Department of the Legislative Assembly, Northern Territory Government


    Madam Speaker Braham took the Chair at 10 am.
    Nathaniel (Neil) Charles Hargrave

    Madam SPEAKER: Honourable members, it is with regret that I advise of the death on 13 June 2002 of Mr Neil Hargrave, an elected member of the Legislative Council from May 1954 until December 1962. On completion of debate, I will ask honourable members to stand in silence for one minute as a mark of respect. I call upon the Chief Minister.

    Ms MARTIN (Chief Minister)(by leave): Madam Speaker, I move that this Assembly express its deep regret of the death of Mr Neil Hargrave, an elected member of the Legislative Council from 1954 until 1962, and place on record its appreciation of his long and distinguished service to the people of the Northern Territory, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family.

    I rise to pay tribute to a man who was effectively a pioneer of the Legislative Council, the legislature which preceded this fully-elected Assembly. Nathaniel (Neil) Charles Hargrave is one of those people who could be described as the archetypal quiet achiever. He was not a flashy man but one who, through his forceful and effective advocacy, made a real difference to the constitutional development of the Territory.

    Neil Hargrave arrived in Alice Springs from Adelaide in 1949 and was later to say he was the only lawyer from Port Augusta to Darwin for at least four years. He quickly became a leader in the town’s community life, taking an interest in sport and, as he said himself in an interview some years later, becoming chairman of ‘this and that and the other’. His contribution to the Alice community resulted in his election to the Legislative Council in 1954. Also elected at that time was the colourful agitator, Harold ‘Tiger’ Brennan.

    This was the start of a period of huge activism on the part of the Legislative Council, a partly official and partly elected body which had only been legislated for seven years earlier. What rankled the elected members was the fact that the official members - that is, those who were nominated by the federal government of the day - outnumbered elected members eight to six. In 1958, frustrated by a lack of response from the federal government to demands for greater powers of self-determination, all six elected members resigned. The move shocked the federal government into allowing a further stage of development, but still much less than was sought.

    Neil Hargrave was one of the most forceful and effective of those leading the charge for greater powers. A quiet but persuasive advocate, he is credited with laying the intellectual foundations for the debate about self-determination and with devising many of the arguments in favour of change. Indeed, he was given much of the credit for conceiving the idea of the first Northern Territory Remonstrance; what historian Peter Forrest called ‘the spectacular rebuke delivered by the Northern Territory’s Legislative Council to the Commonwealth government over its failure to constitutionally and economically advance the Territory’. Neil Hargrave is credited not only with being a prime mover in devising the arguments on which the Remonstrance was based, but with actually writing it. The Remonstrance certainly quickened the tempo of constitutional development which, as honourable members well know, led to the first fully-elected Legislative Assembly in 1974 and full self-government from 1978.

    Neil Hargrave had interests other than constitutional development. Economic development and Aboriginal affairs were other areas of concern for him. He was also instrumental in the development of a system of reserves to protect the Territory’s historic, scenic and scientific sites of interest. He sponsored the ordinance which established the Reserves Board, the precursor to the Conservation Commission and later Parks and Wildlife Commission. He was appointed its first Chairman in 1956 and remained in that position until he left the Territory in 1963.

    Nathaniel Charles Hargrave may not have had a long time with the Northern Territory legislature - just nine years - but it is clear he served at a time of considerable turbulence. Those of us who enjoy the honour of a fully democratic Chamber owe him and his colleagues, then and since, a debt of gratitude. Certainly, we send our sympathies as a parliament to his family.

    Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, it is most appropriate we should have this motion in the House today. Nathaniel Charles Hargrave was one of those legendary figures of the 1950s who fought, and fought again, to gain representative government for Territorians. He is up there with the Dick Wards and the Tiger Brennans as one of the fathers of self-government.

    When he was first elected to the Legislative Council in 1954, he was one of six elected members in a Chamber dominated by the official members. The council, and the elected members in particular, was in truth an irrelevance, or at best an annoyance, to those charged with governing the Northern Territory. The men who were governing at the time were all in Canberra.

    When he left politics almost nine years later, the Territory was firmly on the road to elected democracy and many of the achievements along the road had been his. The Clerk has within his control many wonderful documents relating to the history of this Chamber and its predecessor. Amongst those documents is the draft of Neil Hargrave’s autobiography. It describes in great detail his life in politics and his activities at the Legislative Council. However, it has obviously been typed up by one of his daughters because throughout it you will find comments such as:
      Dad, I am sure your grandchildren would like to hear about Nanna and their parents’ lives in Alice Springs.
      This reads as though you are almost a single man. What about the help in the house, any animals, mum’s
      activities, our activities, etcetera?.

    I am sure all members here could relate to those comments as politics and the lives of politicians do not change much.

    Neil Hargrave was born in Adelaide in 1915 to a legal family. He records that when his grandfather first heard of his birth - he was the first grandchild - the older Hargrave remarked: ‘Oh, a boy: another lawyer’.

    He first came to the Territory in 1929 as a schoolboy to holiday at Erldunda Station, and he made several subsequent trips there in the 1930s. He was admitted to the Bar in Adelaide in 1938, but before his legal career had really begun, World War II arrived and he enlisted in the RAAF. As he explains in his autobiography, his RAAF number was 8014; the 8 identified him as South Australian; the 14 meant that he was the 14th person to enlist from that state.

    Once again, the Territory entered his life when he was posted to Batchelor and then Pell Airfield in July 1942, only a few months after the first bombing of Darwin. He subsequently served in Papua New Guinea before returning to civilian life in August 1945. In 1949, he moved to Alice Springs to set up practice, and in 1954 he successfully ran for the Legislative Council as the member for Alice Springs.

    There are many incredible things he achieved in his time in the forerunner of this Assembly. He was eloquent in explaining just why rule from Canberra was ridiculous. He had two favourite examples. The first was when they were seeking funds to build a bridge over the Todd River. Canberra’s response at the time was: ‘Why wouldn’t a ferry be able to do the job at less cost?’ The other was the query from some anonymous Treasury official in Canberra when he saw the budget estimate to cover the dug bores: ‘Why,’ asked the Canberra official, ‘do you want to sink dud bores?’

    Neil Hargrave was also the man who moved to set up select committees to further the constitutional development of the Territory; he was the man who produced the famous Remonstrance in August 1962; he was the first elected member to hold an office within the Legislative Council when he became Chairman of Committees; and Neil Hargrave was either the dominant player or one of the central characters in every move through the 1950s and early 1960s that was to eventually lead to a Legislative Assembly and self-government. We who sit here today owe much to him, as do Territorians.

    We should remember men such as he, and I am honoured to be able to do so in this Chamber today. To his family goes our sympathy and, of course, our thanks.

    Members: Hear, hear!

    Madam SPEAKER: I thank the two members for their contributions. I would also like to make a contribution on behalf of the parliament.

    It is fitting that this condolence motion is presented today because Neil Hargrave’s funeral is being held in Adelaide today. With the agreement of members, I would like to have incorporated in Hansard the eulogy that will be given in Adelaide today for Neil Hargrave. So with permission of all members?

    Members: Aye.
      We come here today to give thanks for the life of Neil Hargrave because he has touched each of us in some way.
      Neil’s life could be described in one phrase: a quiet achiever. He was a thoughtful, unassuming man who had
      a varied and satisfying life.

      In 1915 when Neil’s grandfather was told that his first grandchild had been born and it was a boy, he is reported
      to have said: ‘A boy: another lawyer!’ And so it was.

      Neil attended St Peters College, being a house captain and a prefect and gaining prizes each year until 1933
      when he won one of 10 bursaries to the university that were then offered.

      While at university, Neil met his future wife, Mary Wyles, commenced a long involvement with hockey and
      obtained degrees in law and arts. I gather that during his time at university his order of priorities was
      (1) his girl friend, (2) his hockey, and (3) his studies.

      One Friday evening during his first year at university, when attending a meeting of the Literary and Debating
      Society, he was asked if he would play in the university D hockey team the next day as they were one man short.
      He had never played hockey before and said that he went out and played with a borrowed hockey stick in his
      hand, but with complete ignorance of the rules. From that inauspicious beginning, a lifelong interest in
      hockey developed, culminating in being a member, and later manager, of the South Australian state hockey team.

      Almost immediately after completing his university studies he joined the Royal Australian Air Force, the 14th man
      in the state to enlist in the Air Force after war was declared. He started at the bottom rung of the ladder and rose
      to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, having been a wireless operator, bombardier and navigator and became
      Squadron Navigation Officer. During his service he was at times stationed at war time airfields near Darwin
      and on islands in the south-west Pacific.

      One of Neil’s grandsons, a very new recruit into the Air Force, visited him 10 days ago. After hearing Tom’s
      account of Air Force life, Neil commented that things hadn’t changed.

      When he was discharged from the RAAF in 1945, Neil became the Secretary of the Law Society of South Australia
      and in the time he held that position, he said that he got to know most of the members of the legal profession in
      the state, who then numbered less than 200. After a year gaining experience with Aldermans, a prominent
      Adelaide legal firm, he took the opportunity to conduct the only legal practice in Alice Springs.

      In 1949, Alice Springs was a real outback town with a population not much above 1000. For some years, Neil
      was the only lawyer between Port Augusta and Katherine. He described his practice as being in all aspects of
      the law from murder to mining. It was during his 14 years in the Northern Territory that he made the most
      significant contributions of his life. He immediately became immersed in community activities, some of them
      because when he and Mary went to Alice Springs, they had two young daughters, Janne and Philippa. John
      was born while they were in Alice Springs.

      I will not mention all of the organisations with which he was associated at different times while there, but
      these will indicate his widespread interests: President of the Kindergarten Committee, President of the
      Primary and High School Committees, Patron of the Youth Centre, President of the Memorial Club,
      Chairman of the Recreation Reserve and first Chairman of the Traeger Park Trustees. No hockey had been
      played in Alice Springs until he arrived and introduced the sport. He coached the girls, including many
      Aboriginal girls. They always called him NCH although a few of the older ones sometimes referred to
      him as “Curley”.

      It was generally known that Neil was responsible for the establishment of the sporting ground at Alice Springs
      which carries the name Traeger Park, but very few knew how much unpaid legal work he did for Aboriginal
      people in the days when there was no legal aid system.

      But his crowning achievement was being elected as the member for Alice Springs in the Legislative Council
      of the Northern Territory in 1954, of which council he was a member for nine years. In those days the
      council comprised eight government officials and six elected members, with the Administrator as President.
      He was the first elected member to sit as Chairman of Committees.

      Several cartoons of Neil’s activities in the council now hang in the new Parliament House in Darwin. One
      shows him leading the first walk-out of the six elected members in protest against the passing of a bill by
      the eight government members. All six elected members resigned as a body, but at the subsequent election,
      all were re-elected.

      However, it later became clear that the activities of the elected members did have some impact on the
      Territory’s masters in Canberra. During his nine years as a member of the council, Neil was one of
      the leading protagonists for self-government in the Territory.

      The Hansard record of the council’s proceedings indicates his thoroughness in preparation, his meticulous
      attention to detail as well as his dry sense of humour.

