administration Act a full account of income and expenditure of the Community Road Safety Fund will be produced each financial year. The financial report will be publicly available through the annual report of Transport for NSW and will provide the community with a transparent account of how much revenue is generated by camera enforcement and how it is being spent. It will be in addition to the up-to-date infringement rates and revenue information for each and every camera site that is already made available on the State Debt Recovery Office website. The Centre for Road Safety will continue to report annually on speed camera performance. The measures I have proposed today will provide a direct funding source for road safety initiatives in New South Wales. They send a clear message that road safety is a high priority for this Government.
The public will receive a transparent account of how funds generated from cameras are being used and can have confidence in the road safety goals of New South Wales speed camera programs. If drivers are concerned about having to pay fines, they just need to slow down and observe the road rules. If they do, this will be a win for the community because fewer lives will be lost on our roads. The changes to these cameras, with the additional signage, larger size, clear markings and the fact that at least one of the signs must be outside the camera's range, means that anyone speeding would have to be either dopey or determined to be caught. I trust that all sensible members of this House will lend their support to this bill, and I commend it to the House.
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE
[3.20 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012. The object of the bill is to amend the Transport Administration Act 1988 to create a new fund, the Community Road Safety Fund. The bill states that the purpose of the fund is to enable revenue from fines and penalties recovered for certain camera-recorded speeding and traffic light offences to be used to promote and improve safety. We have all been touched by deaths and injuries on our roads. There is not a family in this State who has not known someone who was injured or killed on our roads; the impact is immense and the statistics are horrifying. Close to 400 people lose their lives every year on our roads and more than 26,000 people are injured.
Improving road safety is indeed a worthy cause. As indicated by my colleague in the other place, the Opposition will support the bill. However, I will spend some time drawing attention to the fact that this legislation is little more than a publicity stunt designed to hide the massive increase in revenue from fines from mobile speed cameras that this Government wants to gouge from motorists. The fund was set up by the Government to direct attention away from the fact that it is increasing fines for every speeding offence on the books. It is massively increasing the number of speed camera hours and doubling the number of red-light safety cameras around the State. We know that this bill is a stunt because legislation is not needed to enable Transport for NSW to open an account for revenue from camera offences; Transport for NSW could just do it. A key test of this bill will be how much money is actually spent on road safety into the future. When in opposition Coalition members had much to say about speed camera fines. The then shadow Minister for Roads railed against speeding fines. He stated:
The fact that speed fines continue to be issued prove this Labor Government is more interested in revenue raising than road safety.
Yet in government we see something completely different. The Government said it would create a fund expressly for receipts from camera-detected offences. On the other hand, it slipped a clause into the original bill that meant at any point in time Treasury could tap into the fund, take out the money and put it into consolidated revenue. Today the Minister tried to play down what was in the original bill. However, I will quote briefly from the Minister in her second reading speech, when she let the cat out of the bag completely. In talking about the Community Road Safety Fund, she stated:
If that assurance is provided, this provision will allow excess revenue to be directed to the Consolidated Fund where it will contribute to the delivery of other priority government programs such as health and education.
There was not one mention of road safety in that statement; she basically let the cat out of the bag. Members should remember that the NRMA called the Government on this. The NRMA named it, stating that the Government was allowing consolidated revenue from motorists to go to other areas of the budget, not just to road safety. The Minister was caught with her hands in the till, ready to hand over to consolidated revenue this money from motorists in New South Wales.
Having a specific fund for proceeds from camera-detected offences to spend on road safety measures—not that we believe it requires a law to do this—is actually a good thing. The principle that the Centre for Road Safety and its operations and programs will be funded by this bill is sensible, and the Opposition supports it. The principle of using this bill to fund the upgrade of dangerous roads and the installation of school zone lights is also sensible. However, we should be reminded of what Coalition members said during their 16 long years in opposition. Coalition members constantly repeated the mantra that speeding fines and cameras were revenue raisers and cash cows. On 8 October 2007 the then shadow Minister for Roads, Ports and Waterways stated:
We have a Labor Government addicted to revenue raising, rolling out more and more fixed speed cameras on toll roads to make more and more money.
Yet in government this Minister is hiking up speeding fines by 12.5 per cent, massively increasing the number of hours that these cameras are operating and doubling the number of cameras detecting red light offences. Now that the Coalition is in government of course it is a different story; it is hiking up the fines, doubling the number of red light cameras and increasing the number of mobile speed cameras sevenfold. If the extra money were contributing to increased expenditure on road safety the Opposition would have no issue or argument with the bill and this contribution would have been much shorter. As the Leader of The Nationals stated on 21 March 2011:
Motorists are sick of being treated like cash cows.
In time, motorists in New South Wales will see that under this Government they are being used as cash cows to prop up the Government's bottom line.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN
[3.25 p.m.]: The introduction of the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012 is welcomed by The Greens and we support the proposal to establish a fund in a special deposits account called the Community Road Safety Fund, which is to be administered by Transport for NSW. We also support the amendment moved in the other place to remove the provision that any money in the fund not required to meet expenditure by Transport for NSW may be paid into the Consolidated Fund. The Greens agree that the provisions of this bill should fully support ongoing programs to improve road safety. We believe road safety is not an issue from which Treasury should expect a windfall. It is interesting that the Government moved on this and made the changes after being lobbied by the NRMA. It is interesting that the provision was in the bill originally but it is pleasing that the Government listened to the concerns of the NRMA and moved an amendment.
The New South Wales community needs to be assured that they will be safe travelling on our roads. Whether they are a driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist or using some other form of transport, people should feel as safe as possible on our roads. The Government has a critical role to play here. This bill will enable fines levied on unsafe drivers to be hypothecated to a special Community Road Safety Fund that will be used by a variety of departments to deliver a range of program initiatives to improve road safety. By using this revenue to improve safety it sends a number of messages to the community: first, it acts as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers; secondly, it punishes people who have flouted the road rules; thirdly, it highlights the importance of safety for all members of the community; and, fourthly, it says that safety is such an important issue that funds will be guaranteed to ensure that action to reduce accidents can be undertaken on an ongoing basis.
In 2011, 377 road users were killed in accidents and, while this is a 6.9 per cent reduction compared with 2010 and the second lowest figure of 5.6 per 100,000 people since records began in 1908, there is no room for complacency. Despite this improvement in road fatality rates, 24,623 people were injured in 2010 in road accidents and the number of families and businesses affected by road accidents would be far greater than that number. The cost to the community was some $5 billion in that year. Parliament has been closely involved in measures to make our community safer. The Staysafe committee, of which I am a member, plays an important role in making recommendations to the Government to improve road safety.
The road accident statistics are worth serious study if cost-effective measures are to be made to reduce road trauma further. It is worth noting that 31 per cent of pedestrians killed were aged 60 or more but this age group represents only 20 per cent of the population. Similarly, disproportionate figures are seen in accidents involving young people aged 17 to 25 years whether driving cars or as motorcycle riders. They represent 22 per cent of fatalities but only 14 per cent of licence holders. Those sorts of figures should provide guidance for how money from the fund is spent. One of the Staysafe committee's recommendations on school zones was for additional research to determine the effectiveness of road safety education programs, and this will be essential to determine the best way forward to improve education services for the community.
The Staysafe committee made a number of recommendations that should enable refinement of practices pertaining to school safety zones. The presence of flashing lights has been critical in reducing vehicle speeds and impact severity in the event of a crash. The Auditor-General suggested in his performance audit report that additional penalties should be imposed for speeding through such lights. The committee endorsed this suggestion in one of its recommendations and stated that any revenue from such fines should be directed towards the rollout of additional flashing lights in school safety zones.
It is pleasing to see that the bill proposes that the road safety functions of Transport for NSW will include a wide range of measures. This includes conducting research in connection with the promotion or improvement of road safety, along with the development and implementation of programs and activities related to this aim. This will mean capital works programs to improve safety will be able to be undertaken knowing that there is guaranteed funding. In the Minister's second reading speech in the other place she advocated using revenue to increase seatbelt usage. She says that Transport for NSW develops targeted public education campaigns to raise awareness of unsafe driver behaviours including speeding, drink-driving, fatigue and the non-use of seat belts.
The Greens believe that this is a good opportunity for money to be taken out of the fund to begin a program of installing seatbelts on school buses. We look forward to hearing recommendations from the advisory committee on school bus safety. If the Minister talks about the importance of seatbelts in the other place and no doubt the Minister for Roads and Ports in this place shares her views, let us put our money where our mouth is and see if we can use some of that funding to begin a rollout of seatbelts in buses.
Also, advice and assistance will be able to be given to public and local authorities to help them undertake programs and works specific to particular areas. Local governments and other organisations are often best placed to understand the needs of particular communities and are best able to deliver such work at the local level. It is therefore a useful feature of this bill that it will be able to ensure that individual communities can tailor programs to their needs rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach. Overall, The Greens support the bill. We support this initiative and we support any funding from speed cameras going to improve road safety. We congratulate the Government on bringing forward this legislation.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA
(Parliamentary Secretary) [3.30 p.m.]: I support the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012 and I congratulate the Minister on bringing this bill forward. The purpose of the bill is to establish the Community Road Safety Fund—a dedicated fund that will receive fine revenue from camera-recorded speeding and traffic light offences. The bill provides that the fund will be used to meet the costs of the Government in delivering road safety initiatives. Road safety is a priority of the Government and the Transport for NSW road safety program includes a broad range of initiatives that save lives on our roads each and every year. These programs are selected based on the road safety risks that lead to crashes and are designed to address these identified risks in metropolitan, regional and rural areas of the State.
The establishment of the Community Road Safety Fund will ensure an ongoing investment by the State Government in road safety of more than $230 million each year. These funds will be made up of fine revenue from the four types of speed cameras used in New South Wales—fixed, mobile, red light and point to point—and will be supplemented where necessary by allocation from Transport for NSW if revenue from fines is not sufficient to fund the road safety budget. The road safety budget will also be indexed annually in accordance with the consumer price index to ensure sustained support for measures that reduce the road toll and road trauma.
The fund will finance a broad range of road safety initiatives, including works delivered in partnership with key road safety stakeholders, such as engineering projects delivered by Roads and Maritime Services to improve the safety of high-risk locations and known blackspots; road safety education programs delivered in our schools in partnership with the Department of Education and Communities; enhanced high-visibility police enforcement overseen by a partnership between the Centre for Road Safety, Roads and Maritime Services and the NSW Police Force; police roadside drug testing operations; the local government program, which provides ongoing funding support for road safety officers in local councils and ensures grassroots delivery of road safety; public education campaigns targeting high-risk driver behaviours such as speeding, the non-use of seat belts and drink-driving; and initiatives to address and prevent the recurrence of drink-driving such as the sober driver program and the alcohol interlock program. This bill will send the community a strong message that the Government is committed to funding road safety and to reducing road trauma across the State. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN
[3.34 p.m.]: On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party I will speak briefly on the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012. The object of the bill is to amend the Transport Administration Act 1988 to establish the Community Road Safety Fund. Revenue from fines and penalties for speeding and traffic light offences recorded by mobile and fixed speed cameras, red light cameras, cameras in school zones and point-to-point speed cameras will be paid into the Community Road Safety Fund.
As recommended by the NRMA and the Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety—Staysafe—revenue will be spent on road safety engineering work, enhanced high-visibility policing and road safety education. It is vital that revenue goes towards road safety because more than 400 people are killed and more than 26,000 people injured on our roads each year. Speeding remains the biggest killer on our roads—in New South Wales speeding is a factor in about 40 per cent of road deaths. That means, on average, around 177 people die each year in speed-related crashes in New South Wales. Speeding-related crashes cost the community around $1.5 billion each year.
I applaud the Minister for Roads and Ports because when he was first appointed Minister he got rid of some useless speed cameras. In the Shoalhaven, a set of cameras was installed between the Shoalhaven Bridge and the first lot of traffic lights. I do not know why cameras were installed there, because the traffic was approaching red lights. If the previous Government had gone out into the community and asked people what they thought would work best—because local communities tend to know their local roads best—the cameras probably would not have been put there. I am glad to see that common sense has prevailed: the Minister did an audit and removed some of the useless cameras.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
I've still got a shed full of them.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN:
There are some second-hand cameras for sale from the State Government. I appreciate the Minister also mentioning the hypothecation of funds for road safety. But I encourage the Government to go even further and hypothecate the section 88 waste levy back to local council areas for the recycling of their local waste. I hope hypothecation will not only be for road safety but also for waste management across local government areas.
One of the best investments the State Government has made is in relation to local government road safety officers. I encourage the Minister for Roads to go further. Many local government road safety officers are on some sort of contract and they do not have certainty about their future employment. I encourage the Minister to take on board that local government road safety officers need to be part of the wider team in local areas. I know that in the Shoalhaven the local road safety officer does a great job in getting people in and out of schools and the TAFE and in promoting programs about road safety issues. She has been invaluable. Security of her services beyond a year and into the future would give her certainty about undertaking further initiatives.
We note that some funds will go into research and development for better roads. Of course, we welcome that across New South Wales. We note that flooding increases the cost of maintaining roads by half a billion dollars across the State. There is no doubt that many roads become unsafe due to potholes or because, after a long period of drought, many of the roads have been compromised by water tables or gutters that have not been maintained because local government has not had the funds for such maintenance. Funds for research and development would go some way towards making sure that some of the roads that are endangering the lives of people across New South Wales can be fixed up and maintained.
The purpose of speed cameras is not to punish people; it is to change driver behaviours. The general public used to believe that safety cameras were a cash cow. When the Minister for Roads and Ports removed some of those cameras following an audit it sent a clear message that the Government is not interested in just making money out of these cameras; it is about changing driver behaviour and ensuring that we have safe drivers on our roads. Changing driver behaviour is a big part of the Government's strategy and we welcome any measure to improve road safety in the long term.
We commend the Government for listening to the NRMA—an organisation with its finger on drivers' pulses. The Government continuing to listen to such organisations will only lead to improvements in road accident statistics. The Christian Democratic Party believes that the bill is a great step forward in road safety and we commend the Minister for bringing the bill before the House. At the end of the day the ultimate goal of the bill is to give first priority to the safety of families travelling to and from work and play. I can speak at length about this because with my first son I have embarked upon 720 hours of driving lessons to be carried out over the coming years. I can see the value of community safety programs. My boy recently joined one called the Skilled or Killed Young Driver Safety Program, to which I have contributed in another form. It is one of the best programs that talk to teenagers about driver safety.
Police and ambulance officers, statisticians and the local government road safety officer made presentations during the forum, but they were nothing compared with the presentation by the guy who was in a wheelchair who spoke about his inability to go to the toilet on his own. There was not a dry eye in the house during the session in which that guy spoke of how his dreams were crushed because of a car accident. I encourage the Minister to continue to put funds into programs such as the Skilled or Killed Young Driver Safety Program, because the message certainly gets through when young drivers hear stories from real people in real situations. I have no doubt that the program has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in the Shoalhaven area.
I also congratulate the Minister on the installation of school zone flashing lights. Several have recently been installed on roads in the Shoalhaven area and I encourage the Minister to continue to fund that initiative. When people are driving in peak hour with a million things on their minds there is nothing better than those lights to give them a quick indication that they need to pull back to 40 kilometres an hour and be aware of what is happening around those schools. Earlier I heard the Minister say that seatbelts on buses were a complicated issue. I note that it is complicated, but in rural and regional Australia that complication must be addressed. We need to find the funding to install seatbelts on buses. I believe the Federal Government has allocated some funds. We need to make it happen because our first priority should be keeping our children safe, not whether we can afford it. Road safety is not a cost; it is an investment. I commend the Minister for the bill.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL
[3.43 p.m.]: I support the Transport Administration (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012. I congratulate the Minister for Roads and Ports on his dedication and commitment to improving road safety. This bill will establish a dedicated fund to receive fine revenue from camera-recorded speeding and traffic light offences. This is an essential bill because it will help meet the costs of delivering road safety measures across the State. We heard some statistics from the Hon. Penny Sharpe. It is very sad to note that there are around 400 people killed and more than 26,000 people injured on our roads each year. In addition there are almost 42,000 road crashes recorded annually, with the cost to the community in excess of $5 billion. We can all agree that these are significant statistics and that action needs to be taken on road safety. The Road Safety Strategy for New South Wales 2012-2021 aims to make the roads safer through a 30 per cent annual reduction in road deaths and serious injuries by the end of 2021. This bill will support the strategy to reduce deaths on our roads by providing an ongoing funding source for the road safety program. Our goal is to reduce fatalities to 4.3 per 100,000 of population by 2016, and I am confident that this bill will help achieve that target.
Road safety initiatives are coordinated through the Centre for Road Safety in partnership with Roads and Maritime Services, the NSW Police Force and the Department of Education and Communities. This bill provides revenue generated by all types of speed cameras used in New South Wales—fixed, mobile, red light, speed and point-to-point—to be paid into the fund. The funds from these cameras will be used to meet the expenditure incurred by Transport for New South Wales in the delivery of road safety. Engineering works, high visibility police enforcement, public education campaigns, and drug testing are some of the areas that are covered by the road safety program that will be financed by the proposed fund. Having revenue from camera-recorded offences directed into the road safety fund sends a strong message that the money will be used solely to advance road safety.
The bill also allows for additional payments to be made into the fund to ensure that road safety is funded to the agreed State budget level in the event of a shortfall in fine revenue. The bill similarly allows the transfer of excess funds into the Consolidated Fund. No payment will be made out of the fund without an assurance from Transport for NSW and the concurrence of Treasury that all State road safety programs are funded. If that assurance is provided this provision will allow excess revenue to be directed to the Consolidated Fund, where it will contribute to the delivery of other priority government programs. Transport for NSW will provide a full account of incoming revenue and outgoing expenses as part of the annual report, which will of course be publicly available. This is a commonsense bill. I once again congratulate the Minister and commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA
(Parliamentary Secretary) [3.46 p.m.]: I congratulate the Minister for Roads and Ports, the Hon. Duncan Gay, and the Minister for Transport in the other place, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, for putting road safety first. The main purpose of the Transport Administration (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012 is to establish a dedicated fund that will receive fine revenues from camera-recorded speeding and traffic light offences, including fixed, mobile, and point-to-point cameras. The bill provides that the fund will be used to meet the cost of delivering road safety initiatives in this State. Last November a petition was tabled in this Parliament which was signed by 13,500 NRMA members indicating their strong support for fine revenue from driving offences to be put towards road safety measures. The Government has listened to the NRMA, its membership and the wider community. The petition requested the Government to commit revenue from traffic fines to improve road safety, and that is exactly what it is doing.
