Wednesday 31 October 2012

Mascot Preschool Hours Cut

The O'Farrell Liberal Government is forcing Mascot Public School to cap the number of hours children can attend per week – in a disgraceful move that will see some 40 children have to cut down on their days at preschool.

From next year, government run preschools which currently offer 30 hours of preschool per week will have to cap children's attendance to just 15 hours per week.
This comes as the Premier is slashing $1.7 billion from education over the next four years, and underspent the allocated budget in early childhood services by $40 million last year.

This is just in breach of the spirit of the National Partnship with the Federal Government.

Mr O'Farrell has used the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education – which sets a minimum of 15 hours of preschool in the year before school - as an excuse to cap the hours children can attend government preschools to 15 hours instead. Fifteen hours was the minimum determined because of the importance in the development of childrens learning.

Fifteen hours at preschool per week is the recognised minimum for a child in the year before school, but Barry O'Farrell is making it the maximum.

Limiting children to only spending 15 hours per week at Mascot preschool is a lazy and mean attempt to cut even more education spending. What the Government should be doing is using the funding they have been given to increase capacity.

Parents are understandably furious about this decision to cut back preschool hours for their children.

I've been contacted by parents who changed their working hours and cancelled other arrangements so their child could attend preschool next year, only now to be told they have been capped to 15 hours per week.

Parents are already stuggling because O'Farrell Government doubled the fees imposed on parents, and these caps on attendance will cause considerable difficulty with parents who enrolled their children at Mascot Public School because of a Preschool that has been operating successfully between 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday for decades.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Liberals "Return planning powers to local communities" a myth

The Liberals promise to return planning powers to local communities is just a myth as they move to rush through legislation to give developers the power to ignore councils and local communities. 

The Liberal Party is rushing through amendments to the state's Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to restrict the application of Councils Development Control Plans (DCP) without any consultation with Local Government, the community or key stakeholders. 

A DCP is a planning document which contains a council's expectations for its area. It must be adopted after consultation with the community and must be consistently applied by the council to be effective. 

The importance of a DCP was endorsed by the Land and Environment Court in 2004 by McClellan C J in the Stockland Case. 

Tthe Liberal Government haste was by amendments and trying to burying them amongst speeches on housing shortages. 

Yesterday under the pretence of addressing housing shortage's the government tried to sneak through very substantial amendments to the legislation, with no community consultation, no consultation with Local Government and no consultation with any stakeholder. The amendments mean developers will have carte blanche to ignore council and local community requirements.

In seeking to restrict the application of councils Development Control Plans (DCP) the liberal government is treating council's with contempt. Developers can ignore policies that are important to the community such as requirements to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill, energy efficiency, architectural design, urban design, childcare centres and alike". Mr Hoenig said 

There is no sound reason for the Liberals trying to rush though this legislation unless they are trying to avoid public and media scrutiny. 

The O'Farrell government is hoping because of the complexity of the planning law that the public and media will not understand what they are proposing, so they can look after their developer mates by giving them open slather to get development approvals contrary to planning instruments agreed to by our local communities. 

The Government’s claim that councils through the use of the DCPs have been obstructing development or investment is rubbish. The Minister has ample powers under the Act to direct council's in relation to DCP's. No direction has been given.

It is a clever trick. Limit the effect of a DCP, then have the Joint Regional Planning Panels approve the applications, and the Minister can say he is hands off. 

This is a sneaky government.

The Liberals say they want to review of the entire planning system. They have released a green paper for public comment and are about to release a white paper to undertake a complete planning review. 

Yet they want to slip through something that will substantially change the balance in the favour of developers.

The Liberals promise to return planning powers to local communities is just plan fiction. What they say and what they do are two different things.

My speech on this disgraceful bill can be found here:  Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2012

Friday 19 October 2012

Is NSW Minister Chris Hartcher just dumb or deceitful?

Yesterday in parliament Energy Minister Chris Hartcher suggested because I, in my former capacity as a Public Defender for the State of NSW, represented a person that some might refer to as "a well known criminal identity", that somehow that should impact on either my character or integrity.

Many people in the community would understand that a barrister cannot refuse to accept a brief to appear in a criminal trial because of the person who is to be represented, or the nature of the matter. It is a fundamental plank of the entire criminal justice system.

A public defender is a barrister appointed by the Governor, and paid by the state, to represent people in serious criminal matters who cannot afford to pay for a barrister, and who are granted legal aid.