      In the days before local government in Alice Springs, it was fitting that it was Neil, as the member for
      Alice Springs, who greeted the Queen on her first visit to the Territory when she arrived in the middle
      of Traeger Park, which he had helped to create.

      He was subsequently appointed to be an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his
      service to the Territory.

      The activities in which he took most pride were concerned with the establishment of the national parks
      and reserve system. Neil sponsored the Ordinance which created the Northern Territory Reserves Board
      and was the first Chairman of that board, now the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, a position he
      held for eight years until his return to Adelaide.

      Less than two years ago, in October 2000, Neil and Pauline were present at a splendid vantage point in
      the western MacDonnell Ranges when the Neil Hargrave Lookout was dedicated.

      In 1963 Neil returned to Adelaide to the family practice, Knox and Hargrave, of which he was the senior
      partner when he retired in 1988. When the Flinders University was established in 1966, Neil became coach
      of the university’s hockey team of which his daughter, Philippa, was a member. Six years later he was
      appointed to be a member of the council of the university, and he remained a member of the council for
      14 years. For the majority of that time, he was also the Chairman of the Building and Finance Committee.

      I can speak from personal experience that in his quiet way, he was a very effective chairman and a valued
      member of the council. On his retirement he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the university.
      During that period he was also a member and Chairman of the Property Committee of the Law Society, of
      which society he was a member for over 50 years.

      Neil joined the Freemasons Lodge in Alice Springs in 1951, was the Master of that lodge and later Master of
      Lodge St Alban which he joined after coming back to Adelaide. He was legal advisor to the Grand Lodge
      of Freemasons of South Australia and the Northern Territory for 15 years and then Assistant Grant Master.
      For his services to Freemasonry he was awarded the Grant Master’s Order of Service to Masonry and given
      the rank of Deputy Grant Master.

      Above all, Neil was a family man, devoted to his children and grandchildren – and they to him. In 1988,
      two years after Mary’s death, Neil married Pauline McClaren and embraced a second family: Pauline’s
      children John, Jan and Nicholas and their families, including two granddaughters and two grandsons.

      This period of his life took on new dimensions. At Jan and Tom’s property at Hamilton he was quickly
      introduced to miles of fencing, having first drilled holes in the droppers. He planted thousands of trees
      and many times dined out on his expertise as a wool presser at shearing time.

      He joined the Beaumont Bowling Club – he said so that he would see Pauline occasionally. He loved his
      bowls, as he had tennis and golf in his younger days, and in his quiet way enjoyed the friendships he
      made at the bowling club. Neil and Pauline travelled to Ireland, to see the home of his ancestors;
      also to Egypt, Africa and China.

      Neil was a fortunate man: two wives, Mary and Pauline, who both loved him dearly, children,
      stepchildren and grandchildren who loved and respected him. His children, stepchildren and
      grandchildren have come here today from all parts of Australia – from Darwin, Perth, Cairns,
      Sydney and different parts of Victoria to honour their father and grandfather.

      In closing, I want to quote briefly from a friend of Neil’s, Peter Forrest, a writer and historian from
      the Northern Territory:
        Not many people make a real difference to the outcomes in our history, but Neil Hargrave is
        certainly a man who made a difference in the history of the Northern Territory, and to that of
        Australia as a whole. We owe him much for his contributions, not least for the leading and
        decisive part he played in achieving meaningful constitutional progress for the Northern Territory.

      As we give thanks for his life we can say that Neil Hargrave was a man who made our lives better.

    Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. Alice Springs has been fortunate, particularly in those early days of government, that some of its elected members were strong and tenacious. We were fortunate to have people of the calibre of Neil Hargrave.

    As has been stated, he came to Alice Springs as a young solicitor from a very well-known legal family who were very much part of South Australia. Branching out to make his own way, he came to Alice with his wife and young family to practise law. If you recall Alice Springs in those days of the early 1950s, it was still recovering from martial Army control with a population of less than 1000 people. Many were ex-servicemen from World War II, as was Neil Hargrave, an ex-navigator with the Royal Australian Air Force. He served as air crew in northern Australia near Darwin and in Cooktown, North Queensland. In his very energetic and forthright manner, he soon became an independent political person. He became the member for Alice Springs in the early days of the Northern Territory Legislative Council and served from 1954 to 1962.

    Many a battle he fought, together with his colleagues of various backgrounds, to free the Territory of what was seen as more of the unbending Canberra federal authority. It has been stated that one of the most famous moves of the day was the Remonstrance signed by the non-government MLCs - but it included one government official which was quite extraordinary - and addressed to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

    Might I say the Remonstrance severely embarrassed Prime Minister Menzies and the Territory Minister Hasluck, as it was not received formally due to an alleged influence of the Prime Minister on the then Clerk of the House of Representatives, Alan Turner. Copies were made available to all members by Jock Nelson and newspapers around the country wrote about the plight of the Northern Territory.

    Neil Hargrave was certainly far-sighted and brought about the formation of the Northern Territory Reserves Board which brought protection to the Territory reserves. The Conservation Commission was later developed and a plaque on Hargrave’s Lookout in the Western MacDonnell Ranges commemorates his tenacity of purpose. Neil Hargrave was also a great sportsman - he was particularly passionate about hockey from his university days, and as the foremost player he was the main proponent for this sport in Alice Springs. Traeger Park, a premier sporting field in Alice Springs, was one of his achievements. He was Chairman of the Trustees for some time.

    His Northern Territory projects are a further reminder of his care and interest for his fellow citizens. These projects are magnificent and have weathered time.

    He later returned to the family firm of solicitors and then retired to Wattle Park in South Australia. However, his interest in the Territory never flagged and in recent years he visited Darwin and this building, and met with members and officers of the Assembly. He recorded an extensive contribution to the Assembly’s oral history project that we are now very fortunate to have. Might I say that we are continuing with our oral history project because we realise that many of our former members are getting older and we need to capture that history very quickly.

    In his last days, unfortunately, he suffered from cancer, but quietly and with demure. Ten days before he died, he said: ‘There is nothing more that can be done for me, and so I am closing the book’. With courage and fortitude, at home among family, friends and his prized mementoes from over the years, Neil Hargrave quietly closed his account. He closed the book on his life with its endeavours and achievements. Neil Hargrave truly gave his all to the Northern Territory.

    I thank the former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Bernie Kilgariff, who helped compile some of the anecdotes we have about Neil Hargrave. We will pass on to his family a bound copy of this motion in due course. I ask all members to stand for a minute’s silence.
    Community Justice Strategy

    Mr AH KIT (Assisting the Chief Minister on Indigenous Affairs): Madam Speaker, in keeping with my undertaking to the Assembly to report regularly on the progress of matters I raised in my ministerial statement on indigenous affairs earlier this year, I rise today to speak on the government’s community justice strategy.

    Last week, together with federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Philip Ruddock, the member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon and the CLP’s current Senator, Nigel Scullion, I travelled to Yarralin, Lajamanu and Ali Curung to examine current community initiatives. Giving people control over their own lives and what happens on their communities is one of the key planks of the initiatives that I announced in March.

    Last week, at my invitation, Philip Ruddock accompanied me on a trip to look at the government’s community justice strategy at Lajamanu and Ali Curung. Our first duty was to jointly open a men’s clinic at Yarralin in the VRD region. This clinic has been jointly funded by ATSIC and the Katherine West Health Board and is directly adjacent to the men’s ceremony ground near the community. The significance of this location means that men involved in ceremonial activity can now get treatment without leaving the ceremony area.

    It has been very difficult in the past to get men to present at the clinic while ceremonies are happening and, consequently, many, particularly older men, have not presented for treatment until their medical condition is well advanced. It also has provided the men in the community and the region an opportunity to avail themselves of presentation to the men’s clinic in order to be diagnosed and treated. We all understand the cultural needs for that.

    I pay particular tribute to George Campbell of Yarralin, and also to Jack Liddle, who is probably the longest serving male Aboriginal health worker in the Territory. Credit must also go to the member for Arafura from her time in charge of the Katherine West Health Board when this initiative was first conceived. The senior men also took Minister Ruddock and I to the men’s ceremony ground for some private discussions. The men’s clinic at Yarralin is an example of community control with people in the community deciding what is important for them. Minister Ruddock was particularly impressed by the men taking control of their lives and discussing issues such as domestic violence.

    We then flew to Lajamanu where we took the minister to Lajamanu Horse Sports, a program supported by the community and the Wulaign Resource Centre. The horse sports program teaches young people horse and stock skills. The program is, in part, a recreational effort to give the kids something to do, but has also been used as a juvenile diversionary program. We were able to see the young people in action and, believe it or not, I also took the time to have a quick horse ride myself. It has been a few years since I was on a horse …

    Mr Elferink: They’ve got Clydesdales, have they?

    Mr AH KIT: The horse is still alive, Madam Speaker. It has been a few years since I was on a horse - something like 36 - but it felt great again.

    I think Minister Ruddock was impressed with the level of dedication of local people and, in particular, by the efforts of Marty Drenth and Geoffrey Matthews from the Wulaign Resource Centre, who have been a driving force of this program - again, a fantastic community-based effort supported by our government.

    We then moved to the opening of the women’s safe house in Lajamanu. This has been an initiative of the Law and Justice Committee. These on-the-ground solutions, like the Night Patrols and safe houses, have come directly from the people. We have anecdotal evidence, which we are in the process of collating, that shows that when communities undertake these decisions themselves crime - and particularly violent crime - rates do drop.

    The Lajamanu safe house was jointly funded by the Northern Territory government, the Commonwealth Attorney-General and ATSIC. There is another important point to be made here: these efforts have been brought about in part by agency and government partnerships.

    As I have said before, there are no easy solutions. It involves sitting down and really allowing communities to talk and work through the solutions themselves. However, government must support them. The Warlpiri women dancers at the opening were fantastic, and gave the event a real sense of occasion. We also visited …

    Madam SPEAKER: Minister, your time has expired.

    [Editor’s note: The balance of this Ministerial Report is incorporated on page 1810.]

    Mr ELFERINK (Macdonnell): Madam Speaker, I rise to respond to the minister’s report. I am glad that he mentioned Ali Curung, because I heard the minister on the radio the other day saying that the Ali Curung program had been going for several years. Indeed it has, and it has been a very successful program, and one that the CLP can be truly proud of introducing into the Ali Curung district. I know that the minister has chosen to continue the good work of that policy development, and is trying to introduce it into other communities. I wish him the best of luck with it.

    However, I recall the mini-budget that was brought down in this Chamber by the members opposite and the honourable Treasurer. In the area of Aboriginal Affairs, there is a raft of cuts down the columns. By shifting an Aboriginal housing program which had already been costed in the former budget into that budget area, what they have actually done is said: ‘Oh look, we are spending more on Aboriginal Affairs’ when in actual fact they have made a cut. It is all too cute that the minister comes in here saying: ‘We are doing all these great things’, when he is announcing what is essentially stuff that has been funded by the federal Liberal government.

    I understand the politics of this, but let us start being honest with these people. The minister had cut funding to things like the Aboriginal Interpreter Service, and it was not until he suddenly realised how embarrassing the government’s position was that he chose to put some more money into it.