Road casualties are one of the major causes of death and injury in New South Wales and each year approximately 400 people are killed and 26,000 are injured on our roads. The proposed community road safety fund will be administered by Transport for NSW and used to address the cost of delivering a broad range of road safety initiatives. Road safety initiatives are led by Transport for New South Wales through the Centre for Road Safety and delivered in partnership with Roads and Maritime Services, the NSW Police Force, the Department of Education and Communities and local government. Key initiatives and focus areas of the road safety program over the next 10 years are outlined in the draft road safety strategy, which was recently released for public comment.
The definition of the road safety functions of Transport for NSW in the bill covers a broad ambit of work undertaken as part of the road safety program and ensures funding for key initiatives, such as engineering works, enhanced high visibility police enforcement, public education campaigns such as random drug testing, safety around schools, and road safety partnerships with local government, the Department of Education and Communities, and Corrective Services.
As we heard from members who preceded me in this debate and from the Minister, there will be guarantees about the level of funding. This Government, unlike the previous Government that pretended to be putting strategies and resources in place for road safety programs, will guarantee the level of funding. There will be accountability, transparency and the expenditure will be reported on an annual basis. This bill will provide a direct funding source for road safety initiatives, which are so important to this State, and sends a clear message that road safety is of the highest priority for this Government. I again congratulate the Minister for Roads and Ports on prioritising road safety in this State.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO
[3.50 p.m.]: In joining in debate on the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Bill 2012 I express my agreement with the comments made by the Hon. Penny Sharpe, who led for the Opposition in debate on the bill, which gives effect to the previously announced decision to set aside revenue from traffic fines for camera-detected offences towards road safety and road upgrade projects. I agree with my colleague the Hon. Penny Sharpe: there really is no need for this legislation; the Government could have achieved the same result by administrative decision, but Government members want to make a big fuss about this bill. It is really not about providing any additional funding to road safety; rather, it is an accounting trick that is designed to minimise the public's hostility to a forecast increase in fines revenue of $180 million over four years.
The fund will do nothing to improve road safety. As I said, setting aside this money is an accountancy trick. The State budget dramatically increased the number of enforcement hours of mobile speed cameras and doubled the number of red light safety cameras. It also increased penalties by 12.5 per cent across the board. This was not a popular decision with the driving public. That is why the Government is making a big deal about setting the money aside in a special fund. Government members are trying to water down the outrage of the public at their actions. Coalition members screamed blue murder before the 2011 State election about motorists being gouged by speed cameras and speeding fines; yet it has doubled the number of enforcement hours of mobile speed cameras, doubled the number of red light safety cameras and increased penalties by 12.5 per cent across the board—exactly what Government members promised not to do when in opposition.
The Government foreshadowed this bill when it considered the 10,000-plus signatures petition submitted by the NRMA and the Police Association. The bill is a response to the claims of revenue raising, but it is a sham. The Opposition will not oppose the bill but it is an accounting trick. It is an attempt to create a smokescreen. It is an attempt to whitewash the issue of this Government gouging money from the motoring public. This Liberal-Nationals Government is trying to cover that up by doing it under the guise of road safety. Shame on this Government!
The Hon. RICK COLLESS
[3.53 p.m.]: I have never heard so much hypocrisy in all my life. The member who preceded me in this debate, the Hon. Amanda Fazio, referred to gouging. The previous Government, of which she was a member, gouged New South Wales for 16 years. The purpose of this bill is to facilitate establishment of a dedicated fund, the Community Road Safety Fund, to receive fines revenue from camera-detected speeding and traffic light offences. The fund will be used to deliver road safety initiatives. The bill reflects my concern for road safety as the deputy chair of the Staysafe committee.
The Government has made its intentions clear. The right camera in the right location can save lives. Speed cameras will be used to achieve the best outcomes for road safety. Our commitment is to ensure that speed camera programs are delivering on road safety in a way that is fair, credible and transparent. This is the core message of the speed camera strategy. To date a number of measures have been implemented to strengthen camera programs and provide the community with the assurance that the Government means what it says. Warning signage at mobile speed camera and red light speed camera locations has been enhanced to ensure that drivers know they are driving in a high-risk location, or in an area with a known crash history. The message is: Slow down, observe the road rules, and fines will be avoided.
Transport for NSW also has conducted a performance review of speed camera locations to establish that cameras are in the right places and are delivering on road safety. The bill will have no impact on the amount of the fines or demerit points. The current scheme provides strong deterrence to drivers who would otherwise jeopardise safety on our roads. The bill responds to the community's request for greater transparency in how we spend revenue generated by speed cameras. I note the petition that was signed by 13,500 NRMA Motoring and Service members and tabled in this Parliament in support of hypothecation of fines revenue to fund road safety. I congratulate the Minister for Roads and Ports on introducing the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY
(Minister for Roads and Ports) [3.56 p.m.], in reply: I generally thank members for their support for the bill—even Opposition members for their in-principle support. I will take a moment to address the hypocrisy of comments made by the Hon. Amanda Fazio and the Hon. Penny Sharpe, who described this legislation as a publicity stunt and something that is just not needed. The people of New South Wales have lived through 16 years of Labor, and that is why we need this legislation. If we did not have this legislation the Opposition hypocrites would rip out the revenue at the first chance they got, and they would again be gouging revenue from the people of New South Wales. That is why this Government removed the cameras whose sole purpose was revenue gouging and instead is concentrating on addressing speed and road safety issues.
Opposition members have had the hypocrisy to say that this Government was installing additional electronic detection devices just to raise revenue. They are in denial. They ignore the fact that the Government's proposal is 40 per cent lower than Labor's. I will not, I have not, and I will never apologise for having red light cameras. If a person drives through a red light that person deserves to be pinged. Only the Hon. Amanda Fazio supports people driving through red lights. That is absolutely disgraceful. This is good legislation that takes road safety to a higher level.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio:
Point of order: I take offence at the comments made by the Minister for Roads and Ports that I do not support the use of road safety measures. I ask him to withdraw those comments, because it simply is not the case.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
To the point of order: I suspect the Hon. Amanda Fazio was having difficulty hearing what the Minister was saying because at the time she was continuously referring to the Minister as a crook. Perhaps she misunderstood what the Minister was saying.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones):
Order! Unfortunately, due to the level of noise in the Chamber, I did not hear the comments. There is no point of order. The Minister has the call.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
I commend the Hon. Cate Faehrmann for her comments and the Hon. Paul Green for his comments. In the near future I hope to be able to save the Hon. Paul Green some of the hours he has to put in. The Hon. Cate Faehrmann raised the issue of seat belts in buses. I remind her that John Howard allocated $40 million for the provision of seat belts on buses. I hope some of that funding remains. I reiterate my thanks to members for their comments and their support for this bill. I commend this great breakthrough bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed to the third reading of the bill forthwith.
Motion by the Hon. Duncan Gay agreed to:
Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 4.00 p.m. for questions.
That this bill be now read a third time.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE
The Hon. LUKE FOLEY:
My question is directed to the Minister for Roads and Ports. Given that the Federal leader of The Nationals, Warren Truss, said on Sunday that under the Federal Coalition's plan the Pacific Highway upgrade would not be completed until 2020—and that that plan has received the Minister's explicit support—will the Minister concede that his promise to finish the duplication by 2016 is in jeopardy and, indeed, will not be met under the policy of the Federal Coalition?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
Dare I say some questions are predictable. Let me make it clear up front. The promise of 2016 was the Prime Minister's promise. No matter what weasel words members opposite use, no matter how they twist and turn, that was a "ranga" promise—that was definitely the Prime Minister's promise. The only party that has put the goal of completing the duplication of the Pacific Highway at risk is the Australian Labor Party. When the Federal Labor Government decided it would cut its future contribution to completing the Pacific Highway from 80 per cent to 50 per cent, it effectively short-changed—
Order! The Minister has the call.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
I do not think those opposite heard what I was saying. When the Federal Labor Government decided it would cut its future contribution—
Order! I call the Hon. Melinda Pavey to order for the first time. I call the Hon. Steve Whan to order for the first time.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
For the third time: When the Federal Labor Government decided it would cut its future contribution to completing the Pacific Highway from 80 per cent to 50 per cent it effectively short-changed New South Wales by $2.3 billion. New South Wales cannot afford this kind of cost shifting. Even more important, on a project as significant as the duplication of the Pacific Highway the residents of New South Wales and the North Coast cannot afford the petty politics that we are seeing today from the Australian Labor Party.
That is why the Federal Coalition's announcement on the weekend is so important. Warren Truss and Tony Abbott, in announcing $2.1 billion towards the Pacific Highway, have put us within a whisker of getting the project completed. Importantly, the announcement puts us $2.1 billion closer to finishing the duplication than we are with Labor's offer. The Federal Coalition's announcement also restores close to the 80:20 funding split between the Federal and State governments currently used on the national highway network.
Order! I call the Hon. Amanda Fazio to order for the first time.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
Labor says that only $67 million of the $2.08 billion transferred to the Pacific Highway is in the current Commonwealth-State Road Agreement, and the balance will come from the new program scheduled to commence in 2014. Federal Minister Albanese failed to explain that this $67 million is based on Labor's priority list. Warren Truss has made it clear that the Federal Nationals and Liberals priorities are not the same as those of Labor. Thank God for that. Yesterday Warren Truss said that a Federal Coalition Government would ensure that the next round of AusLink, Nation Building Two, due to begin in 2014-15, releases the funds as required to get the job done. Under Labor there is no end in sight for completing the duplication of the Pacific Highway. While Federal Labor is playing games, we are getting on with the job of completing the Pacific Highway.
PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA:
My question is directed to the Minister for Roads and Ports. Will the Minister update the House on funding for the Pacific Highway?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
It is great to have some good news for a change. The announcement from the Federal Liberals and The Nationals over the weekend that it would release $2.1 billion from the Parramatta to Epping rail link to help fund the duplication of the Pacific Highway if it wins the next Federal election is welcome news indeed. This money almost makes up for the $2.3 billion the Federal Labor Government ripped out of the Pacific Highway when Julia Gillard and Anthony Albanese decided to slash the Federal Government's contribution from 80 per cent to 50 per cent of future funding needed to complete the highway.
Importantly, the money would put us within a whisker of completing the duplication, and I am hopeful that with some smart contracting and favourable weather it could put us across the line. The additional funding the Federal Coalition has committed would mean that the vast majority of projects between Woolgoolga and Ballina could be completed and thus the overall upgrade would be very close to finishing. This is in stark contrast to Federal Labor's plan to cut its future commitment by $2.3 billion, which would leave the vast majority of priority three projects between Woolgoolga and Ballina incomplete.
There is a clear difference in Canberra when it comes to the Pacific Highway. On one hand we have Warren Truss and Tony Abbott, who are genuinely interested in getting the duplication of the Pacific Highway finished as soon as possible. On the other hand we have Anthony Albanese and Julia Gillard, who have reneged on the 80:20 funding agreement they had with the previous Government. The Federal Coalition's announcement is compelling evidence of what could be achieved when Federal and State governments work cooperatively and collaboratively. The Federal and New South Wales Coalition are determined to get the Pacific Highway duplication completed. The current Federal Labor Government flatly refused to release the $2.1 billion that it had earmarked for the Parramatta to Epping rail link, despite the New South Wales Government making it clear our transport infrastructure priorities are the Pacific Highway and the North West Rail Link.
Under Federal Labor the money for the Parramatta to Epping rail link is just sitting on the shelf gathering dust instead of being put to use on extremely important projects like the Pacific Highway duplication. The Parramatta to Epping rail link was always a pipe dream project, concocted by a desperate State and Federal Labor Party that was desperate to protect a Labor hero—Mosman's very own Maxine "McWho". It was not based on sound planning for the best transport outcomes, it was based on planning for political outcomes—epitomising everything that is wrong with Labor.
Despite numerous calls from the New South Wales Government for the $2.1 billion to be redirected to a real transport priority, Anthony Albanese and Julia Gillard refused to budge. They left the money sitting on a shelf as a cruel taunt to the people who live and travel along the Pacific Highway and people who want to use the North West Rail Link. The pledge to release the extra money almost restores the 80:20 split in funding that was in place when the New South Wales Coalition won government in March last year. This decision by the Federal Coalition highlights the stark choice voters will have at the next Federal election: the Coalition, which will work to get the Pacific Highway fully duplicated or the Labor Party, which would rather sit on the cash, let it gather dust and play politics.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
Point of order: The offensive and continuous interjections from those opposite render it impossible for members to hear this important information from the Minister. I ask that the attention of members be drawn to the standing orders to ensure they understand that there will be consequences if they continue to flout your rulings.
The Hon. Steve Whan:
To the point of order: I suggest that it is quite improper for the Leader of the Government to be seeking to direct you in your rulings as he did at the conclusion of his point of order.
Order! No offence was taken by me; I did not regard the point of order as being taken in that spirit. Drawing on a ruling made by President Primrose in 2008, I have ruled previously that interjections will not be tolerated if they are disruptive, such that members are unable to hear the responses of Ministers to questions asked of them. While question time is robust, the level of interjection should not disrupt Ministers or prevent them from being heard when they are giving answers. If members disrupt the Minister, they will be called to order.
PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE
The Hon. ADAM SEARLE:
My question is directed to the Minister for Roads and Ports. Given that the second report card into the Pacific Highway upgrade is now more than two months overdue and there has not been a monthly report since May, will the Minister confirm that the current timetable and budget for the upgrade is being met?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
My understanding is that that report is due out next week, and all the details the member is looking for will be in that document.
HOMELESSNESS ACTION PLAN
The Hon. JAN BARHAM:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. In relation to one of the stated goals in the NSW Homelessness Action Plan, namely, to reduce by one-third the number of homeless Aboriginal people in New South Wales by 2013, can the Minister advise what funds have been expended on programs to achieve this goal and what outcomes have been delivered?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I thank the member for her question. The New South Wales Government provided the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs with its annual report for 2010-11 on 31 May 2012. I understand that the Federal department has responsibility for publishing that document on its website. I think we should both look at the website.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. What new powers have been proposed today for our police to target those who seek to carry illicit drugs in Kings Cross and on our trains?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I thank the member for his question. I suspect that the member has probably taken a question away from The Greens, who, no doubt, will also be supporting this announcement during the course of the day. When I became Minister I sat down with police to discuss a raft of issues. One matter I spoke to them about was the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, the acronym for which is LEPRA. It became apparent as a result of those discussions that police were not entitled to take dogs on certain routes on the CityRail network, particularly on the line on which the former Attorney General lived—into Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.
As I delved further into this issue I spoke to the police about what was required to get a search warrant, for example, into areas of Kings Cross. I was informed that there were problems with the very bureaucratic red-tape process, making it difficult for police to do what all members in this Chamber want them to do: enforce the laws of this State to ensure—
The Hon. Walt Secord:
Point of order—
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
The member does not want me to include him among those who support police? I am sorry.
The Hon. Walt Secord:
The Minister clearly is making a ministerial statement. The member asked about the new powers for police. The Minister is spelling out government policy and is out of order.
Order! I thank the Hon. Walt Secord for his point of order. However, I suggest that his point of order should have been taken with respect to the question, not the answer.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
One cannot help bad luck. Obviously, the Hon. Walt Secord is like The Greens: he wants to do whatever he can to stop this happening; he does not want this message to get out.
The Hon. Walt Secord:
Point of order: My point of order is that the Minister is misleading the House. No-one in this Chamber is a greater supporter of the police than I.
Order! There is no point of order.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio:
Point of order: My point of order is that the Minister was making adverse reflections on members in the Chamber. He has been a member of this House long enough to know by now that it is inappropriate to do that except by way of substantive motion.
Order! The Minister should be careful not to make adverse reflections in his answer.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
If members feel I have, I apologise for that because I would have thought that all members would support making it easier for police to go about doing their job and reducing red tape. The Commissioner of Police said today that this is a significant reduction in red tape and will make it easier for police to do what we want them to do: protect the law-abiding citizens of our State. Of course, we have indicated what we are going to do. As one travels the CityRail network, there will be evidence of increased numbers of police with the new Transport Command—an initiative those opposite only dreamt about. Well, we have done something about it and after we were elected we committed an additional 300 police. It was not a pre-election commitment; we announced this initiative three years before the State election. That shows our sincerity and genuineness in addressing the problems and concerns of commuters. Not only will people see increased numbers of police on our public transport system; as a result of today's announcement, they will also see police sniffer dogs moving through our trains. [Time expired
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
We need to see an increased police presence after 16 years of inaction and neglect from those opposite as they continued to find ways to remove police from front-line policing duties. We are now trying to unravel the mess that those opposite left for police and the community. We are making it easier for police to go about their duties.
Order! If the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Minister for Roads and Ports wish to have a conversation they should do so outside the Chamber.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
We are taking away the barriers. Those opposite never explained why police dogs were not allowed to work on train services, such as the one to Katoomba. The former Attorney General, who was the member for Blue Mountains, did not subscribe to the view that police dogs should be on his train line any more than they should be on anybody else's. Those opposite never asked questions about that. But we are focussed and we are getting on with the job of ensuring that all areas will see an increased police presence. Those opposite sit silent because they know that we are absolutely right to remove the shackles that prevent police from doing the job the community wants them to do. For 16 years those opposite neglected the police and the community but now, of course, they have a government and a Premier prepared to listen. The Premier has stood beside the Commissioner of Police and publicly announced his support for police and his commitment to providing an environment in which police can do their job. The public will be the beneficiaries of an informed Police Force.