A public defender cannot refuse to accept a brief from a person granted legal aid either because the charges are distasteful or the accused has some notoriety. To do so would be improper, a breach of the rules of the Bar, and a breach of the Public Defenders Act.

I said in my inaugural speech to parliament I said:

"In 1987 I was appointed as a Public Defender for the State of New South Wales. That was my dream job. As a young boy I imagined myself standing up in front of a jury advocating the innocence of my client, and becoming a public defender fulfilled that ambition. My great passion was and is the criminal law. The criminal law gave me an opportunity to make a difference. The difference was not made when appearing in high-profile cases but in rural and regional areas of New South Wales, where one can go quietly about one's profession fighting against oppression, standing up for people who have never had a chance in life and persuading courts to give the best the law can—reasonable and fair decisions. Being able to convince a court, in accordance with the law, to release young offenders, particularly Aboriginal offenders, and giving them a chance in life, has given me about the greatest sense of achievement I could have had.

My election to this House meant resigning the office of public defender and leaving a floor of talented and dedicated hardworking barristers. This was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever had to do."

I wear my former office as a public defender as a badge of honour. I am immensely proud that during my time, that with my limited ability, I was able to serve the criminal justice system of this state. 

Some of the most eminent members of the bar have served the office of Public Defender. Many today are serving Judicial Officers, one currently a Justice of the High Court of Australia. To suggest to any of us that our character or integrity is affected because we represented a particular client, on a particular charge, is outrageous, but when it come from a senior member of the Executive Government it is scandalous.

In a personal explanation to the House yesterday I described Minister Hartcher's conduct as grossly improper.

There is always political frivolity during question time in parliament, but there are greater obligations on a senior Minister of the crown. Minister Hartcher was either being deceitful or was just plain ignorant. If it was ignorance, then that would be greater a worry to the people of NSW.

New Pedestrian Crossing - Botany Road & High Street Mascot

A new pedestrian crossing with traffic lights will be installed at the corner of Botany Road and High Street, Mascot to improve pedestrian access across Botany Road.

Several years ago the RTA, as it then was, constructed a safety fence along Botany Road Mascot through the Mascot Shopping Centre, making it very difficult for shoppers to access both sides of Botany Road. The safey fence not only made it difficult for shoppers, but impacted upon the local Mascot businesses. The barrier acted as a deterrent for shoppers using car parking facilities.

I had been requesting for sometime the Roads and Maritime Services install this crossing. Last night I spoke to the Roads Minister Duncan Gay in relation to this matter and on behalf of my Mascot constituents I am very grateful for his sympathetic response.

The RMS have called for public comment. The pedestrian crossing will result in the loss of about 9 car parking spaces on Botany Road, but greater access to shops will be able to be achieved from the Mascot Library car park and the adjoining walkway which will exit near the pedestrian crossing.

The map for the proposed pedestrian crossing is available from my office by phoning 9699 8166 or email

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Remembering the Bail Bombing

Last Friday I attended the very moving 10th Anniversary ceremony of the Bali Bombing hosted by Randwick City Council at the Bali Memorial, Dolphin Point Coogee to pay tribute to the victims, their families and the survivors of Australia's worst peace time attack in its history.

Listening to Ryan James who at 16 years of age survived when others didn't, outlining what he saw on that fateful evening and the following days and the guilt he felt about surviving bought home the full impact of terrorism and terrorist acts; 202 people were murdered, the victims coming from 20 countries, 88 of them Australian, 43 from NSW, and 20 from Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

More than a thousand people came to pay their respects to the victims , their families and survivors. They were joined by a number of dignatories including the Mayor of Randwick Tony Bowen, Councillors from the City of Randwick , Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Premier Barry O'Farrell, Minister Dominello, Walt Secord MLC, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, the Member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull , Member for Maroubra Michael Daley , Member for Coogee Bruce Notley-Smith , Deputy Mayor of Botany Bay George Glinatsis.

Lest we forget

Ron Hoenig placing a flower at the Dolphin Point Memorial, Coogee

Ron Hoenig and Michael Daley MP with Rabbi Gestetner of Coogee Synagogue

Monday 15 October 2012

Why O'Farrell's Liberal Education Cuts Are Wrong

What is the big hullaballoo about the O'Farrell Liberal Government cutting $1.7 billion from the NSW education system?