    However, I do congratulate the minister for acknowledging the good work being done by the federal government and the former CLP government, and I encourage him to keep going down that road and using tools of self-management as a way out of some of the problems for people in remote communities.

    Mr AH KIT (Assisting the Chief Minister on Indigenous Affairs): Madam Speaker, the member’s contribution has been taken on board, but it is nice to know that he continually shows disregard for the program. The program is jointly funded. The program is an initiative of the former government and I give the former government credit in respect of that. However, it has not gone far enough and I intend, as the minister responsible, to progress it so that we do have a situation, as I said, where consultation will happen from the bottom up, not the top down.

    Consultation is important. The beauty of this program, the law and justice strategy, is that people have their hands on the steering wheel. We are there to provide the resources and to assist, but they are providing solutions to their problems. Whilst we will continually get criticism from the member for Macdonnell, we will continue to work away at it because we know it is working well.
    Top End Specialist Outreach Services

    Mrs AAGAARD (Health and Community Services): Madam Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House of details of new funding for the Top End’s Specialist Outreach Services. I have recently been informed of the continuation of Commonwealth funding for the program which will this year receive $585 357, an increase of 20% over the past year on the previous annual contribution of $440 000.

    The additional funding will enable the expansion of specialist services throughout the Top End including ear, nose and throat outreach. The ENT outreach will ensure that more treatments are provided in regional hospitals such as the insertion of grommets to drain chronic otitis media to prevent long-term hearing loss. In my last statement to the House on indigenous health, I commented on the serious issue in relation to chronic problems with hearing in remote communities, so this is a very significant move.

    The specialist outreach service has operated since 1997. Motivation for the program came from perceived problems of access by remote people to surgical, obstetric and gynaecological specialists. This was a four-year pilot program funded jointly by the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and the Department of Health and Community Services.

    Of particular concern was the disproportionately high prevalence of cervical cancer, infertility, hearing loss in children, and other problems such as diabetic and cataract blindness. The service is highly regarded by clients, as evidenced by the number of treatment procedures performed in local communities and improved consultation rates at regional hospitals for follow-up treatment and operative procedures. Remote area staff have come to regard the service as a regular and predictable contribution to multi-disciplinary primary care. Staff have also expressed support and enthusiasm for the practical education opportunities by accompanying and assisting in consultations and procedures during specialist visits.

    Specialist Outreach Services fully support the operational activities of the highly-regarded remote area trauma education courses, one of which is designed specifically for the clinical needs of Aboriginal health workers. There are an estimated 80 outreach visits planned to December 2002 for remote communities of the Top End, and 24 outpatient operating sessions in the regional hospitals. There is an estimated 1700 anticipated consultations to December this year.

    The Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services has made and will continue to make substantial contributions to this ongoing joint Commonwealth and Northern Territory Specialist Outreach Service program. I commend the report to the House.

    Ms CARTER (Port Darwin): Madam Speaker, I congratulate the minister on the work being done in this area. Certainly, all areas of the Northern Territory suffer from time to time with the lack of provision of specialist services in the medical area. We know many of the long histories of getting specialists such as rheumatologists, cardiac services and things like that even to an urban area such as in Darwin.

    However, as the minister reports, the service that she is talking about is going particularly into the more remote areas and into the regional hospital areas. This is to be applauded. Also, the idea of providing education services for remote area staff within the clinic setting is of value. From my experience as a nurse educator for four years in the Katherine district, it was always difficult not only to get specialists of any type to come to Katherine to provide educating sessions, but to get them to go out bush was difficult because of the logistics, the time and the cost. There are also time and cost factors when you are trying to maintain a clinic service in a remote community and having to bring your staff into one of the more central areas - it does create some stresses for at the very least budgets, and at the very most for your remote community with the provision of services.

    To be able to get these specialists to go out into remote communities to provide training sessions and clinical sessions to community people is certainly of value. We look forward to hearing more on this issue and, perhaps with the report, some details as to which communities are receiving the services as that would be of interest - how remote are they going and things like that. I congratulate the minister on this effort.

    Mrs AAGAARD (Health and Community Services): Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Port Darwin for her comments. This is indeed a very important service and it is a particularly interesting one in relation to women in remote areas of the Northern Territory. In relation to women, we have some of the highest rates of cancer in Australia, and in the past these services have been relating to gynaecological and obstetric matters. I am very pleased that it is going to be moving in to the areas of ear, nose and throat.

    In relation to the matters which the member for Port Darwin raised, I would be happy for her to approach me for a briefing. If she wishes to receive more information on where these services go, I will be happy to provide that to her.
    Development of AustralAsia Trade Route

    Ms MARTIN (Chief Minister): Madam Speaker, I wish to inform the Assembly of progress being made on the development of the AustralAsia trade route. As members will know, by early 2004 the Territory - and the nation, of course - will witness the commencement of fully fledged operations of the new AustralAsia Railway. The construction phase is already well under way and will continue to deliver significant employment and business benefits to Territorians.

    Already over $370m worth of contracts have been awarded to Territory industry and more than 570 new direct jobs have been created within the Territory as a result of the rail project. However, as many of us know, the long-term benefits for the Territory lie with the operational phase of the project and the development of the new AustralAsia trade route. The Territory, and Darwin in particular, has the opportunity to develop supply, service and distribution capabilities of regional significance, creating new employment and business opportunities.

    Discussions with Freightlink, the operating arm of the rail consortium, and with a number of major Australian importers and exporters, have highlighted promising opportunities for many national and international companies to move their trade via Darwin and, of more importance, for some of these companies to establish their own value adding operations in Darwin. As honourable members can appreciate, the business development strategies of Freightlink are critical to the realisation of these opportunities. That is why my government has sought to establish and build a strong strategic alliance with Freightlink and its main business development backer, Peter Gunn, who, as many members would be aware, is a formidable force in the Australian freight industry.

    Members may or may not be aware that Peter Gunn was the marriage broker between Toll Holdings and Lang Corporation in their recent purchase of the rail operations of National Rail and the New South Wales based Freight Corp. Members can also appreciate the development of a positive alliance with Freightlink and Peter Gunn will strategically enhance the Territory’s ability to lever additional investment from a variety of national and international business interests.

    This government’s strategy and efforts to maximise the opportunities from the operational phase of the project is being directly coordinated by my department’s Office of Territory Development. Good progress is already being made. In his recent visit to Darwin, Peter Gunn briefed me on Freightlink’s latest business development strategies and informed me that he had secured the cooperation of the Territory’s major freight forwarders for the transfer of a substantial amount of domestic freight from road to rail.

    These include Toll Holdings, the Scott Group of Companies and Northline. As evidence of this cooperation, only yesterday Mark Rothorn, who is Executive Director of Toll Group of Companies based in Melbourne, visited Darwin to view first hand the developments of East Arm. He confirmed his company’s interest in integrating Toll’s freight operations with the new rail system.

    During my recent meeting, Peter Gunn also informed me that Freightlink was now ramping up its efforts to attract some base load volumes of international land bridge trade. Freightlink has commenced detailed discussions with a number of major importers and exporters including exporters of dairy products, the automotive industry and some mining operations.

    I also had the pleasure of opening an industry breakfast function earlier this month which had Peter Gunn and Max Jones from Kerry Logistics in Hong Kong as guest speakers. Hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in conjunction with my government, some 130 people from the Territory’s business sector were able to hear directly from two major industry players about national and international developments in the freight business. The feedback from local business about the quality and value of those presentations has been extremely positive.

    One of the clear messages that Max Jones had for Territory businesses is that Asia is central to current and future global economic growth. For example, Max cited highly respected Michigan State University estimates that 10% of the world’s current production of consumer goods is originates in the Pearl River delta region in China. Max also indicated that the main challenge in global freight logistics was capturing volumes of trade. He also reminded us that on a global scale, Australia as a whole is a small player in this global equation. Nevertheless, Max agreed with Peter Gunn that the new AustralAsia trade route had the potential to capture some niche but lucrative trade flows, particularly those that involve high value and time sensitive products.

    As part of my government’s economic development strategy, officials from the Office of Territory Development are continuing to strengthen our strategic alliance with Freightlink and other influential players such as Kerry Logistics. By way of example, earlier this month representatives of the Office of Territory Development, the Darwin Port Corporation and Freightlink jointly interviewed 24 national distribution managers of leading Australian and Asian businesses at an industry summit held in Perth, and the response from that meeting was very positive.

    That is why the pursuit of these opportunities and development of these strategies and strategic alliances is a priority action within this government’s economic development strategy.

    Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, I thank the Chief Minister for her update on the AustralAsian trade route. As the Chief Minister says, it is a critically important part of the strategy for the future development of the Northern Territory.

    I note that a lot of these issues are in the early stages, but I would be particularly interested in a comprehensive ministerial statement being brought down at some stage to further inform us exactly what is happening regarding outcomes in developing the land bridging concepts, and what the Territory government itself is doing to make the port more competitive because, like it or not, that has to be a competitive port to attract some of these shippers; there are particular incentives we need to put in place. From the Chief Minister’s comments so far, a lot of work is being done on a very difficult challenge ahead of us, and I wish the government all the best and offer our support wherever possible in that regard.

    Very quickly though, I would like to turn to a domestic issue that a lot of Territorians are interested in: where will the railway stations be built? It is a critical part of the tourism strategy. It is an issue that is on the agenda now. We put aside about $100 000 in the previous budget to identify the locations and commence the design of those railway stations. Obviously, we need a significant capacity in Katherine, and a significant capacity in Darwin/Palmerston. I understand from the Chief Minister’s comments the government favours a location in or around Palmerston. What we need to know now is: what will it look like, where will it be, how much will it cost? I am sure a decision on those issues would be warmly received by Territorians in the immediate future.

    Ms MARTIN (Chief Minister): Madam Speaker, to quickly respond, I welcome the bipartisan support - I think that is no surprise - for what is happening with the railway. The opposition is very aware of the complexities of building the opportunities for the port for the AustralAsia trade route.

    Any time any member of the opposition wants a briefing, just ask me. This is a bipartisan project and we welcome any request for a briefing on this very important issue. I welcomed the opportunity to talk to the Mayor of Palmerston, who asked me about the railway station. Of course, being Mayor of Palmerston, she is very concerned about what happens with that, and was pleased to be able to talk about where government stands in terms of the passenger rail and where a station might be.

    Mr Burke: You did not tell her much.

    Ms MARTIN: I am surprised the mayor might not have shared this information more widely, but discussions with Great Southern Railway indicate their enthusiasm for bringing passengers to Darwin. They have already put their first prices out, which is great. We have to look at how we can effectively but reasonably have something that greets passengers when they first arrive. Over time, I am sure we will build something that is a really splendid passenger terminal in the Top End. It seems logical that Palmerston be the place for that. That work is being done. If the Opposition Leader would like a briefing, just ask.

    Reports noted pursuant to Sessional Order.
    Information Technology Problems

    Madam SPEAKER: Honourable members, before we go on with general business, I would like to make a statement. You are probably aware there have been delays in the production of Hansard. This is due to IT network problems. The problem was reported to CSC yesterday who investigated and determined that there was a problem with the backup server, which they consequently shut down at 6 pm. This action resolved the problem for a short period of time but, at 10 pm last night the main server was rebooted.