HUNTING IN NATIONAL PARKS
The Hon. ROBERT BORSAK:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, representing the Minister for the Environment. Is the Minister aware that responses to a Public Service Association survey last week of 292 people included claims that rangers had "witnessed and observed signs of unauthorised hunting in national parks and many had details of dead native animals and unsafe hunting practices".?Those claims are similar, if not identical, to claims made when the Game Council established the State Forest program seven years ago. Can the Minister tell the House if these rangers reported the breaches to police or any other authority, and will the Minister have the Public Service Association provide the Office of Environment and Heritage with any evidence it may have in order that the claims can be, first, substantiated and, second, investigated?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I thank the member for that question, which I will take on notice and to which I will get him a detailed answer.
NORTH WEST RAIL LINK
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE:
My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, representing the Treasurer. The Government previously sought to redirect $2.1 billion for the Parramatta to Epping rail link to the North West Rail Link. Given that, as announced, under a Federal Coalition the funds will no longer be available for public transport in western Sydney, will the Government guarantee that The Hills to Chatswood shuttle will be fully funded?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
That question should be directed to the relevant Minister.
The Hon. Penny Sharpe:
Point of order: The question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, who I thought represented the Treasurer in this place.
Order! The member is making a statement, not taking a point of order. The member will resume her seat. Ministers may answer questions as they wish so long as they abide by the standing orders. The Minister's answer was in order.
WORKERS COMPENSATION SCHEME
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services. Can the Minister update the House on the implementation of Government reforms to the Workers Compensation Scheme?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I thank the member for that important question and his continuing interest in the welfare of injured workers in this State. What members would already know is that, from yesterday, benefits increased for seriously injured workers in the scheme—that is, for workers with greater than 30 per cent whole person impairment. One of the great failings of the system under Labor was that the seriously injured workers in the scheme were not adequately supported. Workers who could not return to work languished on a drip-feed statutory rate barely above the poverty line. That statutory rate was only $432.50 per week under Labor. That is cold comfort for those who will never be able to work again.
The Government's reforms mean that seriously injured workers will be properly supported and their incomes increased. Yesterday benefits were increased to a transitional rate of $736.20. That is an increase each and every week of $304 on the old statutory rate. I can inform the House that seriously injured workers are thrilled with the recognition this Government has given them and the concern that the New South Wales Liberals and Nationals have shown for their welfare. Some of the case managers who were given the task of telling seriously injured workers or their carers the good news have reported some of the reactions they received. Most workers reacted with surprise and disbelief after months of hearing the negative scare campaign from those opposite.
Order! I call the Hon. Steve Whan to order for the second time.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
One worker said, "I heard about the legislation changing ... thought if it was going to go wrong it would go wrong for us." That is what they expected under Labor. That worker later became tearful over the telephone and thanked the claims manager who had called with the good news. The same reaction was heard from a worker who was stunned by the news and said, "Are you serious? Thank you so much. Wonderful news. I am all teary. This means a lot ... it's a lot of money to us." Just listen to the arrogance and contempt the Opposition have. Those opposite left injured workers to rot for 16 years and have nothing now but contempt for them. At least the Leader of the Opposition the Hon. Luke Foley is not participating in the interjections by those opposite; he has turned his back to his own members because he knows how contemptuous they are.
Another worker said, "I am glad they have worked it out. I agree. I am seriously injured. Beautiful!" I have to agree—the Government has worked it out. It has decided that seriously injured workers need more support than they were given under the old broken Workers Compensation Scheme. One case manager reported the response of a seriously injured workers compensation recipient who said, "Thank God. I feel like I won Lotto. I can't believe it. You can't imagine the financial stress." Another said, while giggling over the phone, "That's just amazing—wonderful, wonderful news." I am pleased that the Government has been able to help those seriously injured workers.
Order! I call the Hon. Sophie Cotsis to order for the first time.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
Providing more money is not all that the Government is doing.
The Hon. Jeremy Buckingham:
Did you tell them you were recording their phone calls?
Order! I call the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham to order for the first time.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
That deserves to be recorded in Hansard
. That is disgraceful. The Hon. Jeremy Buckingham said, "Did you tell them you are recording their phone calls". That is contempt shown by The Greens to these workers. [Time expired
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX:
I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
Providing more money is not all that we are doing. WorkCover has been doing all it can to improve outcomes for seriously injured workers through various projects that have been enhanced since the Coalition won the election last year. The Government is serious about helping injured workers to rehabilitate and where possible to return to work, but members should be aware that this is all under threat from those opposite. While the Government has increased payments to seriously injured workers the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, John Robertson, has vowed that if elected Labor will dismantle the new Workers Compensation Scheme and take it back to where it was.
The Leader of the Opposition in the other place is the champion of the old broken system—a system that was $4 billion in deficit, a system with far higher premiums than those of other States, and a system that did not properly provide for the welfare of seriously injured workers. The Leader of the Opposition in the other place has undertaken to reverse these Coalition reforms if elected, and that means that there will be a reversal of increased benefits; seriously injured workers will be placed back on an inadequate statutory rate that will take hundreds of dollars a week from their benefits.
The Hon. ROBERT BROWN:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Can the Minister inform the House whether he is aware that other jurisdictions routinely report on the error rates in firearms registry databases? Can the Minister confirm for the House whether there is an error rate in the New South Wales Firearm Registry database and if so what is that error rate and how is it defined?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I thank the member for his question. It deserves a detailed answer in terms of understanding the error rate percentages in New South Wales. I will seek an answer and respond to the House as quickly as possible.
VISITOR ECONOMY TASKFORCE REPORT
The Hon. SOPHIE COTSIS:
My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, representing the Minister for Industrial Relations. Can the Minister inform the House whether the Government supports recommendation 15 of the final report of the Visitor Economy Taskforce, which calls for the removal of those provisions for penalty rates that significantly increase labour costs and deter businesses in the visitor economy from operating at times and days of the week when the tourism and hospitality sector faces peak demands?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I will take that question on notice.
Order! I remind the Hon. Sophie Cotsis that she is already on a call to order. I have asked the Minister not to have conversations with Opposition members in the Chamber during question time.
WALL TO WALL RIDE FOR REMEMBRANCE
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Will the Minister inform the House of the Ride for Remembrance to honour police who have lost their lives?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
The 2012 Wall to Wall Ride for Remembrance took place on Saturday 15 September to commemorate the service and sacrifice of fallen Australian police and to raise funds in support of fallen officers' families. This weekend Police Legacy in New South Wales holds its gala annual dinner to raise money for Police Legacy. All funds raised will support policing legacy organisations and charities. More than 1,200 police officers, family and friends from all States and Territories took part in the motorcycle ride to the National Police Memorial in Canberra. The Ride for Remembrance was inspired by the Ride for the Fallen, a police motorcycle and charity event held in Austin, Texas.
New South Wales Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy was one of the officers who, inspired by the Texan ride, came up with the idea for the Wall to Wall Ride for Remembrance. Approximately 800 New South Wales police officers participated in this year's ride, including Commissioner Andrew Scipione at the start. Also riding this year was Nathan Hindmarsh, the recently retired captain of the Parramatta Eels. The Sydney contingent of the ride set off from the New South Wales Police Wall of Remembrance in The Domain last Saturday after a short ceremony. For those who do not know, the New South Wales Police Wall of Remembrance pays homage to the 251 police officers who have died serving the New South Wales community. Premier O'Farrell bade farewell to the riders as they made their way over the Sydney Harbour Bridge before heading to Canberra via the Goulburn Police Academy.
Riders from other parts of New South Wales also rode to Canberra. This year a special contingent set off from Tamworth in honour of well-respected Senior Constable David Rixon, who tragically lost his life in the line of duty in March. A ceremony was held in Tamworth before the riders set off and David's name was placed in the commissioner's baton. Each police commissioner from each jurisdiction carries in the ride their perpetual baton, with a hollow to contain the names of any deceased officers that year. Sadly, this year the New South Wales commissioner's baton was not empty. A ceremony marked the presentation of the batons at their arrival at the Wall of Remembrance. The ride provides a great opportunity for police and the community alike to remember those who have fallen. It is a sacrifice for which we are all grateful.
Earlier I spoke of the Ride for the Fallen, which this year was held on 5 May. A contingent of 18 New South Wales police officers joined the Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas in the eleventh annual Ride for the Fallen. I understand that the participating officers, headed by Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy and Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins, funded their own trips. The Police Credit Union supported their efforts by sponsoring shirts, jackets and caps for the group to wear. The Ride for the Fallen, like the Wall to Wall Ride for Remembrance, honours the ultimate sacrifices made by local law enforcement officers who have lost their lives while on duty. The event also raises money for the Texas Peace Officers Memorial Foundation.
For this year's event our police, alongside their Texan counterparts, rode their motorcycles down Austin's Interstate Highway 35 to the Texas Peace Officers Memorial near the historic State capital. The names of 16 officers were added to the memorial. These 16 officers were killed in Texas in the past 12 months. The event provided the opportunity for our officers not only to honour those who gave their lives but also to share policing experiences and forge new friendships. Our police contingent organised and conducted a raffle as part of the tour, which raised $6,000 for New South Wales Police Legacy. The Ride for the Fallen is a wonderful example of the positive spirit and goodwill of the global policing fraternity. I praise our police who participated in this event for being excellent ambassadors for New South Wales and Australia.
STRATEGIC REGIONAL LAND USE POLICY
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, representing the Premier. Does the Premier support the advice given by the Minister for Western New South Wales, Kevin Humphries, to a Moree Plains farmer that her community should hold the line and keep "locking their gates" in response to his Government's strategic regional land use policy?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I would have to really question any quote coming from the honourable member in relation to a member on this side of the House.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
I remember the tap. Who turned the tap on?
The Hon. Rick Colless:
He got it wrong.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
He got it wrong—that is from someone from country New South Wales who would know. I would hate to refer a question to the Premier that has errors in it. Until such time as I satisfy myself—
The Hon. Jeremy Buckingham:
Point of order: My point of order is relevance. The question related to a quote that has been referred to in the Sydney Morning Herald
today, which has been confirmed by the Minister. It relates to a quote from the Minister.
Order! The member knows that he is making a debating point, not raising a point of order. The Minister was in order. Does the Minister have anything further to add?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
GOODS AND SERVICES TAX
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD:
My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services, representing the Treasurer, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Does the Minister agree with the Premier's proposal to extend the GST to groceries, which will increase household bills by more than $1,000 per year?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
Again, the Labor Party is misquoting and setting up scare campaigns. Obviously, I agree with the Premier's comments.
GLEBE ISLAND EXHIBITION CENTRE
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Roads and Ports. Will the Minister update the House on the new exhibition site at Glebe Island?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
Yesterday the New South Wales Government announced that an interim facility will be built on Glebe Island to temporarily host exhibitions during construction of Australia's largest convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities at Darling Harbour from 2013 to late 2016. The interim facility will mean the burgeoning exhibition industry, which generates more than $100 million into the New South Wales economy each year, stays healthy and ready to take advantage of the new Darling Harbour precinct when it opens in 2016. It is expected that the Glebe Island Expo will provide 15,000 square metres of exhibition space within a high-quality, fully serviced, air-conditioned pavilion. An adjacent flat space of 10,000 square metres will be available for exhibitors to temporarily expand the space for the larger exhibitions and trade shows.
Importantly, the Government recognises Glebe Island is also a commercial shipping facility required to expand to cater for the growing needs of Sydney. The temporary facility will be able to coexist with the port uses until the new centre at Darling Harbour is opened and the interim facility is removed. When the interim facility is removed in 2016-17 Sydney Ports will be able to expand its port operations on the site, fulfilling the Bays Precinct Taskforce's terms of reference, which recognised that Glebe Island and White Bay will be used for ongoing and future port-related uses. The ports at Glebe Island and White Bay are the cornerstone of commercial shipping in Sydney Harbour and will continue to be so during and after the temporary Glebe Island Expo. The Government believes expansion of Glebe Island as a major bulk product terminal is necessary to meet the growing needs of Sydney's construction and food and beverage industries.
Glebe Island and White Bay have been commercial ports for more than 100 years. They have a long history of berthing commercial ships. For decades they were the primary receiving venue for dry bulk goods, imported cars and containers in the region. The cars and the containers may have gone but the demand for dry bulk goods and cruise facilities continues to grow and, as the last remaining deepwater commercial shipping berths with available land in Sydney, they will continue to play a vital role in the city's economy. Sydney Ports has a well-developed strategy to expand operations at the port, including expansion of the dry bulk precinct at Glebe Island to cater for growth in dry bulk products. This sends a clear message to would-be investors that Glebe Island has the full support of the Government and is open for long-term business. To strengthen Sydney's role as a global city, we are striking a balance between the requirements of our working port and the increasing strength of our events industry. That is something those opposite were never able to achieve, but it is something our side of the House pride ourselves on: good management and delivery.
The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Roads and Ports, representing the Minister for Primary Industries. I refer to reports that the east coast humpback whale population is growing at about 10 per cent per annum. A humpback whale was seen in distress off Merewether Beach on the weekend entangled in a shark net. Shark nets have been listed as a key threatening process under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act due to the threat they pose to the grey nurse shark, marine turtles, humpback whales and other wildlife. Will the Government reconsider its program of shark nets, which catch more than 35 per cent of sharks on the beach side of the net and entangle thousands of marine mammals each year, and do not prevent shark attacks?
The Hon. Walt Secord:
It's like a Dorothy Dixer.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
It is like a Dorothy Dixer. The short answer is no.
NEWCASTLE ART SCHOOL
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
My question is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and Minister for the Hunter. What assessments have been made on the future of the Newcastle Art School now that subsidies for arts courses are being removed by the New South Wales Government? Will the Minister guarantee that the school will not close because of the Government's funding reduction?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
That question, by its very nature, asks for a detailed response in relation to assessments that have been made. I will seek an answer from the Minister for the Arts to see whether the assessments have been made and what the outcomes of those assessments are.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
I ask the Minister a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer by giving some idea of when an answer may be received?
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
Point of order: That is not a supplementary question; it is a debating point under the guise of a supplementary question.
The Hon. Peter Primrose:
To the point of order: Twice now I have asked questions in relation to education facilities and the Minister has indicated that he will take the questions on notice, for which I thank him. It is not unreasonable for me now to ask the Minister if it is within his purview when he expects to give advice to the House.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps:
To the point of order: Standing Order 66 outlines the amount of time a Minister has in which to provide an answer to a question without notice. Therefore, the question is irrelevant.
Order! The purpose of a supplementary question is to ask for an elucidation of the Minister's answer. The Minister said that he would seek an answer from the Minister. I rule that it is in order for a member to ask a question about the timing of an answer. If the Minister would like to answer the question he may do so.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I make the observation that the Hon. Peter Primrose has asked his question after reading the Newcastle Herald
today. He has made out that this is somehow a burning issue for him. Quite simply, the member has not written to me about this issue. The question requires a detailed response from the Minister for the Arts. I will provide an answer in accordance with the standing orders.
ICT ADVISORY PANEL
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK:
My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Services. Will the Minister update the House on the work of the ICT Advisory Panel?
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I can report that the information and communications technology governance arrangements established by the New South Wales Government have been in place for almost a year. In that time the Government has been hard at work transforming the way it invests in and uses information and communications technology. The governance arrangements include the ICT Board, the ICT Advisory Panel and the Government ICT Leadership Group. These key bodies are driving the implementation of the New South Wales Government's ICT Strategy 2012 by ensuring executive engagement at the highest level as well as broader stakeholder engagement with agencies and industry.
The ICT Advisory Panel is an independent body of seven senior information and communications technology executives and is chaired by John Baird of Deutsche Bank. The panel's role is to provide ongoing advice to the Government on our new approach and to provide key learning from an industry and research sector perspective. Late last year working groups were established to focus on key recommendations to improve ICT-enabled service delivery and to get better value from our investments. Advisory panel representation on the working groups was invaluable in this process. All of the strategy initiatives have benefited from the panel's expertise, and that is particularly the case in those areas that are relatively new for government but far more common in the private sector—for example, social media, open government, the use of cloud-based services and setting a roadmap for moving to information and communications technology as a service.
The panel has provided invaluable public sector access to independent national and international technical expertise to further advise on the delivery of information and communications technology in government. The panel was appointed for an initial period of 12 months and it will continue to have an important and ongoing role in identifying opportunities for government and how we can leverage new technologies and new approaches to ICT-enabled service delivery. I advise the House that I am refreshing and expanding the ICT Advisory Panel to ensure that the New South Wales Government remains in touch with new and innovative information and communications technology technologies and to ensure that we have a broader range of industry representation.
I have called for applications for three new appointments. One of these positions is new and will see the panel expanded to eight, while two others are to fill vacating positions. We received more than 200 applications when expressions of interest were sought prior to the establishment of the panel in 2011. These applications will again be considered, but the Government is calling for interest from other individuals to provide expert and impartial advice. To ensure continuity of the work of the panel, I further advise the House that the chair, John Baird, will remain in the role for a further 12 months. His contribution to date has been outstanding and the extension of his tenure is a reflection of his tireless efforts to ensure the Government achieves its information and communications technology objectives. I place on record my gratitude for the hard work of all advisory panel members and I look forward to an ongoing productive relationship with them.
NORTH RICHMOND BRIDGE
The Hon. PAUL GREEN:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Roads and Ports. Given that the North Richmond Bridge, which is over the Nepean River, and its approach roads are congested during morning and afternoon peak traffic periods and on weekends, will the Minister inform the House what steps are being taken to increase the capacity and traffic flow across the North Richmond Bridge? Will the Minister commit to an upgrade or a new bridge to meet the current and future needs of stakeholders and the community?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
The member's question asks for a great deal of detail. Because it is such a sensitive issue I want to ensure that I get the answer right. Therefore, I will take the question on notice and get the Hon. Paul Green a detailed answer.
NORTH COAST FIRE
The Hon. WALT SECORD:
My question is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. In light of comments this morning by Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd that a weekend fire near one of the Tweed's rare remaining koala habitats adjacent to the 4,500 house Kings Forest development appeared to be deliberately lit, will the Minister provide information about whether North Coast police are now investigating the matter or will investigate the fire?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
As the Hon. Greg Donnelly would say, it is an operational matter. I would hate to be the first to verbal police officers on the North Coast. It is important to recognise that if a senior member of the Rural Fire Service raised his suspicions it is fair to say that he would have also raised them with the police in that area. I would like to think that if there is smoke there is fire in relation to this being suspicious. However, in terms of enunciating that in the public domain it is a matter for police to indicate what they are investigating; it is not a matter for politicians.