There are three reasons why using the knife on education is wrong:

1. In 2011, the Liberal Party went to the State Election promising not cut education.

2. Australia's literacy and numeracy standards are falling and our nation’s school's don’t have the world ranking they used to have.

3. The Gonski Report, a two year independent review of education funding, recommended we needed a $5 billion increase across all levels of education, with one third being funded by the Commonwealth and the rest by the States.

Education is the most significant factor in the development of our children, our communities and our nation. It is a basic human right. And it is the NSW State Government’s responsibility on behalf of our community to improve the quality of education for our children.

Education now comprises 22.4% of the State Budget. The Liberal Government say this is too high. This is what they really think. They also think we need to be governed like a corporation. NSW is not a corporation – it’s a State made up of people. The Liberal State Government must now discharge its obligation to improve a failing education system for our children. Our future depends on it.

In vocational education and training alone this Government will:

· Sack 800 TAFE teachers and support staff.
· Increase TAFE course fees by 9.5%
· Axing the joint training group, which helps to ensure jobs and training for 8,000 apprentices and trainees.
· Almost doubling the cost of concession fees for TAFE courses from $53 to $100.
· Charging commercial rates for courses in non job growth areas.

I only need to quote the education Minister himself, Adrian Piccoli MP, when on 29 September 2009, he said "cuts to TAFE [are] short sighted and failure to invest in education and training in NSW is a failure to invest in our future." He further said: "Studies show that every dollar spent on TAFE returns $6.40 to the economy, so it makes perfect economic sense to invest in vocational training." By ripping off $29 million from this year's TAFE budget, and $24 million from the vocational education and training budget, the Minister’s own figures suggest he is removing almost $340 million from the NSW economy – not a smart move.

The Minister, Mr Piccoli, is not the only member of the now State Government who promised prior to the 2011 election to "Invest in TAFE for a better State pledge." So did the Deputy Premier, the Environment Minister, the Speaker Shelley Hancock and a number of other MP's. They went to the extraordinary extent of signing a written pledge to the people of NSW – a pledge they are now turning their backs on.

My greatest concern with the Government is that its members do not have the intellectual ability to manage the huge responsibilities required of executive government. Has the NSW Government given any thought to the consequences of its actions?

In relation to the $317 million cuts to Independent and Catholic schools, achieved by a four year specific freeze on funding, will mean those schools are incapable of determining exactly how much money they will receive. Because funding is based on student numbers, any increase in the total student numbers will mean funding will actually decrease.

Financial cuts to the public education system will have a devastating outcome because the NSW Government is the prime source of funding for public education. When Mr Gonski recommended increased Government funding, he particularly addressed funding of the public education system. It needed to be increased to insure that "differences in educational outcomes must not be the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions." He said: "Australia had to aspire to have a schooling system that is amongst the best in the world for its quality and equity, and must prioritize support for its lowest performing student."

Mr Gonski said: "Every child should have access to the best possible education regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend." He warned that no student in Australia should leave school without the basic skills and competency needed to participate in the workforce and lead successful and productive lives.

Yet the 600 jobs that are proposed to be removed from the education system at public schools and regional offices, is not a sacking of bureaucrats or getting rid of waste. It is the dumping of front line support for public school teachers.

Cutting bureaucratic waste must always be supported, but the education system has been so decimated with funding cuts that further unrealistic cuts will mean the numeracy and literacy of our children will continue to fall. And, any diminution of education standards is a blow to our State, its people, its jobs and its economy.                                                                     

Saturday 13 October 2012

Why the Liberal government is in trouble over board appointments?

The Liberal State government is in trouble twice in aweek over their appointments to statutory boards. They almost can't help themselves. Maurice Newman had to resign as a director of Port Kembla Port Corporation because of a possible a conflict of interest, and as exposed by the Legislative Council Estimates Committee a political donor to the Treasurer Mike Baird and the Liberal party, Roger Massey-Greene, was appointed to state owned electricity company. 

As Sean Nichols, the Sydney Morning Herald's State Political Editor points out in the Sydney Morning Herald today, both appointments were announced last year by the Treasurer Mike Baird. 

Is there anything wrong with the quality of the appointments? Probably not. Mr Newman is a former chairman of the ABC and Mr Massey – Greene is a very successful Australian businessmen, and having people of that quality adding value to public instrumentalities can be a very good thing. 