    Due to this IT problem, Hansard were unable to complete Tuesday’s transcripts. The hard copy of the Daily Hansard will not be available until later this afternoon, and the electronic version of the Daily Hansard will be uploaded during the luncheon suspension today.

    I am afraid the network has been experiencing recurring problems during recent months. CSC believed they had fixed the problem. It is working this morning. CSC are monitoring the situation but the matter has been escalated through to high management in CSC and DCIS. We are waiting on a report from CSC about it.

    I will keep honourable members advised of the action proposed as a consequence of the report we receive from CSC. I also welcome discussions with the minister on the problem when we receive that report.
    Liabilities Arising from Collapse of HIH Insurance

    Mr MILLS (Blain): Madam Speaker, I move:-
      That this Assembly, acknowledging the hurt felt in the community, particularly by employers in relation to escalating workers compensation costs, and in full awareness that further impost on business will see jobs lost, urges the Labor government to:
      1. make provision in the Appropriation Bill 2002-03 for sufficient funds to meet the forecast
      costs for 2002-03 of the workers compensation liabilities arising from the collapse of HIH;
        2. put in place a system whereby the funding of this liability in future years can be met without
        recourse to further imposts on employers.

      Nobody likes politics, and in an issue like this I sense politics plays a significant part. The central issue to this is recognition of the actual impost upon small business. If we are going to play games and see who it is we can blame with regards to a decision that has been made in this Chamber, that pays scant regard to small business which is suffering.

      Mr Kiely: Do you know the one about Pontius Pilate, Terry?

      Dr Lim: Ignore that empty vessel.

      Mr MILLS: Yes. I was just trying to understand what on earth that meant.

      Dr Lim: Ignore that empty vessel. He just rattles on and makes no sense at all.

      Mr MILLS: Yes. Those who come to government discover the weight of being in government means that you can no longer say the things that you once said. When I read the words that were spoken in this Chamber when this issue was first put on the table - I actually take quite seriously the words that were uttered, and the tone in which the whole debate was addressed at that time was something that anyone looking back would see and respond to in a sensible way.

      The sad thing is that there has been a change in the rhetoric; quite markedly so. I predict that a sense of confidence has come on the government side in being able to pass on this levy. They found that they could blame someone else and construct a perception in the community – and I would have to say the current government is very good at constructing a perception in the community. They found the opportunity to say: ‘Look, this is going to hurt us politically, passing on a levy. We have to do it; we have to be responsible in some way to cover this liability’. Goodness gracious! I am sure they had discussions at their Cabinet meetings, thinking: ‘Is there some way we can avoid doing this because it is going to hurt us politically, particularly after the MVR levy or tax which has definitely hurt our community significantly?’

      It is not so much the financial impost, even though the fact is it does come down to money. It comes down to the fact that the community has been sold a line and now the government is simply going to have to wear that. The only way they can sit in a position where they can live with this misrepresentation to the community is to find someone they can actually blame for the situation and for their actions; because it is actually something that the CLP government was going to do. So they have pumped that line out there as hard they can.

      If you go back to the debate last time this was put in the Chamber, that was the party line. It came out repeatedly. We need to pull it back a little further. In the case of small business, if there is genuine concern for small business now, then we need to respond to that and not play games and be relieved that there is a scapegoat - there is a clause out of here. We can play all the games we like, but if we are fair dinkum about representing people who have made their message loud and clear that they are hurting and have little confidence, then we have to respond to them.

      I cannot do my job in this Chamber and simply sit quiet on this issue. Why? Because I have had genuine representation from small business and I know how they are feeling.

      Mr Stirling: You would not give them a cent. Not one cent. And you say we are playing games! Keep it honest.

      Mr MILLS: You will have your opportunity, Minister. There are some aspects of your story that need to be exposed with regards to loans and interest. You better listen because there are some aspects of this that I think the Chamber of Commerce might be very interested in, because the story is not quite as clear as it is presented. I have to say to the master of creating a perception; the issue is not a perception. The issue here in this Chamber is to debate the substance of the perception because we have industry and business, and small business in particular, that is genuinely hurting. That has to be responded to.

      I am going to make some practical suggestions as to how we can respond to that as a Chamber and be comfortable in the fact that we have to represent people and not ourselves, our vested interests, and our opportunity; to stand one day for an election and to construct another reality and sell another line when in our hearts we know that we have not actually done our job properly.

      Now the issue is …

      Mr Ah Kit: Is this a leadership bid?

      Mr MILLS: For goodness sake! Are we going to be distracted by silly business on the side when we have central issues to deal with? I ask honourable members to make sure that we are attending to the actual game and play the game here. The game here is representing small business.

      We want to actually unpack this: a very clear perception. We had the endeavour yesterday in Question Time with that glorious filibuster when the Minister for Business, Industry and Resource Development pulled out one of the faxes and read it in glowing terms. Who wrote that, heaven knows - perhaps the minister, I do not know. It is not even a part of what I wanted to contribute today, but I happened to go to the fax machine and there we have a whole number of responses with regards to business confidence at the moment. If you listen to business, the substance of their hurt is real. I have to say, politics aside, if you are in the business of connecting two people and you hear how they are feeling, there may be then a compulsion to find another way of dealing with this situation which, I admit if we were in government, would have been a very weighty matter to address - very weighty.

      It is easy for members on the government side to say: ‘Yes, but you were going to do it so we are let off scot-free because we are only doing what you guys were going to do’.

      Mr Stirling: We did much more than what you did!

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order!

      Mr MILLS: The minister is once again doing exactly as I said before: endeavouring to construct and reinforce a single perception.

      Mr Stirling: Truth! You loan $3m.

      Mr MILLS: A perception. I will continue on with my comments and I will cover that aspect of the perception that is being maintained; the line that is being sold and reinforced to the Chamber of Commerce and small business operatives who were persuaded not to weigh into this because they have been told: ‘Do not weigh into it; it is a dead issue. It is locked away and we are going to pass it on, no matter how business is actually feeling’. That is why, I must say, I was disappointed to find that we had little support in the press from the Chamber of Commerce, and my inquiries were that they were compelled to be quiet because it had already been established.

      Mr Stirling: By whom? Who silenced it? Hendo? Me?

      Mr MILLS: The impression had been: ‘Don’t weigh into it. The door is closed. Fait accompli. There will be a levy or a tax’. Another one.

      The thing that genuinely involves me in this issue is - on a matter of honour - that when our community is told that there would be no new tax, we then play a game and even endeavour to call it another name. I am embarrassed to think that you would allow such a construction of the perception to let you off the hook by changing the word. More importantly, the thing that really irks me is that if you were in a position to have made a contract with the community that there would be no new taxes, and then you were put into the position where you were required to and you found no other way out of it - and you do find there are many possible avenues out. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to construct the perception that it was definitely the case of what the other mob were going to do, so: ‘Really it is not us; really it is not a violation of the contract we made with the community’. So you have to weigh up not accepting responsibility.

      However, the thing that really irks me is that we can have this lolling around in the Chamber and treat it so lightly, and play games with words, history and perceptions and take no personal responsibility for the fact that you made a contract with the community. I do not mind. I know what happens. With a rush of blood to the head, perhaps not even thinking you were going to be elected to government, you made such promises.

      Members interjecting.

      Mr MILLS: You made such promises. If you make such a promise, I think it would be a matter of standing up and making a simple apology. I would accept that. The community would respect you for such, rather than you play silly games and pretend it never really occurred. That is the deepest offence that has been committed on this community - absolutely offensive.

      Mr Henderson: You call this silly games? Stop the HIH jobs tax silly games?

      Mr MILLS: That is not the silly game that I am talking about. It is a matter of a breach of contract with our community.

      Mr Bonson: What silly contract is this?

      Mr MILLS: The contract of being honest with your community. Let us go further. The perception is: ‘The other mob gave the money but they wanted it back, unlike us. We will be giving our money. We are going to make a donation. The Australian Labor Party here in the Northern Territory is going to give this money, our own money’, says the Labor Party. ‘We are going to make it a gift; we are not even going to ask for it back’. Where the heck did you get the $9m from in the first place? Whose is it? Yours? Did you whip the hat around and get it out of your own pockets?

      Mr Stirling: The taxpayer!

      Mr MILLS: It came from the taxpayer. Let us go further. Quick whip-around. Okay, you found $9m underneath some bush somewhere and you pass it in. And wow-wee; blow the trumpets to billy-o! ‘We are the good guys; we are the ones who bailed this show out and we are not asking for a cent back’. That is not the full story.

      The fact is we were given a briefing - but let us just go back one step further. The original concern was that we were looking at something like $70m right at the beginning. It was horrendous. It was something so huge that everybody – government and opposition – were in awe of the weight this was going to place on our whole financial institution, particularly insurance and workers compensation. How do we respond to it? The first responsible thing is this: we had to put legislation in place, a mechanism to take the pressure off the nominal insurer. If we did not do that, then there would be weight to bear which would cause a collapse, which would have far more catastrophic results. The fact remains; no drawing back from it: at that point that legislation had to be put in place and the then CLP government responded responsibly, as other jurisdictions did, and put it in place. That mechanism was put in place.

      I can understand we have moved forward, and that gave us the opportunity to buy time so that we could then assess the complete nature of the size of this weight; and so time was bought. It was going to be looked at again. There was an election, and the people made their decisions and ultimately the ones who originally put that legislation in place are now in opposition. However, the fact remains it was put in place because it needed to be put in place to provide some security for the nominal insurer.

      Secondly, to buy that time, money was put in to make sure that workers compensation insurance was covered. Nonetheless, the primary driver was to make sure there was sufficient time. However, since the change of government, we now have exactly what was anticipated: a true understanding of the scope of this liability. Fortunately, it is significantly less than was originally expected.

      Now the dust has settled to a degree, we are looking at something in the range of $27m to $40m. I am not going to play games with this and spin it …
      Mr Stirling: Well you did in your pamphlet; you said it was $28m. You come in here and say it is between $27m and $40m.

      Mr MILLS: I will accept $40m. Nonetheless, the fact is we are looking at a range somewhere between $27m and $40m. So, to be reasonable so that anyone in small business …

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order, order!

      Mr MILLS: Madam Speaker, this is my motion and I would urge members on either side to make sure they hear what is going on because I am standing here representing small business, not playing games. I will take the higher mark, $27m to $40m, for the sake of making sure that it is reinforced that I am actually being reasonable on this. I want to make sure that I will take the top one because I do not want to go the other side and spin it to make sure that the perception is maintained and you win the day, and you give yourselves a big clap on the back. Small business is bleeding to death outside, but you can go around and big note yourselves.

      The issue here is, we are looking at …

      Mr Stirling: You misled small business.

      Mr Bonson: That was your tactic for 26 years, mate.

      Mr MILLS: Empty rhetoric is not contributing to this at all.

      Madam SPEAKER: We have had enough interjections. Let the member continue his speech.

      Mr Kiely: A bit of substance, Terry.

      Dr Lim: Pull your head in.

      Madam SPEAKER: Members opposite will have their chance to respond, you know that.

      Mr MILLS: So we are looking at $40m, and I will take that figure as being the top mark, because …

      Mr Stirling: It says $28m here. ‘Ring Terry Mills’.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Leader of Government Business, you will have your chance in a minute.