The Hon. WALT SECORD:
I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer in regard to a timetable for when he will provide an answer?
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
Point of order: The member's supplementary question does not relate to any aspect of the Minister's answer. It is therefore out of order.
Order! I have had an opportunity to reflect further since a point of order was taken by the Hon. Catherine Cusack earlier in question time on this issue. There is no question that if all a Minister says in response to a question is that he or she will refer the question to another Minister, no elucidation is possible. That the standing orders specify a time frame within which an answer must be provided in those circumstances does not make out of order supplementary questions seeking such elucidation. However, supplementary questions are always at the discretion of the President. President Willis ruled that a supplementary answer should relate to the principal subject matter of the original question. Although technically questions such as that asked by the Hon. Walt Secord are not out of order, it could be argued that the time of the House is wasted by members constantly asking questions seeking a time frame or that do not relate to the principal subject matter of the original question. However, I propose to allow the Minister on this occasion to respond further should he wish to do so.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
If the question relates to an operational aspect of police work, I think it is best left with police to make the public announcements in relation to any investigation.
FIRE AND RESCUE NSW WASTE THE WAIST PROGRAM
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Will the Minister update the House on initiatives to help our firefighters improve their health and fitness?
The Hon. Penny Sharpe:
Firefighters don't seem very unfit.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
Safety is the number one guiding principle of Fire and Rescue NSW. Firefighters have very physical jobs and the demands on them far outweigh the demands of other occupations. They need to be fit and healthy and ready to respond to all kinds of emergencies—sometimes quite literally at a moment's notice. To ensure that our firefighters are always ready to get on with their very important job, Fire and Rescue NSW provides support through a range of targeted physical activity programs, men's and women's health, and musculoskeletal health programs.
It is worrying that about one in two Australian adults are overweight or obese. Many adults struggling with obesity and weight issues struggle particularly with large waist girth, or abdominal obesity. It is this form of obesity which is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. Cardiovascular disease kills more Australians each year than any other disease and is the biggest death risk facing firefighters. With this in mind Fire and Rescue has developed an initiative to help firefighters to slim down to a healthy weight. Fittingly this initiative has been badged the Waste the Waist program.
The aim of Waste the Waist is to not only reduce abdominal obesity, but also reduce the other risk factors in order to minimise the risk of firefighters developing cardiovascular disease. The Waste the Waist program is a web-based cardiovascular initiative that teaches firefighters how to balance their kilojoules in via food and drink against their kilojoules out via physical activity. The premise of this innovative weight loss program is that people need to burn more kilojoules than they consume.
Chief Superintendent Robert Murray, the area commander in the Newcastle region, is one of the program's success stories. Bob Murray had a history of cardiovascular disease in his family. He knew that he needed to make changes to his lifestyle before it was too late. With this in mind Bob signed up to the first Fire and Rescue NSW Waste the Waist program in 2010. The program's online resources and education tools helped Bob to keep track of his eating habits. By making small changes to his lifestyle, eating habits and a well-planned exercise routine Bob was able to waste a tremendous 30 kilograms. Bob has continued to eat well and exercise regularly to maintain his weight loss and keep him in a good physical condition. He regularly competes in open water swims and has completed a number of running events since completing the program.
Bob's story has encouraged and inspired other staff within the organisation to sign up to the program to reach their own weight loss goals. Since the program was introduced more than 1,500 employees have lost a combined total of 2,177 kilograms as well as an incredible 2,391 centimetres off their waists. I congratulate Fire and Rescue NSW on the success of the Waste the Waist initiative, which has helped many staff members to look and feel better and to change their lives. It is important to recognise the Hon. Penny Sharpe's earlier interjection about firefighters being fit. It is widely recognised that they are fit. If firefighters can achieve such significant results from a training program run through their disciplined organisation one can only imagine what would happen if the wider community were able to access this information in the same way that Fire and Rescue has done for its personnel.
Dr JOHN KAYE:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, representing the Minister for Health. It regards the proposed Emergency Primary Health Care Centre for Bulli Hospital, which was formerly to be known as an urgent care centre, and is currently operating as an emergency department. What services are proposed to be provided at the new centre, how many full-time equivalent nursing positions will be required and what shift rosters are to be implemented?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I thank the honourable member for his question. I am advised by the Minister for Health that the local health district, headed by Professor Denis King, is currently undertaking a detailed planning process to determine the future of health services in the Illawarra. The New South Wales Government is determined that this will be based on hard facts consisting of data analysis, projections and consultation with clinicians.
I am also advised that the local health district released a statement of strategic intent, which suggested realignment of services at Bulli Hospital including enhancement and consolidation of aged care and rehabilitation services to make Bulli Hospital a centre of excellence in aged care. No decision has yet been made about the provision of emergency primary care services at Bulli Hospital. I am advised that Dr John Kaye previously asked a question on 15 August 2012 regarding Bulli Hospital. I understand a response is due back to Dr John Kaye tomorrow.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO:
I direct my question to the Minister for Roads and Ports, representing the Minister for Education. In the light of the Government's announcements of cuts of more than $1.7 billion in funding to the Department of Education and Communities, will he advise the House how many of those cuts will come from the New South Wales Department of Sport and Recreation?
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
I thank the Hon. Amanda Fazio for her question and remind her that those cuts are over four years, not over a single year—which is the inference. As for the detail, I will send the question to the Minister for Education for his considered reply.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
The time for questions has expired. I suggest that members who have further questions place them on notice.
POLICE FIREARMS STORAGE INSPECTIONS
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
On 14 August 2012 the Hon. Robert Brown asked me a question relating to police inspections of private home firearms storage. I provide the following answer:
Police communications, including those in regard to firearms, use the encrypted NSW Police Force radio network in the greater Sydney basin. Other areas in New South Wales are not yet encrypted, however the rollout of this system is continuing.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
On 14 August 2012 the Hon. Paul Green asked me a question relating to the use of cannabis. The Minister for Health has provided the following answer:
I am advised:
A small proportion of total hospital admissions include circumstances of cannabis-related mental health, poisoning or behavioural problems, and the Government takes the issue very seriously.
The NSW Ministry of Health has a number of programs which address the issue of cannabis use, these include:
· The Cannabis can leave you permanently out of it campaign, which aims to raise awareness with young adults about the harms associated with frequent and heavy cannabis use and encourages access to treatment options such as the cannabis clinics. The campaign website www.permanentlyoutofit.com.au provides case studies and information on the health impacts of long term cannabis use.
· The NSW Health and Alcohol Drug Information Service joint website www.yourroom.com.au is a drug and alcohol website containing information on how alcohol and other drugs can affect a person's social and physical wellbeing, as well as contact information for drug and alcohol counselling and treatment services.
· Six cannabis clinics are in operation which specifically treat cannabis users. These clinics have been established in Western Sydney, Central Coast, Orange, Southern Sydney, North Coast and Hunter New England.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
On 14 August 2012 Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile asked me a question relating to knife-related offences. The Attorney General, and Minister for Justice has provided the following answer:
I am advised:
Under the current provisions of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002, a police officer need only have a reasonable suspicion that a person has an offensive implement, such as a knife, before they are entitled to ask that person to submit to a frisk or metal detector search.
If a person is suspected of having a knife or other offensive implement in a school, a police officer can also search that person's bag or locker.
The legislation specifically provides that the fact that a person is in an area with a high incidence of violent crime may be taken into account by a police officer in forming the relevant suspicion.
Data from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that offences of possessing a knife in a public place have not increased between 2007 and 2011.
The NSW Police Force has conducted over 200,000 person searches in the past 12 months to 31 July 2012 and confiscated 1,600 knives as a result.
Given those circumstances, the current police powers in relation to knife searches appear to be adequate.
GOSFORD PUBLIC SCHOOL RELOCATION
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
On 14 August 2012 Dr John Kaye asked me a question relating to Gosford Public School. The answer provided by the Minister for Education states:
The current works on the Henry Kendall High School site do not involve the demolition of buildings. There will be no demolition of buildings on the Henry Kendall High School site until the Development Application is approved by Gosford City Council.
COAL SEAM GAS EXPLORATION
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
On 15 August 2012 the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham asked a question relating to coal seam gas exploration. The Minister for Resources and Energy, Special Minister of State, and Minister for the Central Coast has provided the following answer:
There is no evidence to suggest that coal seam gas developments diminish land values. A guaranteed source of income from gas wells on a property provides an opportunity for land values to increase.
BYLONG VALLEY LAND USE
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
On 16 August 2012 the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham asked a question relating to Bylong Valley land use. The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Infrastructure NSW has provided the following answer:
Questions without notice concluded.
The finalised Upper Hunter Strategic Regional Land Use Plan includes the Bylong Valley.
ANTI-ISLAMIC FILM PROTEST
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER
(Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for the Hunter, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [5.01 p.m.]: I rise to make a ministerial statement regarding Saturday's incident of public disorder in my capacity as both the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council. We are privileged to live in a nation like Australia and a State like New South Wales—our nation's first and largest State. We are privileged, first and foremost, that Australia—almost alone among countries around the globe—has enjoyed a history free from violence, oppression and tyranny. We would not for a second say that everything is perfect, but our country's few failings pale in comparison with those failed states and rogue nations whose people yearn for freedom, fairness and equality—three things Australia has in abundance.
As an immigrant myself, I know that Australia represents a promise of fairness for all, a promise that all people from anywhere can forge for themselves a home on an island on the edge of the globe, free from whatever divisions and strife haunt the place of their birth. For the Chinese workers who escaped poverty to become Australians, for the Greeks, Italians and Germans who escaped the ruins of post-war Europe to become Australians, for the Lebanese, Iraqis and Afghans who escaped the fires of war and oppression to become Australians, the promise of Australia more than anything else is the promise of an escape from the worst the world has to offer. The Prime Minister, the Premier, the Commissioner of Police, community leaders, the media and I—everyone with a public voice in this nation—have condemned Saturday's protests in the strongest possible language. But my condemnation is for this: Those so-called protesters broke the promise of Australia by digging up the worst kind of hatred that Australia promises shelter from.
Protest is part and parcel of the sometimes rough-and-tumble nature of this State's politics. We have all seen our fair share of cheeky placards waved outside this very Chamber. We even saw, much to my displeasure, this Parliament having hoses turned on it by the Fire Brigade Employees Union. But I do not think any of us ever thought we would live to see the kind of hate we associate with failed states and rogue nations spill out onto our streets. The NSW Police Force is treating this matter with absolute seriousness. Strike Force McAlister has been established to investigate the causes, the perpetrators, and the origin of last Saturday's public disorder. We are fortunate that the NSW Police Force has the tools at its disposal to respond to this kind of incident—although it were better we should never need them at all. Police discharged their duties with a high level of professionalism and integrity in a situation that was nothing short of a powder keg waiting for a spark. The police put themselves in harm's way on Saturday. While the rest of the State enjoyed a rare September's day of fine weather, men and women of the NSW Police Force walked into a confrontation that the rest of us would rather have walked away from. We should all reflect on their bravery and congratulate them.
Yesterday I opened the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Association Conference on Organised Crime and Terrorism and spoke of how the light of democracy casts long shadows. The light of Australian democracy burns brightest of all. What we saw on Saturday were unacceptable extremes of hate and religious radicalism step out from those shadows. We will not allow a poisonous minority to taint the name of decent, hardworking Australian Muslims. We will bring to justice those responsible for spreading hate. We will send a clear message that that kind of behaviour has no place in our State or our nation.
The Hon. SHAOQUETT MOSELMANE
[5.05 p.m.]: I speak on behalf of the Opposition. I also speak as the first Australian of the Islamic faith elected to this House—the oldest Parliament in Australia. I speak with a heavy heart. The events on the weekend deserve unconditional condemnation. I condemn all forms of extremism. I condemn the attacks on our police. Further, I condemn the involvement of children in those protests. The messages were abhorrent; they betray my faith. Those who truly study and worship the Islamic faith are peace loving and tolerant. The fact is that the events of the weekend were not representative of the half a million Muslims in Australia. I condemn the attacks on the Islamic faith. I also condemn attacks on all faiths.
I arrived in this great nation as an 11-year-old from a tiny village in southern Lebanon. I attended Rockdale Public School, James Cook High School and studied law at the University of New South Wales. Australia changed my life. I correct that—Australia gave me a new life. That is why the events of the weekend have been condemned by Muslim leaders in all States and Territories. Many Muslims in Australia feel that they have been unfairly marginalised ever since September 11, 2001. As Australians, we must all live together and accept one another. We have worked hard to achieve what we have here today. Australia is the envy of the world. We must protect it. I thank the House.
Pursuant to sessional orders debate on committee reports proceeded with.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE NSW WORKERS COMPENSATION SCHEME
Report: New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme
Debate resumed from 11 September 2012.
The Hon. ROBERT BORSAK
[5.08 p.m.]: As I was saying last week, the report itself contains 28 recommendations, many of which the Government has already accepted and enacted into law. I will not read them into Hansard
because the report has been tabled and many of the issues in it were canvassed in June 2012 during debate on the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. However, I will briefly mention recommendation 16, which recommends that the Government establish a joint standing committee to undertake an initial detailed review of the scheme and, more importantly, that the Government provide ongoing oversight of the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme by undertaking annual reviews of its operations, management and performance. This continued oversight of the scheme is particularly important.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz:
Point of order: It is very difficult to hear the member while there is so much noise in the Chamber.
DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Cate Faehrmann):
Order! Members who wish to engage in private conversations will do outside the Chamber so other members can hear the debate.
The Hon. ROBERT BORSAK:
We have already seen through the passage of the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 in June that there can be some unintended consequences from a review that has tight reporting time frames. Thus we can press the Government to take action immediately to set up this joint standing committee to allow for ongoing regular review and adjustment to the scheme, as and when necessary. Everyone agreed that changes needed to be made but it was important that no worker be worse off under any proposed changes. It is common ground that the Government needs to ensure that this is the case insofar as it relates to injured workers and their ability to receive just compensation. As I indicated, there can be unintended consequences when legislation is rushed through Parliament. However, there is no reason that such unintended consequences cannot be quickly rectified through amending legislation should the Government desire, knowing full well that it would have support across all political parties.
Since the passing of the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 in June one particular issue has created a great deal of disquiet. Namely, under the new system, insurers will have the privilege of being able to fund their defence to employer premiums while injured workers will have to bear their own legal costs, even when a legitimate claim has been denied. This means that many workers would have little or no capacity to pay for a lawyer to represent them—which, in many instances, would amount to over $5,000 at least—yet insurers will be legally represented or represented by experts employed in-house. If the amount likely to be recovered by the claimant is small, it may not be cost-effective to pursue the matter. However, the injury may have unforeseen costs in the future.
This issue has been raised with the Shooters and Fishers Party by the Law Society of New South Wales and the New South Wales Bar Association, as well as many individual lawyers, Unions NSW and other unions, the New South Wales Business Council, and by many Government and Opposition members. We hope that the Minister is prudent and will endeavour to rectify the unintended consequence that has occurred by introducing requisite amending legislation. Once again, I thank the committee secretariat and committee members for their constructive and thorough approach to the inquiry. I commend the report to the House.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN
[5.12 p.m.]: I speak on the report of the inquiry into the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme. I thank all members who participated with me on the inquiry—namely, the chair, the Hon. Robert Borsak, who did an excellent job; the deputy-chair, Mr Mark Speakman; the Hon. Niall Blair; Mr Michael Daley; the Hon. Trevor Khan; the Hon. Adam Searle, who was also very good; and Mr Rob Stokes. It is probably worth mentioning that the Hon. Trevor Khan also guided our thoughts very well. I also thank other members who substituted and volunteered their time during the inquiry. I thank the hardworking committee secretariat, Rachel Callinan, Vanessa Viaggio, Teresa McMichael and Shu-Fang Wei.
The committee was responsible for investigating the performance and the financial sustainability of the scheme and also the functions and operations of WorkCover. The committee received in evidence 353 submissions and heard from 79 witnesses, canvassing a broad range of views in relation to the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme. The overwhelming message from the inquiry was that immediate reform was required due to the dire financial position of the scheme. The New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme issues paper clearly affirmed that the current system is financially unsustainable. It went on to state:
1. The premiums paid by New South Wales employers are estimated to be between 20 and 60 per cent higher than equivalent employers in our competitor states and if the Scheme continues to deteriorate the difference will increase starkly. The insurance arrangements offered to businesses are not optimal insurance arrangements reflecting risk;
2. The system is difficult to navigate for all participants with a lot of red tape;
3. Payments for seriously injured workers are inadequate, weekly payments in lieu of lost earnings for totally incapacitated workers that bear no relation to the income they have lost. In fact, they are paid a rate barely above the poverty line;
4. Recovery and the health benefits of returning to work are not effectively promoted as there are perverse financial incentives for workers to remain off work and there is not effective work capacity testing;
5. Less seriously injured workers are not encouraged effectively through financial incentives and the system to recover and regain their financial independence; and
6. WorkCover has limited power to strongly discourage payments treatments and services that do not contribute to recovery and return to work.
Because the NSW Scheme does not do these things well, it costs far more to get a claimant back to work in NSW than it does in Queensland or Victoria and costs are increasing at an unsustainable rate.
During the inquiry I was at a dinner where a gentleman told me that he had employees in this State and in Queensland. He said the workers compensation levy for his Queensland employees was probably half that for his employees in this State. He could not understand why we would load New South Wales employers with a 28 per cent increase in premiums if we are to remain competitive. Throughout the inquiry a number of alternative reform options to those contained in the issues paper were discussed. These reform options are intended to contribute to cost savings, improved claims handling, and injury management and return-to-work outcomes.