Should not the Treasurer or the government of the day appoint people they believe are best qualified for various boards? The answer to that question is yes, they should. The Treasurer and Executive government is accountable to Parliament for the quality of their appointments. 

Then what's the problem? The problem is that the standard and method of appointment of people to government boards was actually set by the Treasurer himself. It was the Treasurer that complained that Labor Party ministers were appointing people they deemed appropriate without a proper process. It was the Treasurer who bleated that the Liberal party will make board appointments transparent and merit-based. It was the Liberal party who said that there were going to make board appointments by independent panels of eminent people. And it was the Liberal party that made appointments and ignored their own rules that they set in place. 

This sort of conduct by the Liberal government is the very reason why governments and politicians are brought into disrepute. For political purposes and to gain sympathetic media coverage they espouse these "holier-than-thou" standards and then ignore them. 

One of the persons appointed was a political donor to the Treasurer and the Liberal Party. Does that mean a political donor is disqualfied for appointment to a government board? The answer must be no, as long as the fact that he made a donation has been publicly disclosed, and that the donation played no part in the decision-making process. 

Should ministers avoid making decisions when someone is a political donor? Does that not create the perception of a conflict of interests? The protection the public have in relation to political donations is that there must be disclosure. If the processes become too rigourous or restrictive then political donations continue, and the risk is they go underground. If they go underground there is no public scrutiny. 

If ministers avoid making decisions because of political donations in fear of public perception, then who is accountable to Parliament and ultimately the people, for the quality of the appointments? What if a person donates to the other political party? Is it OK to appoint someone that donates to the other party but not yours? These are legitimate questions that arise in democracies whose elected participants are required to raise funds unless it is decided that all campaigns should be publicly funded. 

I can well imagine that there are many qualified people able to serve on government boards, who do not wish any proposed appointment be publicly disclosed during a lengthy process. There are many well qualified people who would not even contemplate serving on the board or any other government office without having to be persuaded by the government of the day to serve. 

There is a reason the Westminster system enables ministers to make government appointments and be accountable to Parliament for those appointments. The Treasurer could have announced the appointments, announced that the appointments were not going to be subject to the processes he had earlier put put in place, and given reasons. He could have disclosed that one of them was a Liberal party donor and that fact played no part in the decision-making process. 

He chose to be sneaky and got caught out doing it. There is no room in a democracy for governments to be sneaky. It is the sneakiness that causes the smell and it is this sneaking around that risks damaging the reputation of these two gentlemen. It also may well restrict the ability of governments in the future to get quality people to make themselves available to serve in government positions.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Visit to Prince of Wales Hospital "Sukkah"

Walt Secord MLC, NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson, Rabbi Kastel & Ron Hoenig

The Prince of Wales Hospital and Sydney’s Jewish House have achieved an Australian first by providing a Sukkah on the hospital campus for the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson, Walt Secord MLC, Coogee MP Bruce Notley-Smith and I visited the sukkah today.  We were all impressed and extended our congratulations and thanks to Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO Jewish House and Dr Patrick Bolton, the Director of Clinical and Medical Services at Prince of Wales Hospital on their initiative.
A “Sukkah” is a temporary hut that is erected by Jewish families celebrating the week long festival of Sukkot and symbolizes the shelters used by the Israelites during their time in the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Sydney's Jewish House works closely with the Prince of Wales Hospital, the Royal Women’s Hospital and Sydney Children’s hospital to provide support for patients particularly those of the Jewish faith.
Rabbi Kastel came up with the idea of building a sukkah for Jewish patients and hospital staff who would be in, or working at, the hospital over the Sukkot festival and Dr Bolton made it happen. Both parties are to be congratulated.
The Sukkah is being enjoyed by not only the Jewish families but everyone who visits the hospital. 
It has created a lot of interest.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

WestConnex A $10 Billion Lemon

The NSW government's WestConnex proposal is a $10 billion lemon that does not address the Port Botany and Sydney Airport gridlock.

Dusting off shelved RTA plans and offering it up to the public as an efficient way to move freight across NSW and asserting it will deliver more than $15 billion to the state's economy is just fantasyland stuff. 

The WestConnex proposal does not even go near Port Botany or Sydney Airport, let alone provide an efficient road system to enable the movement of freight and passengers. 

Infrastructure NSW assessment of the "Current State of Infrastructure" (Table 2.3) for Port Botany describes its capacity as adequate and the congestion problems are caused by lack of integration between, port, road and rail. 