      Mr MILLS: I want to progress this issue and I would like this debate to be going down in reasonable lines. For the sake of being reasonable, we consider $40m, that is the topmost mark. That is the worst scenario, and business does operate on that. They try to calculate their risk and they would position themselves to take into account what is the worse case scenario. In the sake of this debate, I would like to take the worse case scenario and, once again, to bear in mind for those who may have been distracted by the empty rhetoric that is echoing around the Chamber, the issue here is: who is loaning whom money? And which perception is actually the case?

      If it is $40m, and we were told here that it is an impost that falls on business for 10 to 13 years. If we do our sums - and listening carefully to the briefing received - we understand that in the first year of the levy $7m would be received. We also understand - and here they will bring out their trumpets again in a minute and start making big noises about what wonderful guys they are - the $7m is required in that first year and years subsequent. The Territory government, at that point, would make a contribution. Okay, out come the trumpets: ‘We are making this great gift’.

      That continues on if you do your sums. So $7m is required. They reckon they will probably get about $3m or $4m from business and the rest will be topped up by the wonderful, generous Territory government. If that is the case, if you multiply that out, that means you could have it all back in five to seven years. You would have it all covered in five to seven years. I think a reasonable position to take is to give some surety to business and say: ‘Look, all right, as a community we need to really think about this. We could probably cut a deal and say, let us knock it over in five to seven years’. It is a puzzle! Any person in small business who has looked at this debate - and there have been a number of them, I tell you, and I am sure their memories are going to stay alive right up to election day – can see that, when they do their sums and they know that it is $7m that is going to be taken in each year; on the worse case scenario, it would take five to seven years to cover. Why on earth is the government going for 10 to 13 years to recoup it? Why go that extra distance when you are endeavouring to fill that hole that can be covered in five to seven years at the worse case scenario? Why does it go to 10 to 13?

      The reason is this: the additional years are to pay the government back for the amount that they contributed in the first five to seven years. It is acquitted in five to seven years, seven at the absolute maximum. Take that right through to the 13th year, everyone is square. Small business, the little guys, have been hit as hard as you like – they are always an easy target, whack them.

      Mr Kiely: It is a twisted mind that would think that.

      Mr MILLS: You have not been listening, mate. You have not been listening. After the seventh year, we drive the show on and where does that money go? We have covered the liability; that goes back into Treasury coffers. That goes back into the pocket of government who have big-noted themselves some time before - about five years before, perhaps seven years before - that ‘We are the ones who have made this generous contribution to small business’. The fact of the matter is that is nonsense. I will not use the word that forced me to leave this Chamber, but that word still stands in a case such as that. That is not true. Government will receive …

      Mr STIRLING: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I do not believe he can squirm under. If he is going to accuse us of lying, do so and face the consequences. He cannot imply that the word still stands that he was thrown out for using a month ago. He cannot have it both ways.

      Mr Elferink: Bald-faced misrepresentation!

      Madam SPEAKER: No, I will allow his comments because he did not actually repeat the word. I would hope …

      Mr MILLS: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Nonetheless, with or without the word, I think anybody who is in small businesses and following this debate will make the same decision, anyway, because there is a serious problem with the logic in this - a really serious problem. It is so serious in nature, if small business really understood it - and I am sorry to say, government, they do - that someone has been sold a line here. They are actually being forced to kick in for the full amount. The most tragic aspect of this is that you could pretend …

      Mr Henderson: How do you work that out? We put in $9m, $900 000 a year. How do you work that out?

      Mr MILLS: Okay, let us then …

      Members interjecting.

      Mr MILLS: … just comfort small business, in that case.

      Members interjecting.

      Mr MILLS: Comfort small business, then, with this funny old sunset clause that we have that does not seem to quite have a closed door on it. Why not then say: ‘We will close it after seven years. That is it. On a specified date, it is closed’?

      Mr Stirling: Who pays it all?

      Mr MILLS: Small business.

      Mr Stirling: No, they do not. Under your scenario, who pays it? You have not told us.

      Mr MILLS: It goes on for 13 years. I shall - you will have your opportunity, sir.

      Mr Stirling: Well, explain your case. Who pays the whole lot up front in seven years?

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Leader of Government Business, you do know you will have your chance to respond.

      Mr MILLS: Anyway, that will speak for itself. The next aspect of this that has to be brought home is that, all things being equal, I am presenting the worse case scenario. We need to be reasonable about this as a community and respond to what possibly could be the worse case scenario being $40m. We do understand that would, in the worse case scenario, take five to seven years to acquit. Then why do we go 10 to 13 years? Why do we? Why do we keep this 4% levy all the way through? Perhaps it leaves a little window of opportunity just around election time to drop the levy, or something like that.

      I mention another little load that has fallen upon small business. I think you have made a political mistake in this one. Small business generally has more than the average vehicle costs. Most small business operators operating with a truck or whatever have two or three vehicles. They are stinging I tell you; right from the start they were stinging. To add this on the top of it; we have words uttered in here: ‘Oh, look, it is only a couple of hundred dollars, for goodness sake’. Well, that can be uttered in this glorious Chamber, far from the smell of a workshop and far from the stress and the strain of someone working a small business: ‘Only a couple of hundred dollars’. That reminds me that in some of these comments here - I am not going to lower the tone of the debate to read in here some of the comments that have come back - one of them alludes to Minister Henderson probably needing to get out and really understand what it is to be in small business.

      The fact that it can be uttered in here when members opposite made the comment ‘It is only a couple of hundred dollars, for goodness sake’ means you do not understand small business. You end up with $200 in your hand after employing two or three people and carrying the weight of their superannuation, of other insurances, of your financial responsibilities in every respect - running a household comes last, looking after yourself, the employer comes last. They have such a weight upon them that once you have acquitted all that and you have your workers out there, when you have that $200 after it has passed through the system, you have carried the weight of the whole operation, the $200 in your hand is not $200: it probably cost you $1000 to get the $200 in your hand. That is a fact.

      You talk to small business. I have had close personal dealings with small business, one being a farmer. My mother has been involved in small business; I know what it is like. If you might be a public servant and have a few extra bucks in your pocket, you can have a good time on Mitchell Street. Someone in small business who is carrying the weight of others may see their employees having a good time in Mitchell Street kicking their heels up without a care in the world. For the one who has the small workshop to end up with a couple of hundred dollars in their pocket to go and have a good night on Mitchell Street, it has cost them a huge amount and they have carried a significant weight even to get that.

      We can pass it off as: ‘It is only $200’. It is not only $200. I will cite a case. For one small business operator I have spoken to, he would either have to work for a full day to get that $200 - just one additional full day himself which is difficult to do because of the nature of the operation - or it would take one worker one whole week to work so that he ends up with $200 in his hand. That is just this levy; not the MVR levy. It is just this 4%. And we have members over there saying: ‘It is only $200; it is only 4%’. It is not only 4%, it is not only a small amount when you have walked in the shoes of small business. That is crushing. To end up with $200 in your hand is a significant exercise.

      Mr Henderson: If we did not have $1.3bn of net debt we would not have had to do it. Spend, spend, spend.

      Mr MILLS: That is rot; absolute rot!

      The final aspect to this story is we have a significant windfall coming into Treasury, almost silently. It is wheeled in and it sits there, and we are nice and quiet about it. To give proof of the energy expended in constructing perceptions to suit their own political ends, we end up with a down playing of a rhetoric with regards to the GST windfall and we …

      Ms Lawrie: It is not a windfall; it is tied to grants.

      Dr Burns: It is not a GST windfall. You know that.

      Mr MILLS: Okay. Oh, it is no windfall? All of a sudden you win lotto, a certain amount of money comes into your household budget.

      Mr Stirling: Do you think Costello gives away dough?

      Mr MILLS: … and maybe it is required to pay off certain debts. Maybe it is tied.

      Mr Burke: I have his letter upstairs. I know what he gave you and how he gave it to you. Don’t tell lies. Tell your backbench the truth. Show them Costello’s letter.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Leader of the Opposition.

      Ms Lawrie: I know what Commonwealth Grants mean.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Member for Karama.

      Mr MILLS: We have the situation …

      Mr Burke: You want to get a briefing on it.

      Mr Stirling: I am not the Treasurer.

      Mr MILLS: Well, once again we will stick to a line to say: ‘Goodness gracious, we need this money here for other things and it is tied up over here, there and everywhere’. Well, the commitments that this party made to the electorate; the contract that this party made to the electorate was made prior to the arrival of these funds - prior to.

      If this arrives on the landscape, we then go out and say: ‘We cannot spend it on all those other things because it is tied’. Tied to things they had already committed themselves to, anyway. So, surely, the logic follows it relieves some pressure somewhere underneath. There has to be some money around there somewhere that if you really care about small business, you could bring it across. You could; it relieves the pressure on the whole situation. You run household budgets, get a bit of extra money in, maybe it is tied to this, that or the other. ‘Goodness me, we have already accounted for that. It is under here, it relieves pressure on other aspects, other budgetary lines’. You can find it if you have the will to look after small business.

      Mr STIRLING (Employment, Education and Training): Madam Speaker, when the member for Blain was elected a few years ago, I believed - and I think I still believe- that he came to this place with good intentions and a real belief that he could make a difference for the better.

      We know that he was a very committed principal of a school out there. We know that he has strong and positive views about education and the role that he could play on that side of the fence in education. I think he brought to this place a belief that he could have been, and should be, a genuine contributor for the positive on those big issues; education at the foremost of them. However, I have to say his performance on this matter of the HIH collapse and the consequent liability facing employers and government has been dismal; no more dismal than when he put on the B grade ham actor performance in the last sittings, delivered his question, and was out the door before you had even made a decision on it, Madam Speaker.

      I shared your view at that time, when you expressed disappointment in him and that you would have expected better from him as a member. I would have expected better from him than the performance he has delivered this morning in the sense of the perceptions that I had of him as an individual and a member coming into this House.

      He talked a lot about perceptions. Well, this ain’t a perception; this is fact. This is fact. This is what he sent out and it says: ‘For more information please contact Denis Burke or Terry Mills’. It says: ‘The tax will pay for the $28m liability and work health cover’ but he tells us this morning it is between $27m and $40m. Now, where is his credibility on this issue? He puts his name to a document that is circulated to all small business throughout the Territory, and wonders why he gets angry responses! Because he is telling them lies! He comes in here and tells the truth this morning

      Ms CARTER: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I would like the member to withdraw that statement.

      Madam SPEAKER: Yes, you know you cannot say ‘lies’.

      Mr STIRLING: I withdraw the word ‘lie’, Madam Speaker, and refer to the untruth that is quite explicit in this document. It is that: it is false information.

      Mr Burke: You just said you do not know what the figure is.

      Mr STIRLING: It is false information. He said this morning it is $27m to $40m.

      Mr Burke: Tell us the figure.

      Mr STIRLING: Do you think I am a mind reader?

      Mr Burke: Well, how can you say he is lying?

      Mr STIRLING: Do you think I can read the future in terms of what liabilities are still out there …

      Mr Burke: So he cannot be lying. You do not know.