In light of these reform options, and the numerous issues outlined in evidence, the committee fashioned 28 recommendations for the Government's response. Of particular interest is recommendation 3—that the New South Wales Government abolish journey claims in the Workers Compensation Scheme, except in relation to police officers. The issues paper proposes that coverage of injuries occurring on a worker's journey to or from work be removed on the basis that it falls outside the object of the relevant legislation, which is designed to provide financial, medical and rehabilitative support to workers injured during their employment. The committee report states:
The Police Association of NSW referred to the particular nature of policing and the potential impact that removal of coverage for journey claims would have on police.
The association said:
Our members are police officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week … their oath of office requires them to act and to intervene irrespective of whether they are rostered on duty and they can be recalled to duty at any time. Members are duty bound to assist in incidents when they are travelling to and from work, which places them in harm's way during their journey.
I am happy that the Christian Democratic Party played a role in ensuring that officers' journey claims were not lost totally and that those who were likely to have to assist others on their way to work would be relieved from the stress of not being covered when performing a good Samaritan act. Other issues were raised during the inquiry, such as investigation of the scheme's long-term viability. This is one of my first inquiries and it was blatantly obvious that some very intellectual people were examining the scheme. One wonders why they did not do so before. We had to make some tough decisions because those decisions were not made earlier. That was annoying.
The inquiry also noted that it would have been better to have full actuarial advice. I appreciate that the Hon. Adam Searle and his colleagues were hoping to receive that, but in light of the time constraints we were not able to secure it. I suggest that actuarial advice be pursued when the scheme is reviewed. A major issue that came to light was not having symbiotic computer programs feeding data back to WorkCover to ensure that the best decisions were being made across different sectors and that statistics were being collated in a way that helps to reduce further injury to workers. I am pleased that a further investigation will be undertaken. No doubt the New South Wales Government will need to assist businesses, particularly major corporate businesses, with implementing a computer program that is symbiotic with the outcomes of reducing work-related injuries and feeds that data to industry and to government so that better informed decisions can be made about how to address those situations.
The committee received a representation from Shoalhaven City Council about self-insuring. New South Wales has many self-insurers, but our attention was drawn to the fact that Shoalhaven City Council had about $7 million tied up, with 50 per cent of those funds over $4 million being tied up for long-term liability loading simply because someone said it had to be. The Minister acted quickly and released up to around $2.2 million for Shoalhaven City Council and $1 million for the University of Wollongong. Many self-insured local government areas will be relieved of that burden and be able to use that money for roads or other initiatives. In conclusion, the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme is an integral part of this State's industrial relations. Although this was a short and concise inquiry, something had to be done to address the financial stability of the scheme. I thank the committee members and all who provided submissions and appeared at the hearings. I look forward to the Government's response. I commend the report to the House.
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR
[5.21 p.m.]: As a member of the Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme I am pleased to speak to the committee's report. The committee was established on 2 May 2012 to inquire into and report on the Workers Compensation Scheme. The terms of reference required us to have particular regard to the performance of the scheme in meeting its key objectives of promoting better health outcomes and return-to-work outcomes for injured workers, the financial sustainability of the scheme and its impact on the New South Wales economy, and the functions and operations of the WorkCover Authority. In undertaking the inquiry the committee considered an issues paper released by the Minister for Finance and Services on 23 April 2012. This paper detailed numerous concerns with the Workers Compensation Scheme and included reform options to address these concerns.
The committee received 353 submissions and has made 28 recommendations. During public hearings the committee heard from 79 witnesses from a broad cross-section of society, including representatives from 32 organisations from every side of the debate. We also heard from 10 individuals who shared their personal experiences of workplace injury and the Workers Compensation Scheme, which at times was very emotional and difficult for all involved. I commend them for telling their stories to the committee. The committee was presented with actuarial evidence that indicated that as at 31 December the Workers Compensation Scheme had a $4.1 billion deficit. It was clear to the committee that immediate reform was required. As the report notes, restructuring of benefits is not a matter of blaming workers for the scheme's financial predicament; rather, it is a function of the scheme having to live within its means to support injured workers into the future.
Apart from the restructuring of benefits, nowhere in the evidence did the committee hear where anyone would immediately find cost savings to deal with the crisis of a large and increasing deficit. One alternative proposed was to increase premiums, but to get the system into the black within five years premiums would have had to increase by 28 per cent when they were already 20 per cent to 60 per cent higher than in Victoria and Queensland. The committee heard that this further increase would throw more than 12,000 people out of work in New South Wales and have the potential to close some businesses. Some stakeholders, such as the NSW Farmers Association, submitted that this was not an acceptable option for their industry. The only way to solve this crisis was to take immediate action and restructure benefits.
The committee's recommendations were not just about solving a financial crisis; they also sought to restructure benefits fairly and reasonably to give people incentives to return to work. The uncontested evidence before the committee and long-held philosophy is that the longer people stay off work the less likely they are to return to work. I witnessed this firsthand in the occupational health and safety sector as a trainer for the WorkCover Authority when training return-to-work coordinators. These specific recommendations were aimed, in part, at increasing incentives to return to work and not allowing workers to get caught up in the system, which has a long-term detrimental impact on their ability to get back to meaningful employment.
The committee's recommendations drew heavily on what has happened for some time in Victoria and Queensland. As the report notes, given the understandably urgent time frame the committee was given, its recommendations concentrated on reversing the scheme's poor financial position and, as mentioned, providing some incentive for workers to return to work. Cost savings could be possible as well as improved return-to-work performance by changes to WorkCover's general operations, including guidelines, claims handling, scheme agent structure and the like. The serious concerns expressed in these areas warrant further review and investigation.
I am glad that the committee recommended the establishment of a joint standing committee to conduct ongoing oversight of the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme to avoid this situation recurring in the future. I thank all inquiry participants and committee members, especially the chair, the Hon. Robert Borsak, the Hon. Trevor Khan, the Hon. Paul Green, the Hon. Adam Searle, Mr Mark Speakman, MP, Mr Rob Stokes, MP, and Mr Michael Daley, MP for their contributions. In particular, I thank the committee secretariat—Rachel Callinan, Teresa McMichael, Vanessa Viaggio and Shu-Fang Wei—for their diligent and tireless efforts in managing the inquiry process and preparing the report with urgent deadlines. I commend the report.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN
[5.26 p.m.]: I do not wish to repeat the thoughtful comments of the Hon. Niall Blair. Clearly, a lot of work was done on this report by many people. I share the observations of the Hon. Niall Blair regarding the important work of the secretariat. That was demonstrated by their commitment when the deliberative meeting was held on 11 June—a public holiday—to deal with the draft report.
The Hon. Adam Searle:
It was a dark and stormy day.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN:
It was certainly a dark and stormy day. The meeting started at 9.30 a.m. and proceeded until 6.30 that evening. It was a marathon effort by everyone involved. The lead-up to the preparation of the chair's draft report was a compressed period and produced an impressive document. There was then the preparation of considerable amendments, which were received by the secretariat at various hours of the day and night—at least Mr Mark Speakman and I stopped sending amendments at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning. It reflects well on the secretariat, and indeed on all the Parliament's staff, that they commit with such diligence to allow for the presentation of a report that, in my view and notwithstanding the short time, is of lasting relevance. I believe it reflects well on all members of Parliament.
I shall comment on the substance of the report. Over recent weeks various comments and accusations have been thrown from the other side of this Chamber regarding the WorkCover reforms being undertaken. At the start of the inquiry an underlying premise by many of those who made submissions to the inquiry was quite plain—that somehow the scheme actuaries got it wrong. Indeed, the Labor committee members sought to exploit that premise but, as time passed, they became somewhat half-hearted in their approach. The assertion was that somehow the scheme was not in fundamental trouble and that the actuaries were colluding with the Government to make the situation appear worse than it was. It is particularly relevant to note that WorkCover itself advised that the scheme had a long history of deficits, having spent only 2½ of the last 16 years in surplus. That is a profoundly worrying circumstance that presents to the Government: for only 2½ out of 16 years had the scheme run on the correct side of the ledger. From 1997 to 2010—apart from 2006, 2007 and 2008—the net asset position of the scheme was constantly going backwards.
The table that appears at paragraph 2.11 demonstrates that the scheme was inevitably heading for disaster. The deficit increased between 1997 and 2003 before improving and moving into surplus between 2006 and 2008. Since that time the scheme has been in deficit, with the deficit growing. That fact was known to various Labor Ministers throughout their term in power and yet they failed to adequately address the issue. The Hon. Michael Daley was a member of the committee during the inquiry and he was the final Labor Minister in charge of this scheme. The former Minister sat there, not actively participating on this issue, but essentially conspiring with others on this issue of denial that the scheme was in serious trouble. It is worthwhile noting that the auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, indicated that unless changes were made the scheme's financial sustainability would continue to deteriorate and would require a 28 per cent increase in premium rates to return to full funding within five years, or an 8 per cent premium rate increase to return to full funding within 10 years.
This conclusion was supported by the external peer review actuary Ernst and Young, which stated that the scheme's history suggested that it was likely that adverse trends would continue in the claims experience and lead to further increases in scheme liabilities unless there was a circuit breaker such as legislative changes. It is worthwhile noting that the Auditor General also agreed that the current scheme is not financially sustainable. He advised that the scheme assets are lower than its liabilities and an audit for the year ending 30 June 2011 found that the scheme had a net loss of $780 million. During his opening remarks to the inquiry on 21 May the Auditor General stated:
If an organisation is in a situation where liabilities are greater than assets and the liabilities are increasing at a greater rate than the assets then eventually there will not be sufficient funds to meet everyday business. So one needs to either increase the assets or reduce the liabilities. The assets here, as I have pointed out, are returning an adequate return, above the benchmark; that is, the income from the assets. The premiums are another source of income to help supplement the assets. On the liabilities, there are three elements to the liabilities. The gross liabilities are determined by the entitlements that can be made and also determined by the expenses from WorkCover, et cetera, but they are also determined by the discount rate used.
I emphasise with regard to the Auditor General's observations that he put the lie to the assertion that the investment performance of the scheme was less than adequate. That was a lie told constantly by various critics in the community regarding the need for reform, asserting that somehow it was brought upon the community as a whole because of under performance in the investment side. The Auditor General says that is incorrect. I note that the Hon. Adam Searle did his best under difficult circumstances to prove the case through questioning of Mr McCarthy from Ernst and Young. The member drew a complete blank. The Hon. Adam Searle asked the question:
Returning to what Mr Playford said earlier about the difference between publicly underwritten schemes and private insurance, there is no immediate danger of the scheme becoming insolvent though, is there?
Mr McCarthy responded:
Depends on your definition of insolvent.
The Hon. Adam Searle further stated:
But at the present time there is no practical impediment to the scheme's ability to actually pay its liabilities as and when they fall due, is there?
Mr McCarthy responded:
In the short term, no, but long term, yes.
The previous scheme required this Government to make tough decisions that affected and protected some of the most vulnerable in our community—injured workers. This Government was prepared to make those tough decisions. I am proud to have served on the committee and that the committee produced a set of recommendations that will assist workers into the future. It will assist in maintaining employment in New South Wales. I commend the report to the House. I commend the chairman and other members of the Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme.
The Hon. ADAM SEARLE
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.36 p.m.]: I served on the Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme inquiry. I acknowledge the outstanding job and hard work of the committee members and committee secretariat in trying circumstances. Those trying circumstances were entirely created by the Government. On 3 February this year the finance Minister said that the Government would seek to fast-track urgently needed reforms to the scheme.
It took three months before the Government moved to establish the Joint Select Committee on the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme. Those three months could have been employed to have a less time-pressured examination of the issues and the different reform possibilities. It was disturbing that on 30 May, in the course of deliberations, the Minister confirmed that, despite the fact that the committee process was still underway, the Government had instructed Parliamentary Counsel to start drafting the legislation to modify the scheme. There is a significant course of dealing that calls into question the Government's bona fides in terms of the committee process. I note the grins on the faces opposite. Yes, it is all very smart to have set it up in that way but it puts a pall over the committee process.
Comments from earlier speakers have indicated that such reforms as outlined in the 28 recommendations were necessary because if reforms such as this were not undertaken there would need to be an increase in premiums of an average of 28 per cent. This is an out-and-out distortion. It was one of the possibilities canvassed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. The scheme actuaries, PricewaterhouseCoopers, also stated that the scheme could be brought back into full funding within 10 years by an average premium increase of only 8 per cent—not 28 per cent but 8 per cent. I note that in the past when there have been difficulties with the scheme and there was a need for premium adjustments or benefit reductions all stakeholders were asked to shoulder some of the burden of reform.
On this occasion the entire burden of reform has fallen on the backs of the injured workers because of the Government's determination to have absolutely no movement in the premium incomes. It can be seen from the report that the committee insufficiently took into account the fact that the previous Government commenced a scheme of premium discounting, and those discounts were of the order of $1 billion per year since 2005. That suggests that New South Wales employers had had the benefit of $7 billion worth of discounted premiums. Employers had had the benefit of those discounts in the past and that is one of the reasons why the scheme did not have sufficient resources.
I note that the previous speaker, the Hon. Trevor Khan, stated that in the 16 years of its operation the scheme allegedly had been in surplus for only 2½ years. Of course, one of the factors of this particular Workers Compensation Scheme is that at different points in time the scheme prospects looked different. In 2002, when significant reforms were undertaken to benefits and other aspects of the scheme, the advice at the time was that they would bring the scheme back into balance. The advice given to successive governments by the WorkCover Authority and the scheme actuaries should be seen in the time frames in which they are given.
Looking at the advice given by the scheme actuaries, I do not think they have accurately predicted the state of the scheme if one assumes that the most recent advice is accurate. At all times since the scheme was created it has raised more money in premiums than it has paid out in benefits and other costs. I agree that has been because from time to time as cost drivers have been perceived in the scheme previous governments have acted to address premium levels as well as benefit accesses and levels, but at no stage has the scheme failed to have the resources to pay its way. And, of course, there are still several billion dollars in liquid assets under investment.
Although it is correct to say that there are signs of scheme deterioration, PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that in large measure the deterioration was due to the poor performance of the scheme agents and if that poor performance was properly addressed the deficiencies in the scheme, as they perceived it, could be entirely addressed without the need for the various reform measures otherwise canvassed in this report and, indeed, enacted by the Government in recent legislation. Those things need to be borne in mind.
I turn now to some of the recommendations. One of the terms of reference for the committee was performance of the scheme in promoting better health outcomes, but neither the Minister's issues paper nor any of the committee's recommendations actually deal with this matter. Although there was a significant body of evidence about return to work outcomes for injured workers and how returning people to employment was obviously beneficial to their health, the committee failed to recommend changes that would actually improve return to work outcomes. There has been talk about incentivising people to return to work but the way in which the committee and the Government have addressed this has been simply by cutting off benefits—financial benefits as well as medical benefits—not actually increasing any obligation on employers to take injured workers back, including their own injured workers.
A further term of reference was to review the functions and operations of the WorkCover Authority but the committee did not deal with that issue. One of the first reform principles set out in the Minister's issues paper was to enhance workplace safety by preventing and reducing incidents and fatalities. Again, none of the proposals touched on that. Reference was made by previous speakers and during the committee process to the fact that premiums in New South Wales were "too high" and interstate comparatives were given. The committee did not address that issue by reference to accident rates. For example, if our premiums were adjusted by the number of accidents industry by industry and compared with our interstate comparatives, would that explain, in whole or in part, the differential in premiums?
A significant body of evidence before the committee suggested that in large measure some of those interstate comparatives could be explained by the higher incidence of accidents in New South Wales. Following very vigorous occupational health and safety prosecutions and arguably the strictest occupational health and safety laws in Australia, the serious accident injury rate in New South Wales had halved over the previous decade. It is a matter of record that this Government has repealed the Occupational Health and Safety Act and replaced it with the Work Health and Safety Act, which in a number of respects is arguably weaker.
The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox:
Which is national legislation.
The Hon. ADAM SEARLE:
I acknowledge that interjection, but the Opposition prefers to have the highest standards of occupational health and safety protection for workers in New South Wales. We understand that the Government is unconcerned about that. With respect to the deficit and actuaries, there is no suggestion that the actuaries have colluded with anyone. However, during the committee process we tested a number of their assumptions that were a matter of policy rather than actuarial requirements. It was quite clear that adjusting a number of the assumptions changes the size of the deficit—not necessarily the fact of the deficit but the quantum. I do not have time to go through all the different possibilities.
However, it is clear that, depending upon the assumptions used—and these were well ventilated during the committee's deliberations—the deficit could be the $4.083 billion as found by the scheme actuaries or it could be as low as just over $2 billion. Those matters could not be properly fleshed out with the actuaries or discussed in sufficient detail because of time pressures. These issues will not go away but will require ongoing and vigilant observance, which the Opposition will maintain. Work capacity testing and a number of the other reforms that have been implemented are problematic. The abolition of journey claims and time limits for medical benefits will particularly affect those who need artificial limbs or other prosthetics but because of the time limits they will not be able to have them replaced under the scheme. [Time expired
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD
[5.46 p.m.]: I was not a member of the committee but I feel duty bound to make a couple of comments on the report. It reminds me why I sit in the Liberal Party room and why the Labor Party was thrown out so comprehensively. If ever I have heard a speech from a member who is obviously in denial about what happened in March last year, why the public perceive Labor could not govern and why we were headed for a train wreck financially, it was the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The scheme was in deficit: it was in structural decline. It is not just about looking after employers; it is about looking after injured workers.
I commend the work of the Joint Select Committee on the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme. It has arrested a bleeding carcass. Business, particularly small business, is the economic driver of this State. If we do not look after the business community no-one will enjoy the dignity of a job. The system was broken: it was not serving fairly either the employer or the employee. Business is part of the DNA of the Liberal Party and it is forever its role to ensure the costs that businesses bear are sustainable, and this was not a sustainable scheme.
I was staggered to hear the Hon. Trevor Khan state that the scheme was in surplus for only 2½ years out of the last 16 years. It is just mind-boggling. It is an indictment of the Labor Party that the scheme should have been so structurally inadequate and not be reformed in any meaningful, long-term way. The then workers compensation scheme was yet another reason not to do business in this State. I was an employer and I continue to pay workers compensation premiums. The questions in my mind were: What were we paying for? What could we do to reduce our premium? Where was the price signal? It was a difficult cost to bear when one had little or no control. Business accepts that it must pay premiums, but those premiums have to be fair. We were facing a probable 20 per cent jump in premiums on 1 July this year if the Government had not stepped in and made those very, very difficult reforms.