In reality the congestion is caused by failure of the rail infrastructure (currently at 14%) to reach the 40% that was planned and the total gridlock of the current road system. 

At first glance the route proposed by WestConnex looks good and seems to offer hope to a frustrated public. This is the nirvana they have been waiting for. However an examination of Table 6.4 shows that the route to the west of Sydney Airport and Port Botany is just in the wrong place. Figure 2.4 shows that passenger movements at Sydney Airport will in the next 19 years increase by 98% and freight demand from Port Botany will increase by 272%. 

How are all these vehicles going to access WestConnex? Where in the strategy does it provide a solution? After all, surely the NSW government would not commit $10 billion to an infrastructure project that does not deal with the biggest road block to Australia's major sea port and airport. 

This proposal is nothing more than a political solution to get the government past the next election and give the impression it is doing something. 

Where are the details?

Response: There must be consultation and environmental assessment

Where are the stacks from the tunnel to be located? After all WestConnex is a tunnel under the dense population of the inner city? 

Response: We don't know that and we will take care of any health effects

Where are the dangerous goods vehicles going to travel as they can't use a tunnel?  

Response: We have not worked it out yet

How does this proposal deliver up more than $15 billion to the state's economy?  

Response: Just take our word for it.

"Don't you worry about that."

What famous conservative political leader coined that phrase?  

The thought of being on a motorway from the M4 to the WestConnex tunnel then onto the duplicated M5 tunnel with no congestion makes you feel wonderful … so does a tunnel at Luna Park.

What has this government being doing for 18 months? 

It does not take 18 months to come up with a Luna Park tunnel with no details and no funding models. 

The public should fear that this government does not have the intellectual rigour to efficiently construct the rear lane of a suburban street, let alone to solve the biggest road block to the gateway for NSW and Australia and its economy.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Representing the people of Botany Bay in a different place

At 2pm Wednesday 12 September 2012 a new Mayor of the City of Botany Bay, Cr Ben Keneally was declared elected after being overwhelming elected by you the people of our city.

Two weeks before that I was elected to represent this area in State Parliament as the Member for Heffron. I want to congratulate Ben Keneally on his election. He is a very impressive, caring and intelligent man, with a sound grasp of public policy. I know he will serve the residents with distinction in the future.

After 31 years as Mayor, it was with a great degree of sadness that I relinquished this role. But while I may be taking on a new role, my representation of the citizens of this area will continue. From my office in Westfield Eastgardens, Council’s offices at Mascot as well as the Town Hall in Botany, I’ll now work from State Parliament in Macquarie Street, Sydney and the electorate office in Rosebery.

As I said repeatedly during the campaign for the by-election, I felt that to expand my representation of the City, State Parliament was the place. We have massive transport, environment, planning, education, welfare and health issues to be addressed and these can only be resolved through State Government action.

Over more than three decades, I have come to know, and work with, a lot of local people over the widest possible range of issues. Sometimes we may not have agreed but in the main we did what was best for the City of Botany Bay. 

I want to thank all my Council colleagues as well as the great staff at Council. The Council employees are unique across local government with the length of service and their commitment to our residents. It is that dedication I will miss.

While there are many new challenges I will face as your State Member of Parliament, I will be dealing with and working for many familiar faces. There are also communities that are new to me – from Tempe, St Peters, Syddenham through to Erskinville, Alexandria, Green Square, Beaconsfield, Waterloo, Zetland, Redfern, Rosebery, Kensington and Kingsford.

I want to thank everyone with whom I have worked in the past and remind all of you that my door is still open – in a different office. We achieved much during my time as Mayor and there is much of which I am extremely proud. But, together, we will achieve more in the years ahead.

Port Botany responses rolling in

There has been a very positive response to the letter I circulated last month raising our community’s fears on Port Botany expansion and the moves by the State Government to remove the existing (and mandated by law) cap on the number of containers that can be handled by Port Botany.

I wanted the community to get behind my total opposition to this disastrous move by writing to the NSW Treasurer, Mike Baird, and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure. Quite a number of letters and emails have already gone in to the State Government and the more we get the more pressure we put on those who will have to consider this misguided proposal. If you need any more details (or another copy of my letter) then contact my office at Shop 117, 747 Botany Road, Rosebery, or by calling 9699 8166 or email