      Mr STIRLING: … what claims may still come forward; what claims may get more complicated in time? What may appear to be a small claim yesterday blows up to be a major claim in three months time or one year time.

      Mr Burke: Could it possibly be as low as $28m?

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Order!

      Mr STIRLING: What do you think I am? There are experts in this field who put estimates against these things, and you ask me to tell you what the liability is going to be.

      Members interjecting.

      Mr STIRLING: There are estimates. Far brighter blokes than …

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order!

      Mr STIRLING: … you, me or the member for Blain, and that is the best guess they put on it, and you ask me what the liability is. Go back to school; learn a little about economics. Learn how these things flow through. You cannot put …

      Mr Burke: If you do not know the figure, do not call him a liar.

      Madam SPEAKER: Leader of the Opposition!

      Mr STIRLING: … put that out there. Your name is on it: Denis Burke. ‘Please contact Denis Burke. The tax will pay for the $28m liability’.

      He talks about perceptions. In fact, he talked about blame laying. We have been specific - the Chief Minister, myself, the minister for industries - any time that we have discussed this in-house or outside, that we have laid no blame. We did not even blame you blokes because it was not your fault, and it certainly was not the fault of small business. In fact, one Mr Adler and FAI - and all of that is going through the courts as we speak - and there may be someone at the end of the day who they can point the finger at. However, in terms of recovery of the outstanding liabilities that everyone has been lumped with in this, I would not be holding my breath. The fact is jurisdictions have to address it.

      This is false information that was distributed to thousands of Territory businesses, and a pretty shoddy effort at that. It did peddle a number of incorrect statements, including the size of the liability. Knowing from the briefing that it lay somewhere between $28m and $40m, they really were misleading employers and small business to put that out saying that it was $28m when they knew that was absolute best, and perhaps $40m at worst.

      It is also false because it omitted some of the very relevant facts; namely that those very people issuing the pamphlet, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, did not grant one cent. Not one cent came from the CLP when they were in government to cover the liability left by the collapse. They put in $3m as a short-term measure for the nominal insurer to ensure that it was able to go forward, but it was a loan. It was a loan.

      When we came to government, we added $6m to the nominal insurer and called it a grant. Now there is a bit of difference here. I do not know what that is in percentage terms, but you give $3m by way of a loan, we convert that to a grant, throw $6m on top of it, we have granted $9m up front.

      Members interjecting.

      Mr STIRLING: You seem to forget this. $9m, here nominal insurer, grant, not to be paid back, that is to get through the first of the fallout in the liabilities coming through. You blokes put $3m in as a loan, you wanted it back. You wanted it back, with interest. We do not know what the interest would have been, but you wanted it back with interest. Not a word of that in this shoddy little document that goes out to small business. You say they are angry. Well, not much wonder. Not much wonder when you peddle misinformation and untruths. That is cheap, opportunistic and you do not get much cheaper than that. They put ‘urgent’ across the top of it so you can hardly read it. They try to escape the bottom line that they are telling less than the truth when they put that sort of information out in a really blatant attempt to mislead.

      Mr Burke interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order!

      Mr STIRLING: We had the situation in the last sittings where the member for Blain did verbal the public servant coming away from the briefing. We gave him the briefing in good faith, and I wonder, as a minister, whether I should attend future briefings to make sure that this House and, indeed, the public is not misled by way of information that comes across the room during the briefing, because it was made very clear …

      Mr ELFERINK: A point of order, Madam Speaker! If the minister is going to make allegations that the member for Blain misled this House, he knows the system by which he can do that.

      Madam SPEAKER: I do not think the minister actually said that.

      Mr STIRLING: The information that the member for Blain was espousing in this House, and certainly in the public by way of this pamphlet, was that the liability was $28m. That is not what was said at the briefing at all. I am assured by the public servant that the briefing was very clear; that is was $28m at best possible position, $40m worst. The public servant in question was there in the Assembly during that time and refuted what the member for Blain was saying.

      This deal of hypocrisy and misleading information going out to employers really does not put the opposition in a good light on this issue. At the heart of things, you really look at the old saying that ‘actions speak louder than words’. We have, on the one hand, a former government that put $3m in to the nominal insurer by way of a loan; you have a new Labor government that converted that $3m to a grant not to be paid back, and put in and additional $9m. If that is not taking the pressure off small business, I will go he. That is $9m that did not have to be found by way of any further contribution to premiums. That reduced, of course, the impost overall.

      Compare what the CLP would have had to do. They would have had to impose an 8% levy. They would have had to impose an 8% levy on workers compensation premiums in order to get to the same starting position that we find ourselves in because we put $9m up front. If you are going to put this information out there, be a bit honest. You have used taxpayers’ dollars here to print this rubbish. You put it out there - misleading. Is it any surprise that you get a lot of angry phone calls? Of course you would. If you are going to mislead people, if you are going to tell them less than the truth, that is what is going to happen. They have used every opportunity to scaremonger and mislead.

      Do you want another example? You know the Palmerston City Council has put up rates by 6%. These guys’ constituencies would be affected by that, wouldn’t they? The members for Blain and Brennan would have people living within the boundaries of that town council affected by what I would have thought was a pretty hefty increase - a 6% increase on rates. Do you see any of this sort of stuff go out to them? No, nothing by way of that out to the constituents - deafening silence; no outrage. It is okay there. It suits the opportunistic opposition to scare business on the one hand with this sort of false information, but it does not suit them - for reasons known best to themselves - to worry about their constituents when they have to thump up an extra 6% - including business people, of course, who would be picked up by that 6% increase.

      Last time it was before the House at the last sittings, the opposition made some points about the HIH levy being a matter of choice. They said the government could have made the decision not to impose the levy; that we should have paid the lot. Of course, they are right in that sense because it is a matter of choice that we would carry close to half the total financial load rather than leaving business to carry the whole liability themselves.

      The member for Blain went on about how much small business is hurting, and I share his view. There have been a difficult couple of years. However, under you blokes - and this is where you have to follow your argument all the way through - they would have been hurting a lot more because you put $3m in by way of a loan. Someone was going to have to pay that back; insurers were going to have to pay that back to the nominal insurer, and that would have meant increasing and stepping up the levy we have set at 4%. You blokes would have had to have 8%. You do not follow your own argument through. On the other hand, where was the money going to come from? You cannot have it both ways. Of course, we heard nothing by way of how this is going to be covered: ‘Oh, it will all be paid off in five years, perhaps seven years’. They did not tell us. They had plenty of time, 30 minutes, to tell us where that money was going to come from, but not a word.

      We think we have chosen the fairest way through to balance the liability, but the opposition has a view that government should pay the lot. We have to forget for a moment the political grandstanding, the game playing that the member for Blain went on about, the gross political opportunism of their stand. If we put aside for a minute that if they had won, they would have imposed an 8% levy – let us put that aside. Let us ask members opposite now where they would find that extra $20m because that is the ask. We are going to put in close to $19m, $20m now. We would be up for a further $20m. Where would you get it from? What area of government expenditure are you going to touch up for $20m? Okay, you can say schools.

      Ms Lawrie: Hospitals.

      Mr STIRLING: Hospitals! I think it is hospitals they were going to drag the $20m out of, by the look on the member for Macdonnell’s face. You look at education, you look at coppers, you look at hospitals, those bigger areas of the budget. However, by the look on the member for Macdonnell’s face when I said hospitals, I think that might have been where the $20m was going to come from.

      Mr ELFERINK: A point of order, Madam Speaker! For the information of the honourable minister …

      Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order. Resume your seat. Make your comments later.

      Mr Elferink: I was busy laughing at him being cute because he is a joke.

      Mr STIRLING: Your face is too honest, member for Macdonnell. You gave it away. When I said ‘hospitals’, I reckon I found the mark.

      Of course, they say it should come out of the additional funding: the windfall, the gift. Whenever did Howard and Costello start believing in gifts? They do not even believe in Santa Claus. They never even believed in Santa Claus when they were little kids. He says it is a windfall gift from the Treasurer. Well, it is a very different Treasurer from the one we know. In fact, this leader opposite would have had to work with him. He knows that is simply not true. There were a couple of weeks where the staff arrived in the morning, they got the whiteboard out, and they said: ‘Five new ways to spend $70m. Let us get three today’.

      Of course, we had the Leader of the Opposition saying: ‘The government should be doing this with the $70m’, and three days later, he has spent it again. You cannot spend the same $70m five times, and continue to retain any credibility on this. What they ignore completely - and I think the point was made from this side earlier in the debate - is that $70m is a recognition of the disability factors inherent in the Northern Territory when it comes to delivery of services to the bush.

      We know they have a view that those services are not important; the people who live in the regions are not important. They do not worry that the Commonwealth gave you that money to cover the extra cost of delivery of services like education, health, policing to remote areas of the Northern Territory. We do have these complicating factors. We are a small population. We are 1% of the population dispersed across 6% of Australia’s land mass. Of course, it is always going to cost a lot more to deliver those services. That is what has been recognised by the Commonwealth. It is not that they are good guys; it is not that Costello has gone soft in the head. They recognise, through the process, that it costs a lot more to deliver these services, given the inherent social and geographical factors in the Northern Territory. That is why we got that dough.

      Do you think New South Wales and Victoria would let him get away with just giving us a birthday present or Christmas gift? I think not. That is what that money is recognised as being for, and we as a government will ensure that that is where the bulk of that money goes: it is education, health, law and order to remote communities.

      You can say: ‘We would not do that; that is a decision for government’. You can say: ‘We know we got that money for those services, but we think this is more important and we are going to put the lot into HIH’. We think that is a simplistic solution and could leave a government well exposed in future dealings with the federal government Grants Commission, on the basis of having to justify in future where that money went. We know, in terms of consequences for actions, our predecessors were not a government that was ever too concerned with that, and the $126m deficit that they left us is all the evidence we ever need to recognise that fact. They continue, even now, to spend the same money twice, three times, four times, without any recognition of what it does to the bottom line.

      Mr Burke: You have not spent a penny. You have not spent a penny on it.

      Mr STIRLING: Well, how did you get to $126m when you told us the deficit was going to be $12m? We went to Access Economics and said: ‘We think this is where the budget’s headed. This is what we want to do. Is it possible? Is it affordable?’ Access Economics, one of the most reputable economic organisations in the land said: ‘Yes. Yes, you can do that, but sorry guys, your budget overrun is not $12m, it is $126m’. There is only one way you get into that mess and that is continuing to spend money that you simply do not have. It is bottomless pit economics. If you run your household like that, you would soon be losing your car, your TV, your VCR - if you are fortunate enough to have all of those things - and indeed, at the end of the road, the house itself.

      We have made the decision that we will be accountable for the money that comes through from the feds, and we will be accountable to the taxpayers of the Northern Territory.

      The member for Blain, in his right of reply, really needs to put a little bit in his speech that he missed on the way through and that is: where does that $20m come from? He needs to spell out exactly where you would find it; what would you cut to put that money up. We have heard from the opposition - these are some of the things that you spent it on: $200m for gas developments. The $70m does not get you there. Axing the budget improvement levy; that is over $20m over the term of the three years. No. $20m to get rid of the HIH levy. Now, we are up to $240m there against what was $73m in the first place.