The inquiry was timely and necessary. The prospect of losing yet another 12,000 jobs because we did not do the hard yards with reform would have been unforgiveable. For 16 years the Labor Party could have done the hard yards with reform but it chose not to. Labor continued to put workers compensation reform in the too-hard basket. All business, especially small business, should be reminded of that every day. The Liberal-Nationals Government does not shirk hard decisions and it does not shirk reform. They are not sexy but the workers compensation reforms will continue to yield dividends now and in the future. I commend the committee and I commend the chair for a difficult inquiry conducted in a very short time. It is the hallmark of a government prepared to do the necessary economic reform.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[5.50 p.m.]: I commend the Joint Select Committee on the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme for its work in producing the report into the scheme. I wish to speak on only one main issue. In the chairman's introduction to the report he states:
… the Committee considers it imperative that there be ongoing review and oversight of the WorkCover Authority to ensure that Scheme issues are identified early, and that appropriate, timely and effective responses are developed. The Committee considers that the appropriate mechanism by which the initial comprehensive review, and subsequent review and oversight role, should be undertaken is through the establishment of a joint standing committee of the Parliament of New South Wales. A recommendation to this effect has also been made.
Recommendation 16 states:
That the New South Wales Government seek to establish a joint standing committee of the Parliament of New South Wales:
· to conduct ongoing oversight of the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme by undertaking annual reviews of its operation, management and performance,
· to conduct an extensive review … of the Workers Compensation Scheme, and
· with the capacity to engage actuarial expertise to assist it to perform its functions.
I was involved in the Standing Committee on Law and Justice previously, which had responsibility for the Motor Accidents Authority. It would seem logical for the Government to refer the oversight role of workers compensation to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, but it may be preferable to establish a new committee.
I do not believe there has been any response by the Government to that recommendation, which was emphasised by the chairman of the committee as an important matter. If we had that oversight we would not have the sudden shock and horror that led to the establishment of this committee and the legislation that was introduced when it was recognised that the Workers Compensation Scheme had a deficit of more than $4 billion. I remember in my contribution to the debate on the legislation that I asked why the board of WorkCover and the former Government had allowed that massive deficit to grow and had taken no action to combat it. I am pleased we were able to have the legislation passed through the Parliament as a result of this committee's inquiry. I ask the Government to respond to recommendation 16.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ
[5.53 p.m.]: I speak briefly on the committee's report. I was not a member of the committee but obviously the recommendations have formed some of the views that came before this House. Suffice to say that many members on this side of the Chamber were significantly opposed to those recommendations. I differ from other members in this debate in relation to the views of actuaries and the business community. My memory of what the Insurance Council of Australia said is that these changes should not be rushed: there should be a proper analysis of any changes and that some time should be taken for that to happen. That obviously was not done before the workers compensation legislation came before the House with a very short time for members to consider the proposed changes.
The changes recommended in this report are far reaching, particularly the withdrawal of items such as journey claims. I reiterate that whilst the Government made the point on numerous occasions that the changes to journey claims replicate what happens in Victoria, it always failed to mention that Victoria has a no-fault motor vehicle accidents scheme, which New South Wales obviously does not. For shift workers, workers returning home late at night and for nurses and doctors travelling home from hospitals after doing 24- or 36-hour shifts journey claims become a significant item.
In fact, one of the witnesses who appeared before the committee was a woman who had lost her leg. She was bringing up small children and her husband had died on his way home from work. She was fortunate in that she was captured under the scheme and she was able to make a journey claim, but under the recommended changes for this scheme that would not happen. For all the talk on the other side of the Chamber about global markets and how these kinds of schemes react within global markets in the situation pertaining at the time, some consideration should have been given to the recommendations of the Insurance Council of Australia that more in-depth analysis should have been undertaken before the changes were made.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.56 p.m.]: I will make a few brief comments in relation to this very important report. Whilst I was not a member of the joint select committee I too have a significant interest in the outcome of this report as a business person and as someone who has paid insurance premiums for workers compensation for many years. I say at the outset that the community is greatly indebted to this committee and to the changes that this committee brought about as a result of its report and the Government's response to that report. The community is indebted to this committee because without the changes brought about by this report, businesses across this State would have faced a 28 per cent increase in premiums from 1 July this year. That would have been devastating to every business in this State.
A 28 per cent increase would have seen, according to some estimates, something like 16,000 jobs put at risk in this State. That is the fundamental truth of reform of the scheme, which those opposite seem to ignore at every turn. The other reality is that the deficit of the Workers Compensation Scheme was some $4.1 billion. If this Government had refused to act the scheme would have continued to spiral out of control and would simply be unsustainable. The very future of a scheme to provide support to workers that those opposite argue so ferociously for would have been fundamentally put at risk. Despite the protestations of those opposite, something had to be done.
The committee responded to actuarial advice in an appropriate manner. It is worth reflecting on some of the comments made by the Hon. Adam Searle in particular. On the one hand the Hon. Adam Searle states that, in essence, he believed that the actuarial reports did not represent the true state of the scheme. Yet in his dissenting report he states categorically that he has no actuarial expertise. It is very clear that the Hon. Adam Searle and those opposite are clutching at straws when trying to make some financial case that the expert actuarial reports were inadequate. The actual reports were very, very clear in stating the peril the scheme faced, and this committee had the ticker to bring together a very, very detailed report that addressed some of the fundamental design problems of the scheme.
I turn now to some of those design principles. It is worth noting that the reforms are designed not only to return the system to financial sustainability but to improve the benefits for more seriously injured workers and to get injured workers back to work as safely and as quickly as possible. These are important design principles. Today in question time the Minister for Finance and Services, who instituted this long overdue reform through this process, said that this week heralded the transitional arrangements under the new legislation. The appalling stipend of $432.50—the statutory rate that existed prior to these reforms—has been revised in the transitional arrangements so that seriously injured workers will now receive in excess of $730 per week. That is a material reform. We heard the comments by the Minister that the incapacitated felt disbelief and joy that their needs would for once be recognised and they would receive a better level of recompense for the injuries they had sustained.
It is a truly long overdue reform. It is worth noting that the payments will be paid at a transitional level. As each case is individually reviewed workers with more than 20 per cent incapacity will have their weekly amount restored to 80 per cent of their average weekly earnings up until their retirement age. That looks after workers who have been seriously incapacitated. It gives them dignity and quality of life, which has been long overdue. It also restores the basic ethos which should be at the centre of this scheme but was frittered away by the former Government over many years. I am proud to be a member of a reformist Government which is looking after employees who are the most incapacitated and at the same time bringing in a regime which will incentivise people to get back to work and ensure that the system is financially sustainable.
The design principle of incentivising workers to get back to work in the shortest time that their incapacity allows is at the heart of the reform and at the heart of the problems of the previous scheme. The committee recommended moving to something similar to the Victorian system, which has a step rate. For example, for people who were partially incapacitated the recommendation was that the Government or the scheme top up their payment to 95 per cent of their pre-injury average weekly earnings during the first 13 weeks after the claim is made. From there workers who have returned to work for at least 15 hours per week would continue that top up for the first 130 weeks. After that, the rate would be 80 per cent of pre-injury average weekly earnings. However, for those who were not able to go back to work, or who worked less than 15 hours, the top up would be 80 per cent of pre-injury average weekly earnings.
That is a 15 per cent difference, and that acts as a real incentive to make workers aware that going back to work is the best thing for them. The committee made some comments in that regard. A 15 per cent incentive to get back to work rewards that behaviour. Obviously it would be subject to the ability of the individual worker as a result of their incapacity. All those things are taken into account so that those who are totally incapacitated are also looked after. As members would be aware, they will receive 80 per cent after the first 13 weeks. It is worth repeating that "total incapacity" is defined as 20 per cent incapacity, and that is what the reforms that passed through this Parliament represent. I note the committee recommended 30 per cent incapacity. The Government has responded to that with a lower rate of incapacity to ensure that under this scheme people who are significantly incapacitated are looked after and will receive adequate compensation up until their retirement. It is a major reform that goes to the heart of ensuring that the incentives and the balance points of the scheme are redrawn to ensure that we have a suite of better outcomes.
Recommendation 3 is another key recommendation. It recommended that the Government abolish journey claims except in relation to police officers. In the debate in this place that was expanded to include all workers to and from work where there is a real and substantial connection to work. In that regard there will be some definitional issues. No doubt some court cases will reflect on what might amount to a real and substantial connection to work, but it is worth understanding that other schemes apply to travel to and from work and they will come into play in most circumstances. All in all this is an excellent report. I commend the chair, the Hon. Robert Borsak, and each member of the committee for a terrific report. I also commend the secretariat for their expertise in bringing it together in such a short period.
The Hon. ROBERT BORSAK
[6.06 p.m.], in reply: I thank all my colleagues who made contributions to this debate: the Hon. Paul Green, the Hon. Niall Blair, the Hon. Trevor Khan, the Hon. Adam Searle, Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, the Hon. Scot MacDonald, the Hon. Lynda Voltz and the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox. As I previously noted in my contribution, due to the time constraints of this inquiry it has not been possible to examine and canvass the full range of reform options in the issues paper in detail. However, I trust that the Government is prudent enough to quickly act upon any unintended consequence that may arise from the legislation that was passed by both Houses as a result of this short but necessary inquiry into the New South Wales Workers Compensation Scheme and the release of the issues paper that canvassed options for the reform.
Given the highly sensitive nature of the inquiry, I again thank all members of the committee from both Houses for their collegiate approach throughout the inquiry. I particularly thank Hansard and the committee secretariat for their work during the inquiry. I also thank the secretariat for their work on this report. I commend the report to the House.
Question—That the House take note of the report—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Report: The Right of Reply Process
Debate resumed from 21 June 2012.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN
[6.08 p.m.]: The right of reply procedure enables people who have been adversely referred to in this place to request the publication of a response in the parliamentary record. Standing Order 202 (1) provides that any person who believes they have been adversely mentioned in the House by name, or in such a way as to be readily identified, may make a written submission to the President of the Legislative Council requesting that an appropriate response to the adverse statements made in the House be included in the parliamentary record.
Under Standing Order 202 (2) the President must consider the submission as soon as practicable and decide whether it should be referred to the Privileges Committee for further consideration. Where a submission is referred to the Privileges Committee, the committee may decide not to consider the submission if it is of the opinion that the subject matter is not sufficiently serious or is frivolous, vexatious or offensive in character. However, where the committee decides to consider a submission the committee must and does meet in private, although it may confer with the person who made the submission or the member who referred to the person in the House. The committee must not itself publish the person's submission, or any part of the submission, except in its report to the House.
Having considered a submission, the committee may report to the House either that a response, in a form of words agreed to by the person and the committee, be published in the Minutes of Proceedings
or incorporated in Hansard
, or that no further action be taken. In considering a submission, the committee—and this is a most important matter—"must not consider or judge the truth of any statement made in the House or in the submission". The committee's role is not to investigate the member's statements or the accuracy of the person's submission, but to enable the person to respond to the member's statements in accordance with the requirements of the standing orders.
The inquiry that led to this report was prompted by the receipt of a request for a right of reply to statements made in the House over 15 years ago. The inquiry undertaken by the committee represents the first occasion on which the Legislative Council's right of reply procedure has been formally reviewed. In conducting the inquiry, the committee undertook an analysis of right of reply requests since the introduction of the procedure in 1997. The committee also examined right of reply procedures in other comparable Parliaments, with particular reference to any time limits on requests. All of the 16 Houses of Parliament within Australia and New Zealand provide a right of reply procedure. In addition to the New South Wales Legislative Council, five other Houses currently do not apply any deadline on the receipt of a request for a right of reply. Those Houses are the Victorian Legislative Council, the Tasmanian Legislative Council, the Tasmanian House of Assembly, the Western Australia Legislative Council and the Western Australia Legislative Assembly.
The remaining Houses of Parliament within Australia and New Zealand do apply time limits to the receipt of a request for a right of reply. For example, the Senate Committee of Privileges has expressed the position that a person seeking a right of reply should generally do so within three months of the matter arising in the Senate, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The House of Representatives Committee of Privileges has adopted guidelines that provide that an application for a right of reply must be received within three months of the matter arising in the House unless, because of "exceptional circumstances", the committee agrees to consider an application received later. The standing orders of the New Zealand House of Representatives require that applications for a right of reply must be made within three months of the matter arising in the House. There is no provision for consideration of late applications. The New South Wales Legislative Assembly requires a request for a right of reply to be made within six months of the relevant comments being made in the House, unless the person making the request can show exceptional circumstances to explain the delay.
Similarly, the South Australian House of Assembly and Legislative Council sessional orders require that submissions be made within a "reasonable time". However, what constitutes a reasonable time is not specified. The Victorian Legislative Assembly sets a six-month time frame for a request for a right of reply unless the applicant can demonstrate exceptional circumstances that explain the delay in making the submission. Standing Order 280 (3) of the Queensland Legislative Assembly states that a person shall ensure a submission is received by the Speaker within the term of the Parliament in which the person has been adversely referred to. The relevant resolution of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory provides that a submission should be received by the Speaker as soon as practicable after the making of the statement to which the person wishes to respond, preferably within three months. Finally, the right of reply guidelines of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly provide for a three-month deadline, but also provide for the committee, because of exceptional circumstances, to agree to consider an application received after the deadline.
The committee concluded that the right of reply procedure is working well in the Legislative Council, but that it would be desirable to introduce a time limit for requests. In that regard the committee considered it would be reasonable to expect that requests for a right of reply should be received within 12 months of the relevant comments being made in the House, unless the applicant can show exceptional circumstances to explain the delay. The committee intends to implement this time limit as a matter of practice without seeking any change to the relevant standing orders of the House relating to the right of reply. The committee will publicise the change in practice by an appropriate amendment to the guide to the right of reply procedure published on the committee's website.
I make the observation that while this was a reasonably quick inquiry, it covered a vast area of parliamentary procedure. That was only possible because of the extensive and diligent work of the secretariat, who assisted in bringing together the material almost entirely. I thank all members of the secretariat for their efforts. I also thank the other members of the committee. The Privileges Committee is unusual in the sense that it is technical in nature and requires its members to closely examine the material. During my term as Chair of the committee, members have approached the issues that are before the committee in a non-partisan, intelligent and sensible manner. I thank everyone for their participation both through their involvement with the committee and during the inquiry.
The Hon. WALT SECORD
[6.15 p.m.]: My contribution to debate on the deliberations of the Privileges Committee's examination of the right of reply process, Report No. 61, will be brief. One of the main areas for the Privileges Committee to consider was the subject of whether to apply time limits or deadlines to the receipt of a request for a right of reply. As background to this debate, I mention that the right of reply procedure was adopted by the New South Wales Legislative Council in a resolution of continuing effect on 13 November 1997. It was based on the model used in the Australian Senate. The procedure later was incorporated in current Standing Orders 202 and 203 and was adopted on 5 May 2004.
The right of reply is an important mechanism. In certain circumstances, it allows members of the public, who have been unfairly attacked by members of Parliament, to receive a right of reply, and to have that reply published in the parliamentary record. Parliamentary privilege is a right that attaches to being a member of Parliament, but it also carries considerable responsibility. In the 15 years since the right of reply procedure was adopted by the New South Wales Legislative Council, the Privileges Committee has received 35 right of reply requests and 33 subsequently formed the basis of reports to the House. This represents an average of approximately two requests a year. The committee has never had to consider more than four requests in a year. The requests have included individuals from fields as diverse as academia, religious organisations and local government, as well as private citizens. All of the 16 Houses of Parliament within Australia and New Zealand have a right of reply procedure.
On that matter, I bring to the attention of the House a recent example of a person who I believe should consider requesting a right of reply. On 13 September she was subjected to an unprovoked attack in this Chamber. An unwarranted attack was mounted on an elected representative. Her only offence was standing up for the vulnerable. I refer to the President of the University of Newcastle Student Association, Ms Heather Richards. At the very least, she deserves an unreserved apology from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for the Hunter, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, the Hon. Michael Gallacher. Ms Richards was representing international students who had been subjected to racist attacks. I have informed Ms Richards about the process of a citizen's right of reply. I think she should seriously consider the mechanisms available to her, but that is a matter for her. I thank the House for its consideration.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[6.18 p.m.]: As a member of the Privileges Committee, I am pleased to support the committee's report on the right of reply process. As members know, the right of reply procedure was adopted by the Legislative Council in a resolution of continuing effect on 13 November 1997, which was based on the model used in the Australian Senate. I was pleased to be a member of the Privileges Committee on 13 September 1997 and to strongly support the introduction of the right of reply procedure. Sadly, the procedure is necessary. Over the years, some members have used the privilege of the House to make statements concerning various people who strongly believed they had been misrepresented.
As stated by the Chair of the committee, who preceded me in this debate, the committee does not investigate a person's request for a right of reply. However, merely by reading the material, it sometimes is obvious that what was said in the House misrepresented the person. I am pleased that the Legislative Council has a right of reply. It may not be sufficient to allay the feelings of a person who has been misrepresented, but at least it is one small step in the right direction. In the future, to avoid the need for a right of reply, members must be careful in what they say in the House, ensure that it is accurate and not use their speeches to attack and smear individuals, businesspeople or companies that they have some objection to. Members' speeches could be published in local newspapers, which could seriously damage the career or business of the person referred to.