      We get these big spending announcements on a regular basis from the 4th floor opposition area of the House, usually following whatever opportunistic startled fad that they want to run this week. Of course, it is easy in opposition because the media does not come back to you the next day and say: ‘Hang on, you spent that $70m last Wednesday’. You simply cannot do it in government because there is a discipline, and you can only spend what you have. We have a view of where that $70m is going, what it was given to us for, and where it will be spent. We simply will not spend the $70m over and over again, which is what got you blokes into trouble in the last three or four years of your government, where you overran the budget year in, year out to the tune of $126m. You have to wonder what they would have done if they had been re-elected, because it is a bit of a mess that they left us.

      The shadow Treasurer is in semi-retirement; he seems pretty distracted. He never comes out and puts the test to these press releases coming from the 4th floor about how many times you can spend the same dollar. We know from his time as Treasurer that they did not keep a close eye on this in the time that they were in government. We can speculate. We can speculate as to where they would cut the budget, but we do not have that view. We have a different view and we will ensure that those services for which we received that money will be maintained.

      Most reasonable people would agree it is not viable or responsible to just overrun your budget time in, time out. That is the way that the CLP ran the budget. It seems to be the way that they would run it into the future.

      I want to pick up on the contribution from the member for Nelson during the last sittings. We have a ready understanding of where the CLP are going to come out on these issues, and I was surprised by the member for Nelson’s position because I have a fair bit of time him - he genuinely puts the interests of his electorate and Territorians up front at heart. However, he is also running the CLP line on this matter, saying that the government should simply foot the bill.

      I say to the member for Nelson: no one wants to introduce the levy on business, but in a real world, there are finite pots of money, and if you are going to be accountable and responsible, you recognise that fact, and you do not keep spending it over and over again. The extra $20m, if it is to go in to HIH, does have to be found somewhere else and all of us, as members of parliament, really have to accept the challenge of putting positions that are both responsible and credible, and not just wishful thinking. So, whilst I respect the member for Nelson - I think he is a genuine person - I urge him to give some thought to these comments because he must avoid putting up positions like they do on the other side that simply do not accept the consequences of their actions.

      The other point that I should pick up on, from the member for Blain, is that business has been silenced on this issue. I find that absolutely insulting - insulting to Carole Frost of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to Bruce Fadelli, and to Dave Malone. I do not imagine you would silence Dave Malone very easily. That is an insult to those representatives of the business world, that they have been somehow silenced by government. I will be asking Carole how, in fact, she was silenced, if that is the case. However, I do not think that is the case at all. We have worked through what has been a difficult situation; they understand. They understand the hurt; they tell us about the hurt. But they also understand what we, the government, have done compared to what you blokes had left and what you were going to do.

      Other jurisdictions have had to deal with this. Western Australia and Tasmania both have levies in place. We think we have made pretty difficult decisions here, but on balance we have them pretty right. We take half the pain and we ensure that businesses do not pay this levy any longer than they have to because we included, at the request of the Chamber of Commerce, a sunset clause in the legislation. That was legislation introduced, of course, by the previous government.

      In the end, this government will contribute between $800 000 and $900 000 per year in addition to the $9m already contributed. I said earlier that you have to judge people and governments by their actions, not by their words. In this case, our actions stand in stark contrast to those of our – he is trying to put me off, Madam Speaker, because he has changed seats.

      You do have to judge people and governments by their actions, and this is where they stand in stark contrast. They put $3m into the nominal insurer by way of a loan: ‘By the way, fellas, we want that back with interest’. We put $9m in by way of a grant: ‘That is to get you going. We do not expect that to be paid back’. Actions will always speak louder than words.

      We think this is a pretty thin and opportunistic way of trying to curry favour with the small business world, adding to their angst and the hurt that they already have by pretending that government can do things that it simply cannot. We have worked through this issue in consultation with the Chamber of Commerce. They understand; they appreciate what we have done even if you do not. We will be defeating this motion.

      Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, I will be brief because I know there are a number of members on this side of the House who want to contribute to this debate. Like the member for Blain, they have a real sense of the hurt that is being experienced in the community. I will pick up the gratuitous comments of the member for Nhulunbuy with regards the member for Nelson, in urging the member of Nelson to understand the budgetary process that government is going through.

      May I be so bold as to suggest that as the long-serving President of Litchfield Shire, the member for Nelson has had more experience in balancing a budget in his time than you, member for Nhulunbuy, have ever had. If I were him, I would be offended that you would speak in such a gratuitous and patronising way. This is the way that the member for Nhulunbuy generally contributes in debate: a patronising nonsense in trying to weave a way out of this argument in this debate.

      However, he did say Labor will be accountable to the taxpayers of the Northern Territory for the money it receives, and you can only spend what you have. That really is the essence of this argument. Can the government afford to spend the money that it has in meeting the HIH liability on its own? Can the government of the Northern Territory do what the government of the Australian Capital Territory did, and decide that the contribution they had to make - which was around $30m - could be met out of Consolidated Revenue of the ACT government, rather than having to impose that levy on taxpayers, particularly a small group of taxpayers, namely small business. That is the essence of the argument: can this government afford to do it, or can’t it afford to do it?

      As the member for Blain said, you can weave whatever story you like trying to impress those out there as to why the levy is being imposed. I am sure that the government has spent a lot of time explaining to the peak organisations the difficult budgetary situation they claim they find themselves in and why this levy is necessary. The reality is, though, that the people who do run business out there - who run businesses that are in deficit, who are scratching to find even take-home money - know that this government is in a far better financial situation then, when they claimed they had a black hole, and particularly now with the massive contribution they have received from the Commonwealth government. The argument that they are trying to make simply is not sustainable.

      On that point, I would have thought that, in the course of this debate, the member for Nhulunbuy could go and find out from the nominal insurer what the latest assessment is with regards to the liability. I am advised from the nominal insurer that as of today the liability is assessed at $30m. The government can confirm that or not in the next hour or so. Let us get a figure on the floor.

      I am prepared to accept even higher than that. Certainly, the member for Blain was talking around about $30m as the liability that exists in the Northern Territory as of today, on all the assessments that have been done. It is worth reminding ourselves that is the liability that faced the ACT government when it decided to fund that liability entirely out of Consolidated Revenue. The argument is: can this government afford to fund it out of Consolidated Revenue or not? You claim you cannot; we claim you can.
      Small business is asking for you to do that because of the enormous problems that they have, not only because of the economic situation that the Northern Territory faces generally, but because of the large impost that they have had visited on them - in particular, by this new Northern Territory government - in the form of a registration tax and higher taxes and charges in a range of areas that affect small business. However, now more so because the Northern Territory government also claims that it cannot afford to pay this levy.

      Why can’t the government afford to pay this levy itself out of Consolidated Revenue? I believe the real reason is this: if you were in a Labor Party room in the Northern Territory now, or at any time in the last 10, 15 or 20 years, and you were looking at polling, the polling would say: ‘You are considered to be hopeless economic managers by Territorians generally’.

      Mr Dunham: By everybody.

      Mr BURKE: By everybody. That attitude is still there. One only has to look at the Yellow Pages Business Index confidence in Northern Territory government policies to see that perception of being hopeless economic managers is still there. That is why you have dropped to minus 21%.

      You sit there and you say to yourselves: ‘What are we going to do to show that we are good economic managers? Well, the first thing we have to do is to undermine the strength that the CLP, as a party and as a government, has had for many years in their ability to manage the Northern Territory economy. We have to undermine that at every opportunity’. The way you do that is you invent things like a black hole, and that we have this incredible problem in the Northern Territory where we cannot afford to do the things we said we would do, because we have had these revelations visited upon us since the election where anyone who takes an interest in these affairs can go back to the second reading debate when the budget was brought down and see that the Chief Minister now - at that time as Opposition Leader - was clearly aware and spoke at length on what she believed was the true budgetary situation. You still went to an election and made promises on a budget that she claimed was the only one she could accept, and that was the one that was revealed in the Chamber.

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order!

      Mr BURKE: This Chief Minister started her career by lying and has continued that process to an art form. I reckon if Goebbels was around today, he would be really impressed. He would say: ‘If you wanted to try out someone who is the architect of the maxim of Goebbels, it is this present Chief Minister’, because you say a lie, you stick to the lie, you keep repeating the lie until you make that lie real.

      Mr STIRLING: A point of order, Madam Speaker! This is not a censure motion and he needs to withdraw.

      Madam SPEAKER: Yes, do withdraw those remarks, Leader of the Opposition.

      Mr BURKE: I withdraw, Madam Speaker.

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

      Mr BURKE: The simple facts are - and they have been alluded to by the member for Blain - that the HIH problem was visited on the Northern Territory government last year, the same as every other government in Australia. The primary problem at the time was that if governments did not do something in their own jurisdiction - each jurisdiction was responsible for the workers compensation liability that they had, based on the HIH collapse - the insurance companies themselves would raise the rates automatically to cover that liability because that was the legislation that required them to do so.

      Every government had a responsibility to do something to hold the rates at their current level, and the CLP government at the time had no option but to bring forward legislation that, in the immediate term, gave comfort to those nominal insurers. That is what happened and you only have to look at the words that the minister at the time, Minister Baldwin, spoke: that if the government decided to proceed to apply a levy, it would be levied as a levy on employees - if the government proceeded. The whole argument is: would the government have proceeded based on the information and revenue that has now being revealed or not? You claim - the government now claims, verballing us wonderfully - that we would inexorably have moved along the path of applying this massive levy to Territorians no matter how the circumstances changed.

      Mr Stirling: By your actions, by your own actions.

      Mr BURKE: Well, you can hold that view, but the reality is we are not in government now. You are in government now.

      Mr Stirling: Most Territorians are saying: ‘Thank God’!

      Mr BURKE: You are in government now - well, I can tell you the 680 business faxes I have up there are pretty concerned about …

      Mr Stirling: Yes, because you tell them lies.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order!

      Mr BURKE: One of the things that I enjoy, frankly, about being in opposition is to see the arrogance coming through of these humble Territorians who were elected to do the right thing for Territorians. Listen and reflect upon their maiden speeches about what a great opportunity it was, how they would be different, how they would be humble, how they would be loving and caring to Territorians. I love it!

      Mr Stirling interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Leader of Government Business.

      Mr BURKE: All you do, you must pull out the CLP form book every day and say: ‘What did the CLP do on 7 June last year?’, because we are going to do that today because it must be the way to do business. Get a little bit of individuality, a bit of something. Try to be yourself and wing it - and tell the truth. The truth is - and you know it - that the only ones who could have influenced the situation that we find ourselves in today is you, because you have the mechanism for government, you had the decision whether to apply a levy or not, and you know what the true circumstances are. The true circumstances are - and I will find the debate because I am sure the member for Nhulunbuy said on radio that the liability could be as low as $28m. I know the nominal insurer today believes the liability today is $30m and the issue is: can you afford it, or do you have to levy business?

      In those changed circumstances where a liability has gone from the best part of $70m 10 months ago …

      A member: $60m about a year ago.