I support the conclusion that the committee came to: it will maintain the right of reply procedure but introduce a time limit. We agreed to add that provision, unless the applicant can show exceptional circumstances to explain the delay. In almost every case a submission must be made within 12 months. There may be some exceptional circumstances. Perhaps the person was overseas, not aware of the statement made and had no knowledge of it until he or she came back 12 months later. What was said in this House may then be brought to their attention. That is one example of why a person could leave it so long to request a right of reply. The committee can make a judgement as to whether that individual fulfils the exceptional circumstances requirement. In some cases the committee may rule that the person does not, and the person cannot use that right of reply. However, there may be cases where it is justified. I am pleased the committee included that provision in its recommendation to the House.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER
[6.21 p.m.]: I speak briefly to the report of the Privileges Committee on the right of reply procedure. As has been mentioned, the right of reply procedure we are using in this place was adopted in 1997 and was based on the model used in the Australian Senate. The procedure was later incorporated into the standing orders of the House. The report we are contemplating today sets out the operation of the right of reply procedure as incorporated in the standing orders of the House. The standing orders provide that any person—and that is interpreted as including a corporation, a body corporate or an unincorporated association—who believes he or she has been adversely mentioned in the House by name, or in such a way as to be readily identifiable, may make a written submission to the President of the Legislative Council requesting that an appropriate response to the adverse statements made in the House be included in the parliamentary record.
The standing orders require that the President has to consider the submission as soon as practicable and decide whether it should be referred to the Privileges Committee of the House for further consideration. The President may decide that such a submission is not appropriate to be referred to the committee if the matter is considered to be trivial, frivolous, vexatious or offensive in character. The Privileges Committee then meets and has to consider whether the matter is frivolous, vexatious or offensive in character. Where the committee decides the submission needs to be considered, the committee must meet in private. It can—but in practice does not—confer with the person who made the submission or the member who referred to the person in the House.
The committee cannot itself publish the person's submission or any part of the submission except in its report to this House. Having considered a submission, the committee may report to the House in a form of words agreed to by the person and the committee to be published in the Minutes of Proceedings
or incorporated in Hansard
or no further action may be taken. Any response included in a report of the committee must not contain anything offensive in character or any matter that would unreasonably and adversely affect, injure or invade a person's privacy.
It is important to note that in considering any submission the committee must not consider or judge the truth of any statement made in the House or in the submission. The committee has no power to investigate the member's statement or the accuracy of the person's submission; it must enable the person to respond to the member's statements in accordance with the requirements of the standing orders. As the report states, the Senate Committee on Privileges, which has led the way in providing a right of reply mechanism, has observed that a primary reason for the success of the process—that is, the process adopted in the Senate and by this House—is that the committee makes no judgement as to the truth or otherwise of the assertion made by the Senator or the respondent. The Senate committee said that this feature is vital, as otherwise the process would be bogged down endlessly by claim and counterclaim, and involve the committee in an inappropriate adjudicative function.
It is important to note that, although the committee may confer with but not take evidence from any person in the House in relation to the Privileges Committee of this House, in practice the committee has never met with a person seeking the right of reply or with the member who referred in the House to the person who is taking offence. In my experience of committees in this place, this was a unique inquiry. Although the inquiry, as has been pointed out, was triggered by one constituent's request in relation to a matter that occurred in 1995, the terms of reference that were adopted by the House were quite broad. One matter was raised by one constituent which triggered this inquiry, but the terms of reference allowed for review of the right of reply procedure. Therefore, the inquiry was not confined to time limits.
The committee invited all members of this House to make a submission and all members received a background paper on the topic from the committee. I think it is possibly unique that the parliamentary inquiry did not receive a single submission on the matter, notwithstanding the potential to have a broad inquiry into the status and procedures of the right of reply procedure. It is fair to say that we might conclude that members of the House are generally satisfied with the right of reply procedure and the standing orders that govern them. That is a point worth making. Members who were not satisfied with the process would have made a submission and the inquiry would have been able to examine their views. With those few words, I endorse the adoption of this report of the inquiry.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN
[6.29 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Hon. Walt Secord, Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner for their contributions to the debate. The Hon. Walt Secord referred to the number of rights of reply that have occurred over the years. He observed that the maximum was four in any one year. As Chair of this committee, I note that we will break that record fairly easily.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz:
It has nothing to do with you.
The Hon. TREVOR KHAN:
No, it certainly has nothing to do with me. It probably has more to do with the fact that the right of reply procedure is becoming more generally known. Perhaps because Hansard
is published on the internet and people can Google search they are more aware of what is said in this place. It is a positive step that people are aware of what is said about them in this place. It is positive also that people participate in the parliamentary process by exercising their right of reply. One hopes that all members in this place use sparingly the privilege attached to their rights as parliamentarians and do not traduce someone's reputation without giving it appropriate thought and consideration. The right of reply is only a small way in which a citizen is able to remedy the hurt they may feel about something that is said of them. I commend the report.
Question—That the House take note of the report—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Pursuant to sessional orders debate on the budget estimates proceeded with.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2012-13
Debate resumed from 11 September 2012.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS
[6.30 p.m.]: If we want to save money in this budget round, I offer a modest proposal: stop wasting money on official multiculturalism. It is not my intention to argue whether multiculturalism is good or bad. Instead, I go back to first principles and examine whether multiculturalism actually exists in Australia. Governments and non-government organisations like to state that Australia is an example of a strong, multicultural society. But is it so? How often have we heard politicians and community leaders talk about how people come from all around the globe to live in Australia, and claim that their presence is, of itself, proof of multiculturalism? It is nothing of the sort. It may demonstrate that we are a multiethnic society but it says nothing whatsoever about whether we are multicultural. What do I mean by this? The heart of the issue lies in the difference between "culture" and "ethnicity". I shall explain by giving an illustration.
The Hon. Lynda Voltz:
Point of order: This is a take-note debate on the budget. Members should at least be generally relevant to the budget. Apart from drawing attention to possible programs, none of which has been defined in the Government's budget process, the member's comments are well outside the bounds of the debate.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS:
To the point of order: With respect to the member, New South Wales has the Community Relations Commission and Principles of Multiculturalism Act 2000. The Community Relations Commission draws its funding from the State Government. Therefore, I believe I am totally in order.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner):
Order! Debate on the budget estimates is wide ranging.
There is no point of order.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS:
To explain the difference between culture and ethnicity I urge members to imagine if Barry O'Farrell had, at the age of six months, been adopted by a Vietnamese family living in Hanoi. Ethnically, he could be described as being of northern European descent but culturally he would have been raised as a Buddhist, speak Vietnamese, live under a Vietnamese legal system, eat Vietnamese food and enjoy Vietnamese pastimes. He would never have heard of the Balmain Tigers! That is the difference between culture and ethnicity. Racists see no difference between ethnicity and culture, believing the latter is contingent on the former.
But even simple observations show that one's culture has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with environment. In Australia the most famous example of this is Mei Quong Tart. Originally a Chinese immigrant brought up as a child by Scottish missionaries, Quong Tart became one of Australia's most successful merchants and made a significant impact on the social and political scene of late nineteenth-century New South Wales. Despite the virulent anti-Chinese agitation in Australia at the time, Quong Tart was, according to the Daily Telegraph
, "As well known as the Governor himself and quite popular among all classes" in Sydney. He was even appointed to the 1892 Royal Commission into gambling. [Quorum called for.
[The bells having been rung and a quorum having formed, business resumed.
It was not Mei Quong Tart's Chinese ethnicity that Australians looked at and considered important; it was his cultural Britishness—at least in his public dealings. Quong Tart is now largely forgotten but his life and success demonstrate that Australians, even at the height of the White Australia policy, actually cared far less about race or ethnicity and far more about cultural assimilation. It might be worthwhile at this point briefly discussing public versus private culture. I do not deny the multiplicities of non-Anglo cultural practices in private but any formal policy of multiculturalism seeks to give official imprimatur to activities in the public sphere that differ from existing Anglo cultural practices. True multicultural theory says that all cultures are not merely to be tolerated but embraced and welcomed alongside the existing ethos. They are equal not subservient to Anglo norms.
It is not good enough simply to show that existing non-Anglo cultural practices are being undertaken in the private sphere and claim that as proof that the nation is multicultural. After all, at the height of White Australia non-Anglo communities still retained such private cultural practices. If multiculturalism does not recognise public difference, then the official policy of multiculturalism means, effectively, nothing. But I return to my main question: Is Australia a multicultural nation? Let us examine the question by assessing the six key components of any culture, whether it be Australia, Albania or Afghanistan: language, law, religion, food, clothing and entertainment. There is no doubt that English is the common language of Australia. However, Canada adopts a strict policy of having two official languages, as does Belgium, and Switzerland has four. So some multicultural societies recognise language difference and require diversity in official languages, but not Australia.
Sure, some people speak different languages at home, but how is this different from 150 years ago, when there was no official policy of multiculturalism? Some people claim that SBS is an example of linguistic multiculturalism, but this is a furphy. Overlook for the moment the fact that SBS's ratings still fall in the realm of statistical error and question why its shows are captioned in English. It is because the sole mode of public discourse in Australia is English. Perhaps the final word should go to the Editor-in-Chief of Australia's own dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary
Australia is essentially a monolingual country despite its long history of migration from Europe and Far Eastern countries.
Thus on the issue of the public use of language Australia is monocultural. Law in Australia is a system conducted in English and based on the English common law tradition, with people in cloaks coloured black to mourn the death of English Queen Anne, whose laws are made in a Parliament based on the English and United States models and where all business is conducted in English—no multiculturalism. Cultural differences in the laws of the land are not recognised either, other than the occasional cultural stereotypes in criminal law. Muslim divorce laws are not recognised in the Marriage Act, Medicare has no subsidy for female genital mutilation, and there is no recognition of cultural differences in determining size or catch limits in State fishing regulations. Basically, the law recognises only one Australia and only one type of Australian culture. What about food? The multiculturalists say:
"Ah, you've forgotten food. Look at how multicultural Australia has become: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Portuguese chicken, pizza and cappuccinos. That proves we are multicultural after all.
Maybe, maybe not. Most of the things mentioned have been anglicised to meet traditional Australian tastes. Many of them have come to Australia through other English-speaking cultures, such as the United States and Britain. The pizza I get from Pizza Hut or Dominoes is not the pizza I got in Venice. The Chinese I have at the Junee RSL is not the Chinese they are eating in the suburbs of Shanghai, much less the Chinese countryside. Singapore noodles from my local noodle bar in Queanbeyan are quite different from those made by my sister-in-law, a Singapore native, and so on. Sure, there are foods different from the traditional steak and three vegetables, but did Britain become multicultural just because tomatoes, potatoes, maize, coffee and chocolate came in from the Americas in the sixteenth century? If we were to look at the imported foods that have really grabbed hold of the Australian public, we would find they are overwhelmingly fast foods that are American in origin or ethnic dishes that have been reconstructed in the image of white America to suit their tastes. Thus on the issue of food Australia is essentially monocultural.
Australia has no official State religion and, since the days of Reverend Samuel Marsden, Australians have maintained a healthy disregard for religion in public life. Sectarian issues that have arisen in the past are, rightly, recognised as the eruption of the private into the public sphere. Not for us "God bless Australia" at the end of every address by the Prime Minister or arguments over prayer in schools or enforcing religious moral codes through our legal system. There are many different faiths in Australia, all of which can be practised freely—in private.
So does that make us multicultural? If so, then how does that vary from when there was no official policy of multiculturalism? There were Jews in the First Fleet—was Australia therefore multicultural at that point, before an official policy was needed? There is, however, still some official recognition of religion—but we have been very picky about what we choose to recognise. When it comes to the public culture of the nation, we have the Christian Lord's Prayer at the start of each day of Parliament. Moreover, we only recognise the Christian religious holidays as public holidays, and even in this regard we accept the Catholic rather than the ironically more accurate Orthodox dates for these celebrations. Thus on the issue of the public recognition of religion: monocultural.
What about clothing? Most suits and dresses follow an American or European design. Jeans, sneakers and T-shirts are all American cultural imports that have become de rigueur even among the so-called disaffected members of Australia's ethnic minorities. How many muu-muus do you see in Parliament? How many headscarfs? How many saris? After their brief moment of popularity not even the Nehru or Mao jackets make an appearance in public these days. That is why the whole issue of Islamic dress for women has become such a cause célèbre.
I suspect that the majority of Australians who claim to be offended would not give two hoots if women wore Islamic dress in their own homes. Australians are fundamentally indifferent to whatever occurs in private but venture into the public sphere in a burqa and that intrudes upon the demand for homogeneity. It becomes a challenge, a threat to Anglo societal norms—norms which, it must be stated, have been overwhelmingly endorsed and adopted by all subsequent waves of non-Anglo immigrants since World War II. In fact, the very existence of the controversy over Islamic dress is the best evidence I can adduce that we are not, when it comes to clothing, a multicultural society. Thus on the issue of clothing: monocultural.
Finally, there is entertainment. Where do we get our sport from? It is from Britain and America or nineteenth century homegrown derivatives of those sports. Where do we get our television and movies from? Overwhelmingly, they come from Britain and America. Indeed, one might point out that these most popular forms of entertainment are particularly Anglo forms of entertainment. Going to the opera? Look out for the subtitles in English. Heading to the beach? One of the great ironies of the Cronulla riots was that we had two groups of people in conflict both of whom were essentially mimicking different versions of American sub-cultures: the white beach culture versus the black ghetto culture. Despite claims on both sides of cultural authenticity, they had the look and talk of their American compatriots thus demonstrating a comical lack of introspection and a deeply ironic subservience to American culture.
Tuning the radio? You will find more rock or pop—in other words, direct or derivative expressions from America and Britain. Even triple j, that doyen of political correctness, dropped its World Music Show
for an increase in American-style hip-hop. The simple fact is that things like SBS, World of Music, Arts and Dance festivals
and Carnivale have all been of miniscule influence in comparison with mainstream Anglo culture. They are small bursts of the exotic, primarily for the consumption of the bourgeois Left, who can then convince themselves that they are really broad minded and people of the world. But how many punters even know these things existed? How many people participated as opposed to those who sit on their lounge and watch the footy? Thus on the issue of entertainment: monocultural.
So what are we? Any serious and objective examination can lead to only one conclusion: We are not multicultural, at least in terms of Australia's public culture. What we are is a very successful multiethnic society that has maintained a high degree of stability by official, and more recently unofficial, coercion of immigrants towards assimilation into the dominant Anglo public culture. We are, for all practical purposes, the same public monoculture that we have been for most of Australia's white history, at least as far as our public culture is concerned. I actually think all governments understand this. In the 39 years since it was first proclaimed by Al Grassby, successive governments—including the Hawke Labor Government—have whittled away and read down the official definitions of multiculturalism, and always in deference to the preponderant position of the dominant Anglo culture.
Indeed, the current definition of "multiculturalism" is so wishy-washy it can be summed up thus: You can do most of what you would like in private but do not transgress the boundaries that have been set by the dominant Anglo culture. In your public dealings you have to be like us, and in return we will treat your non-threatening practices as quaint and interesting forms of exotica—if we do not just ignore them entirely. If that is all there is to it—if that is all multiculturalism means in the twenty-first century—then we might as well accept what we are, what our culture is and what it is not. We can say sayonara, aloha, auf wiedersehen,
au revoir, arrivederci and goodbye to that silly relic of 1970s Whitlam era: official multiculturalism.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Peter Phelps and set down as an order of the day for a future day.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX
(Parliamentary Secretary) [6.43 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
Dr JOHN KAYE
[6.43 p.m.]: The O'Farrell Government has taken a sharp knife to the budgets of both public education and health, arguing that sources of government revenue cannot continue to support the current level of service. This proposition is wrong on so many levels. Whatever the truth behind the claims of a $4.5 billion black hole in the budget—and there are good reasons to doubt the size of the financial shortfall—there is simply no justification for cuts of $2.3 billion over the next four years, undermining the future of the public school and TAFE systems and the State's public hospital services. Whatever so-called savings are manufactured in the short term, the social and economic cost to the community of declining levels of education and health will be far greater than the impacts of running short-term recurrent deficits. The costs will be felt disproportionately by those who can least afford to purchase private alternatives. Further, the long-term costs of rebuilding these services will far outstrip the costs of any risk to the triple-A rating.
Public service provision is not some kind of tap that can be turned on in good times and turned off in lean times. The goodwill, expertise and accumulated skills that take generations to accumulate can be lost in just a few years of budget cuts. Rebuilding takes decades and a lot of additional funds on top of the social and economic costs of the years of under-provision of service. The triple-A dogma puts the ratings agencies in charge of economic policy. Public services are being sacrificed to appease the very same corporations whose ratings-for-dollars scandal brought the world's economic system to a standstill. The Government claims that the loss of favour of Standard and Poor's or Moody's would cost the State $3.75 billion over a decade. However, the cost of a short-term ratings dip has been estimated to be only $7 million to $14 million a year. Like the black hole, the triple-A scare has been inflated to justify a war on public sector services, public sector workers and those communities that depend upon them.
There has been of course a decline in GST revenue estimated at $5.2 billion for New South Wales over the four years to 2014-15. Some of this revenue loss is the result of reduced spending by nervous consumers. It would be expected that this component of the goods and services tax receipts would return with improving confidence in the global economy. However, it appears that there may be longer-term and more fundamental changes in the way that households spend their money. A transfer of focus from consumer goods to untaxed services such as health and education may have a more lasting impact than the global financial crisis. Last week Premier Barry O'Farrell floated the idea of increasing the goods and services tax rate and broadening the net. While there may be some sense in capturing more online transactions, a higher rate is deeply regressive, with a disproportionate burden falling on lower-income families. Similarly, broadening the net to include, for example, training fees and health would push the costs of these services out of the reach of households that are already struggling with climbing electricity bills and household costs.
The goods and services tax is already the great big tax on everything. Goods and services tax receipts are six times the size of the total revenue collected by the carbon price, which is fully compensable for the average household. A two percentage point increase in the goods and services tax—from 10 per cent to 12 per cent—would cost more than the entire carbon price. Actually it would be 1.67 times the entire revenue collected by the carbon price. The Premier's thought bubble exposes his insincerity when he and the Minister for Resources and Energy joined the Federal Opposition leader's deeply misleading predictions of the impact of the carbon price. If New South Wales needs new revenue sources, they should be fair and progressive. The burden should fall on those who can afford to pay: high net wealth individuals, large property owners, large corporations, the consumers of luxury goods, the recipients of windfall profits from land rezoning decisions and the beneficiaries for wasteful subsidies that exacerbate socio-economic inequity. Some of these are beyond the constitutional powers of the State but many are within the gift of State governments that have the courage to stand up to the cashed-up power elites.
Persistent political pressure from non-government schools has seen their annual subsidies grow by 25 per cent above inflation over the past decade. The additional $240 million a year is unsustainable and damaging to public education. The $60 million in State subsidies to the State's wealthiest private schools is wasteful and unfair. There can be no justification for New South Wales to continue to provide $1,000 for every student every year at The Kings and Sydney Grammar schools when these schools spend two to three times the amount per student in public education. The Premier and Treasurer are fond of saying that there are hard decisions to be made and then opting for the easy options. They continue the gravy train of the powerful and vocal non-government education sector, perhaps without the same acceleration that has characterised the past decade and a half, while slashing public schools and TAFE colleges. The Government's enthusiasm for devolution— [Time expired
MOSS VALE AQUATIC CENTRE
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR
[6.48 p.m.]: Tonight I speak about the importance of swimming pools to regional communities in New South Wales and highlight the obstacles faced by Wingecarribee Shire Council as it builds a new aquatic centre at Moss Vale. For many years I have been following the progress of the aquatic centre and the debate that has raged about location—Moss Vale, Bowral or Mittagong—funding and design for this centre. It has been a regular item in the local newspaper and has been the subject of a referendum at the 2008 council election, when residents were asked whether the council should sell some unused reserves to fund this project. This referendum was lost.
I am conscious of not interfering in the processes of Wingecarribee Shire Council and its decision-making as I am not a member of the council. However, my family and I were members of the Moss Vale Swimming Club last year and I feel that I can no longer be silent on an issue that is now affecting community members, who may be without a pool for more than one summer. Leaving location, cost and design issues aside, there is immense value in an indoor pool being built in the Southern Highlands because of our cold climate and short summers. In previous roles I have managed aquatic centres for local councils and have witnessed councils tackle similar issues and achieve successful outcomes. This should shame Wingecarribee Shire Council.
A swimming pool is essential for communities. It provides a place for children to learn to swim and practise lifesaving techniques. It enables older and injured residents to rehabilitate and allows the community in general to socialise and engage in fitness activities. Swimming is also a fundamental sport in Australia and our swimming clubs in the Southern Highlands are restricted in not having access to an indoor facility. In fact, most people in the community go to Camden, Goulburn or Picton to swim. This should be about providing a service to the community; it should not be about politics or finances. A swimming pool will never be a revenue raiser and I get sick of people trying to use it as a money spinner. Indeed, Hay Shire Council regards the provision of its swimming pool as a service and does not charge any fee for entry to its swimming complex.
As I have said, I have not interfered in the decision-making on the matter. However, following extensive community consultation in October and November 2011 the last council finally made the decision to build an $8.4 million facility on the location of the Moss Vale pool site. Council lodged a land use application for the Moss Vale Aquatic Centre and recently began working to demolish the existing pool. With the demolition complete just in time for summer, construction was halted as the construction certificate could not be issued for the building of the new facility without more information being submitted by Wingecarribee Shire Council. The Moss Vale community is now in the situation of having no pool for this summer and the new facility likely to be delayed for some time.
The Moss Vale War Memorial Swimming Pool was opened on 6 November 1965 and was funded entirely by community fundraising and volunteer efforts. The pool was completed after six years of hard work by community members. It was fenced, paved, lit and landscaped by community groups including the Lions, Apex, Rotary and RSL clubs. The pool served the Moss Vale community well until just a few months ago when it was demolished to make way for the new Moss Vale Aquatic Centre. I fail to see how it was deemed a good idea to demolish the old pool without the successful issue of the construction certificate for the new aquatic centre. To me, it seems very rushed. Was it bad management or leadership? To be honest, it does not matter. The excavators have already done their work and nothing can be done to remedy the current situation.
As a result, the Moss Vale Aquatic Centre will now not open for the 2012-13 summer swimming season. We already knew this because of the need to build a new facility but the delay will see Moss Vale potentially without a pool for two summers. I hope this does not happen. The recent council elections have resulted in a new council that is mixed in its commitment to this project. Council needs to ensure that all the toing and froing ceases, its processes are put in place and that the pool is completed. There is no excuse for the community of Moss Vale or the Wingecarribee shire as a whole to be without a pool for two summers.
It is my hope that the newly elected council will get its act together, get on with the job of building the centre and provide this valuable community service to the people of the Southern Highlands. If the new council decides to axe the project it has been suggested that significant funds may be lost on contracts already signed. In summary, the whole thing has been a complete dog's breakfast and the problem must be rectified. I have reluctantly entered into debate on this issue. I do not criticise any of the staff involved in the process. However, the debate must stop and council must now build this facility that the community so rightly deserves.
NEWCASTLE SHOW DAY
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY
[6.53 p.m.]: Coalition governments cannot help themselves. They are genetically predisposed to abolishing, or at the very least reducing, the legal rights of working people. Their actions once in government prove this time and time again. It is as if it is imprinted in their DNA; handed down from one generation to the next. One can rely on Coalition governments to do it; it is hardwired into them. The thing is, though, they are a gutless mob. They never—I repeat never—inform the electorate of their intentions during election campaigns or in policy documents. They seek deliberately to fly under the radar on these important matters and, if elected, go after them like a hot knife into butter. What is even worse, though, is that in regard to some matters they deliberately mislead and deceive the voting public by saying one thing and then doing another in office. In the Sunday Telegraph
on 6 March 2011 the then Opposition leader, Barry O'Farrell, said:
We [referring to a Coalition Government] will not cut the number of public holidays in NSW.
The statement is short, to the point and unambiguously clear—or at least that is what a reasonable person would be entitled to conclude. However, as people across the State are progressively finding out, one cannot trust what either Barry O'Farrell or any of his Ministers say. Indeed, what they say often bears little resemblance to what they do. A case in point of great significance to the good people of the Central Coast, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley is Newcastle Regional Show Day or, as it is generally known, the Newcastle Show. It is an annual agricultural show held by the Newcastle and District Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Association Inc. at the Newcastle Regional Showground in Broadmeadow, a suburb of Newcastle.
The Newcastle and District Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Association was formed in 1899 and held the first Newcastle Show in May 1902. It has been held each year since, with breaks for World War I, the 1919 influenza epidemic and World War II. The show was not held in 2007 after losses in 2006, but it returned in 2008. With improvements to the showground and expanded entertainment, show crowds in 2008 were up by 50 per cent. The show comprises a ring show with livestock parades, showjumping and various attractions such as speedway cars, marching bands and fireworks; an agricultural pavilion with displays and judging of livestock and produce; commercial stands and exhibits; and a Hall of Industry with art, photography, handicrafts, cookery, et cetera. There is also live entertainment, a show bag pavilion, a sideshow alley with carnival rides, shopping, food courts and so on. The Newcastle Entertainment Centre is located inside the showground and is used for the show.
Newcastle Show Day is a public holiday that applies to the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas—or, I should say more accurately, it was a public holiday. Thanks to Barry O'Farrell, and specifically the actions of the Minister for Finance and Services, Greg Pearce, the Newcastle Show Day public holiday is no more. With the skill and dexterity of the axemen at the show's woodchop, they have taken a razor-sharp axe to public holiday rights of tens of thousands of workers and their families in Newcastle and in parts of the surrounding region. It would seem that the State Liberal member for Newcastle, Tim Owen, has backed them all the way. This year the O'Farrell Government abolished the Newcastle Show Day public holiday. Instead, it has declared the day a so-called local event day.
What is the impact of this decision? It renders meaningless what were the public holiday benefits for the vast majority of workers and schoolchildren in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie regions who had been entitled to the day off to enjoy the Newcastle Show with family and friends. For the first time in many years Newcastle Show Day became like any other working day for schoolchildren and workers in retail, hospitality, manufacturing and most industries—and this from the Premier who promised "We will not cut the number of public holidays in NSW". Shame! What makes the matter worse is that in 2012 the O'Farrell Government has supported 22 other local regional public holidays and half-day public holidays throughout New South Wales for communities such as Armidale, Albury, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Parkes, Lismore, Ballina and Muswellbrook. Why then did the O'Farrell Government abolish the Newcastle Show Day public holiday? Why are so many workers and their families being treated as second-class citizens?
I conclude by acknowledging and thanking Barbara Nebart and David Bliss, who are, respectively, the secretary and the assistant secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Newcastle & Northern Branch, along with their officials and delegates, for the outstanding work they are doing in campaigning on this most important issue. I can assure the members of this House that this campaign will run for as long as it takes to overturn this grossly unfair act by the O'Farrell Government and the mob on the other side of the House. I sincerely hope that the public holiday for Newcastle Show Day is fully restored in 2013.
ANTI-ISLAMIC FILM PROTEST
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[6.58 p.m.]: I speak on the violent Islamic protest that took place on Saturday 15 September 2012, which happened to be my birthday but there was no connection. I thank the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon. Michael Gallacher, for his speech in condemning the protest on behalf of the Government, and I thank the Hon. Shaoquett Moselmane—the only Muslim member of this House—who spoke on behalf of the Opposition in also condemning the violent protest. As members know, the protest took place in many inner parts of our central business district—Martin Place, Market Street and Hyde Park.
I also condemn the violent protest on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party, which is strongly opposed to such violent activities. I also condemn the protest on behalf of the Australian Christian Nation Association and on behalf of the many, many thousands of members of the Coptic Church in our nation, particularly in Sydney where we have a large number of Coptic churches and a cathedral in Bexley. It was amazing to see in the protest the various banners saying "Behead all those who insult the prophet" and "Behead all those who insult Islam". Sadly, some of those banners were carried by children—in one case by a young boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old, who was being photographed by his mother as if she was proud of what he was doing. I note in the media that there has been an investigation by the police into that family but, as far as I know, the police have decided not to take any action against the family.
Other protest banners said "Christians lack morals" and, one I find particularly offensive, "Our dead are in heaven and yours are in hell"—this is at a time when funerals are being conducted for the five Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, three at the hands of a rogue member of the Afghan National Army. Another banner at the protest said "Obama we love Osama"—referring to Osama bin Laden, who organised the attack on the twin towers in New York in 2001 when more than 3,000 men, women and children died. Were these protesters in support of what happened in the twin towers? Were they in support of those Afghan soldiers who turned their guns on our Australian soldiers and murdered them while they were relaxing after a patrol with men they thought they could trust? The protesters spat in the faces of our police screaming in Arabic "Allah Akbar", which means "Allah is great"—Allah being the Arabic word for God.
I have received many phone calls from Coptic Christians who are deeply offended by the banners carried in the protest, particularly one carried by two young women which depicted the recently deceased head of the Coptic Church in Egypt Pope Shenouda III. These women displayed a placard which depicted a toilet and in the toilet was Pope Shenouda's photograph. One could not misunderstand what they were doing. It is no wonder our Coptic brothers and sisters in Sydney are deeply offended. I had to calm down some of the people who rang me because they said they wanted to go down and confront the Muslims. We would have had a form of civil war in the heart of Sydney. I issue a warning to the Muslims organising these protests that that is what they are provoking with this type of violent protest. There will be a backlash and they will not get away with it. They must stop such protests and become law-abiding citizens of our nation.
DECLARATION ON PARLIAMENTARY OPENNESS
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE
[7.03 p.m.]: Since 2007 the United Nations has observed 15 September as International Day of Democracy. International Day of Democracy was created around the idea of democracy as a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of life. This year 15 September was also the day chosen to launch the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness—a call to parliaments worldwide for stronger collaboration to improve openness, transparency and citizen participation in the legislative process.
The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness came about as a result of a conference earlier this year that brought together parliamentary monitoring organisations from around the world. Parliamentary monitoring organisations are not-for-profit organisations set up by citizens to monitor or assess the functioning of parliaments or their individual members. Parliamentary monitoring organisations bridge the gap between Hansard
and the public, making information more accessible. Around the world more than 191 parliamentary monitoring organisations monitor more than 80 national parliaments. The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness is based on four key principles: promoting a culture of openness; making parliamentary information transparent; easing access to parliamentary information; and enabling electronic communication of parliamentary information.
These might seem like simple concepts but, as the declaration acknowledges, there are varying cultural, historical, political, technological and economic factors in the national contexts in which parliaments function. The belief behind the declaration is that by giving citizens better access to parliamentary information one can promote engagement in and strengthen the capacity of all citizens to participate in parliamentary processes. Some examples of parliamentary monitoring organisations include websites such as the OpenCongress Wiki and RaceTracker, which use crowd-sourced information to share and analyse what is happening in Congress and to track every 2012 race for the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives and State Governor. RaceTracker is a free, open-source, fully-referenced and non-partisan public resource.
Another example is a grassroots campaign organised by readthebill.org
that has called on Congress to have all non-emergency legislation online for at least 72 hours before being voted on. In Africa the Bungeni project supports open source applications and "aims at making Parliaments more open and accessible to citizens … virtually allowing them inside Parliament". In Hungary parliamentary monitoring organisations have developed free online tools that allow citizens to track plagiarism in the Hansard
of parliament and through legislation. In Australia OpenAustralia.org
aims to make it easy for people to keep tabs on their Federal representatives by providing alerts when any given member of Parliament speaks. As the website OpenAustralia.org
For all its faults and foibles, our democracy is a profound gift from previous generations. Yet most people don't know the name of their representative, let alone what they do or say in their name.
We aim to help bridge this growing democratic disconnect, in the belief that there is little wrong with Parliament that a healthy mixture of transparency and public engagement won't fix.
is run by volunteers. It has become the go-to site for information about your local member or senator and what they are saying in the House on your behalf. However, the road to establishing OpenAustralia.org
has not been easy. It requires the cooperation of parliaments in making the data—that is, the working of parliament—open to third parties. State parliaments have not been overly keen to progress this issue and that is a pity. OpenAustralia.org
has endorsed the declaration, along with numerous other parliamentary monitoring organisations.
Meaningful engagement with parliamentary processes strengthens our democracy. But so too does engagement with public sector agencies. The principles behind the declaration can and should be applied to the whole of government. Opening up information and making it accessible to the public should lead to better services for citizens. As my favourite politics savvy geek Pia Waugh explains:
By making data appropriately publicly available there are better opportunities for public scrutiny and engagement in democracy and with government in a way that is focused on actual policy outcomes, rather than through the narrow aperture of politics or the media.
This also builds trust, leads to a better informed public, and gives the public service an opportunity to leverage the skills, knowledge and efforts of the broader community like never before.
I hope this Government and this Parliament takes on board the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and looks at how we can use the declaration to open our democracy in New South Wales. Here in New South Wales we can and we should do better.
ARMIDALE ENERGY FORUM
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD
[7.08 p.m.]: On 17 August an energy forum was held in Armidale. It was hosted by Regional Development Australia Northern Inland and the New South Wales Government. We were privileged to have the Minister for Resources and Energy, the Hon. Chris Hartcher, address the forum. The aim of the forum was to brief councils from the region and the business sector on the emerging coal seam gas industry. Coal seam gas presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the communities of northern inland New South Wales. Thanks to the hard work of the chair of Regional Development Australia Northern Inland, Mal Peters, and chief executive officer, Nathan Axlesson, I think the agenda covered both of those aspects.
At the forum Minister Hartcher set the scene by noting that New South Wales supplies only 6 per cent of its domestic gas and its traditional sources are in decline and/or coming off contract in a couple of years. He outlined the Government's determination to develop the industry while protecting natural resources and respecting landowners' stewardship of their properties. The Liberal-Nationals Government has delivered on that promise with the release last week of the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. The document introduces policies where only a vacuum existed before. Those policies had their genesis prior to the last election in the comprehensive work of the then Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Duncan Gay.
The first speaker was Mr Stephen Reid, Deloitte's national oil and gas leader, who briefed us on the supply and demand constraints of natural gas on the east coast, including the forecast impact on prices once the Gladstone gas trains come on line in 2016-17. Next Mr Lyall Howard from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association described the scale and scope of the industry. He outlined some of the economic benefits flowing through to regional Australia. The following speaker really cut through. Mr Chris Sharpe, managing director of Richmond Dairies, based in Casino, told the audience his business had struck a gas supply agreement with Metgasco. He said that without the gas deal Richmond Dairies would not be able to compete with dairy processors in Victoria as the southern processors had access to much cheaper gas. In other words, without coal seam gas coming on line, Richmond Dairies, many dairy farmers and all the associated jobs and services would have an uncertain future.
Santos General Manager Energy for NSW Peter Mitchley then gave an overview of his company's plans for New South Wales production and subsequent export. Mr Peter Bolding, general manager regulatory and strategy, APA Group, gave a good presentation on the infrastructure—that is the pipelines—required to transport gas to market and export. It was sobering to get a frank assessment of the challenge of making the resource available to the centres of northern New South Wales. Ultimately only markets of scale will be serviced. Therefore the question arises: What does that mean for heavily energy-dependent businesses and their competitiveness?
The last speaker was Mr Brad Mullard, Executive Director, Minerals and Energy, New South Wales Department of Industry and Investment. The standout point from Mr Mullard's presentation was the risk to New South Wales of falling behind the rest of Australia if the coal seam gas industry is not developed. Capital and enterprise are bound to locate themselves where the best after-tax return will be yielded. It owes no loyalty to any State or jurisdiction. Unless we can offer energy with security and at a competitive price New South Wales will inevitably witness a decline in economic activity. The forum concluded with a question and answer session. There were robust questions about environmental safeguards. There were questions about supply and availability.
The Premier constantly reminds Government members to focus on serving the people of New South Wales. The Armidale Energy Forum did just that. Much negativity and caution have characterised the debate on coal seam gas. Caution is appropriate; lack of balance and alarmism are not. The forum filled in some of the information gaps and alerted councils and business to how the emergence of coal seam gas could affect them. There is no doubt in my mind that gas will be a game changer. We have announced a strategic regional land use policy to manage the planning protocols. We need to be proactive to ensure our regional communities have every opportunity to grow their economies with access to gas. I thank the speakers and everybody who attended the worthwhile Armidale Energy Forum.
Question—That this House do now adjourn—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 7.13 p.m. until Wednesday 19 September 2012 at 11.00 a.m.