      Mr BURKE: $60m about one year ago to $30m-odd today - that is the first changed circumstance. The second changed circumstance is this: this government in this term of office will receive $600m extra on their base from the Commonwealth - $600m extra. $150m extra on your base every year. Now, that is a situation …

      Mr HENDERSON: A point of order, Madam Speaker! The Leader of the Opposition has made a very specific statement that this government will receive an additional $600m in Commonwealth grants, Commonwealth revenue, over the next four years. He needs to substantiate those numbers.

      Madam SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

      Mr HENDERSON: He is misleading parliament.

      Members interjecting.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order, thank you! Excuse me! I have been very tolerant this morning because of this debate, but do not overdo it. There is no point of order.

      Mr BURKE: Actually, Madam Speaker, the letter from Mr Costello talks about $200m with a reduction …

      Mr HENDERSON: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I ask the honourable member to table this letter.

      Madam SPEAKER: Do you have a copy of that letter, Leader of the Opposition?

      Mr BURKE: Madam Speaker, I am happy to find that letter. However, I would say it is the government’s responsibility to disabuse Territorians of the arguments that I make; not my responsibility. The money from the federal government was the best part of $200m, reduced to $170m-odd because of the guarantees that were applied, essentially because of the GST. But what we have, I can be confident, is around $150m of Commonwealth money on your base every year to your budget.

      The government claims now that this money is provided by the Commonwealth for specific purposes and they can only spend that money for those specific purposes. Let Territorians understand this is absolute and total garbage. The only money that is provided by the Commonwealth for specific purposes comes through as a Special Purpose Program Grant. Every other piece of money that comes through from the Commonwealth comes through with the flexibility of the Northern Territory, or any other government, to spend on the priorities that they so wish.

      If it did not happen that way, tell me where the ACT government got their $30m that they spent? Did they get it through a thing that came from the Commonwealth that said: ‘This is your HIH levy money that you can only use for this?’ No. They got it out of their Financial Assistance Grants Program money in the same way that you get your money from the Commonwealth and they applied it on the priorities that they themselves set. That is the government that made a decision to spend the money that they received from the Commonwealth on the priorities that they themselves set.

      What we have in the Northern Territory is this government that has set a priority that is uncaring of small business that says: ‘We would rather bring in a balanced budget. We would rather bring in a surplus. We see ourselves being perceived as better economic managers as far more important than the hurt that business is feeling out there at the moment’. That is the fact of it. If you believe that is not the fact of it, you demonstrate in this Chamber that you cannot, and how you are going to apply that $600m and that additional money from the Commonwealth, and how you cannot apply it to assist in the HIH levy.

      Mr Stirling: What would you have knocked off? Health? Hospitals? Schools? Nurses? Police? Come on, tell us where it was going to come from.

      Mr Dunham: CEO payouts. We wouldn’t have done that, mate. We wouldn’t have spent all that money on CEO payouts.

      Mr BURKE: Madam Speaker, I will pick this up. The Deputy Chief Minister says: ‘What would you have knocked off?’ I would remind him that you have brought forward your mini-budget; you have brought forward your strategy for nurses and teachers and all of those sort of things, and you have outlined your funding revenue needs and expenditure needs for all of those contingencies. Now you have $150m extra on your base, on top of that. That is the fact of it, and you know it.

      What you have to do now is demonstrate how you would spend that additional money. What the opposition is saying in this Chamber …

      Mr Stirling: Schools? Non-government schools? Coppers?

      Mr BURKE: Each year on your base - you should be dancing in the street! You should be showing confidence in this economy: the fact that gas is going to come onshore; revenue to the Northern Territory government will increase; we will collect more money in stamp duty; more money in general revenue. We can afford - particularly considering we have received this extra money from the Commonwealth - to provide some mechanism to assist business. The mechanism that we are asking for in this motion is to show a bit of heart, show a bit of generosity to demonstrate the fact that you do have the capacity to pay small business for this impost.

      It is not necessary; the circumstances have changed remarkably. There is no point running around blaming the CLP government saying: ‘You would have done this; you would have done that, therefore we are doing less, and aren’t we great?’ It is as the member for Blain said: for every dollar that is imposed as a tax on small business, it takes an enormous effort to find that money. I am alarmed by the number of small business people who are saying to me that they are not even taking home wages. People who are not even taking home wages just cannot afford to find this extra few hundred bucks that you think is so easy to find. This government has the capacity to find it. That is all the opposition is saying: demonstrate to Territorians in this time of hurt, particularly when you have already hit them for a $90 registration tax …

      Mr Dunham: Water.

      Mr BURKE: Water and charges are going up. You can show the capacity out of the enormous revenue that you have received to assist them at this time. That is the heart of the argument.

      I am amazed that the government feels that it can continually point to a few peak organisations and claim that therefore they have convinced everyone, because you are obviously deluding yourselves. Small business can do its own sums; they do them every day of the week. They know that the government needs to raise $7m a year. They claim they will put in $4m themselves and they are going to get $3m from small business every year. It might raise to $4m from small business as the economy improves. The liability is $30m. Seven by five: 35. The whole thing is paid off in five years. Why have they got it on for 13 years, or for 10 years?

      Obviously, if you want to recoup the government contribution as well, you have to keep it going that long, and probably realise the government contribution plus a bit more to spare. That is what business is saying, and that is why your not selling it out there. Not only do they know you are going to rip them off, they also know that it is not necessary. It is not necessary because the simple fact is that you have received $150m on your base; you are ripping them with the rego tax; you are restructuring the public service that must be - apart from the enormous payouts which is a different matter - costing government less. You are getting your budgetary situation well improved. You have borrowed already another $100m even though you rail against debt in the Northern Territory - railing against the high levels of debt, and the first thing they do is borrow another $100m.

      You are not going to reduce debt in this term yet you are receiving $150m extra on your base every year, and you cannot find it in your heart of hearts - this caring Labor government that cares for workers and small business, that sets its priorities and talks about a growing economy and going from strength to strength. Do you know what strength to strength means?

      Members interjecting.

      Mr BURKE: Strength to strength in the Territory economy means more money in your coffers, and if you cannot have the confidence to pick up that $30m yourselves, you have no confidence in your own ability to get this economy in shape. That is the fact of it. You have no confidence that you can run this place and find that $30m yourselves - you are going to run out and try and rip it off small business. Common sense would say this motion should be supported. Sadly, the attitude of this arrogant government is that it will not, but that will not affect the efforts that we will make to look after and protect small business.
      Liabilities Arising from the Collapse of HIH Insurance

      Continued from earlier this day.

      Mr MALEY (Goyder): Madam Speaker, I rise to unconditionally and absolutely endorse the member for Blain’s motion in regard to the HIH levy. It is pretty obvious from the comments that we have heard so far from the honourable members on the other side of the House that they are devoid of any business acumen. Indeed, there is little or no business experience on that side of the House. To run a business involves watching your costs and the impositions which government levies upon business in the form of tax. If there are increased running costs which include these extra taxes, then services will become unaffordable, consumer demand will fall, and eventually that will affect production and impact on jobs.

      In my view, there is little doubt that this is a tax on jobs. The pool from which the tax is to be levied upon - the pool of business people - will contract. It will have an effect on a number of businesses operating within the Northern Territory. What is most disturbing is that we have already seen extracts of a letter from the Treasurer, Mr Costello. There seems to be a GST windfall which has come to the Territory so there really are other options. Honourable members on the other side of the House can try to dress it up and hide the real reason why that money came to the Territory, but it does exist. It was a windfall and it does create another option which should be explored before we lump another burden on to the business community.

      It is obvious, just by walking down the Mall or wandering down Cavenagh Street and looking at some of the empty shops and talking to people who operate businesses in the industrial area and Winnellie, that things are quiet. This is as a result of a number of things. It is a quiet portion of the economic cycle; the cash flow in the Northern Territory, and Darwin particularly, is certainly slower than usual. We have seen what has happened to a number of high profile construction companies. We have seen what has happened to Jamac. Glenwood Homes has left the Territory. Yet, since 18 August last year when the Territory people and Territory business placed their trust in this new government, the Chief Minister has led the government down a path of introducing more burdens on Territory people and business. There have been some changes made to the number of ministers - we see two fewer ministers - but we see more staff than ever. There seems to be no expense spared in that regard.

      The business community has also had to contend with speculation of a land tax. If it was not for the vigorous opposition voicing the concerns of business, in my view, business would also be subject to a land tax. We have seen the introduction of legislation - amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act - which will have an effect on business. It will cost business to comply. We have seen a government, dominated by union officials and ministers who are devoid of any real compassion towards small business, make decisions which are not in the best interests of the small businesses which operate in the Northern Territory.

      Quite seriously, business is really doing it tough and any concession - even a small concession – is not only going to demonstrate a sign of trust and good faith in small business, but it is going to help a sector which is genuinely under siege. I urge all honourable members to cast away the shackles of their party politics and support this important motion which the member for Blain has quite properly and passionately introduced into this parliament.

      Ms CARTER (Port Darwin): Madam Speaker, I rise to support the motion. Workers compensation is an important aspect of our employment structure in this community. Workers do need support when they have been injured. They need immediate support, recovery time, rehabilitation and the ability to return to work. Certainly workers compensation, which is part of the issues involved with the insurance problems that we are facing at the moment, is something that is very important.

      Our workers compensation scheme, through the structure of premiums, indicates to various industry groups the risks that their industries are presenting to workers. To some degree it gives industries an opportunity to modify the way that work is done and so reduce risks in their workplace.

      Unfortunately, over the years - even here in the Northern Territory - we have seen that premiums on workers compensation have failed to keep pace with the cost of workers compensation. I use this as an example of the insurance problems that we as a community - be it here in Darwin, the Territory, Australia and in the developed world - have been facing now for a number of years. The insurers themselves have been suffering and the whole situation here - in Australia, for example - was dealt a death blow, really, with the recent collapse of HIH.

      HIH, as we know, is currently being investigated after the collapse that occurred. However, it appears from what we hear and see in the media that HIH is part of a cut throat insurance industry, and what they have been doing over the years is cutting premiums drastically in an effort to attract business. The end result, of course, has been that premiums have not kept up with the costs. With regard to HIH, I believe Rodney Adler is in the witness box again today. What has come out, at the very least, is that FAI in which he was a significant player, was taken over by HIH at his recommendation. However, FAI’s accounting figures were inaccurate - and I use that word taken from a quote on ABC radio station 105.7FM on 5 June - that the books for FAI were inaccurate and HIH took them over. It was a death knell for HIH, one of our major insurance companies.

      HIH collapsed for various reasons, and it has caused massive problems for Australia in the area of insurance. I believe it is very unfair, therefore, for the Northern Territory government to transfer the local legacy of HIH’s collapse to Northern Territory businesses. As we hear constantly and we can see when we travel to any of our urban areas, business is struggling. The motion we have brought today calls on the government to acknowledge the hurt being felt in the community, particularly by employers in relation to the escalating workers compensation costs, and in full awareness that further imposts on business will see jobs lost. We urge the Labor government to make provision in the Appropriation Bill 2002-03 for sufficient funds to meet the forecast cost for 2002-03 of the workers compensation liabilities arising from the collapse of HIH.

      We know now that you have had a windfall of many, many millions of dollars from the Commonwealth government as a result of GST earnings. We believe on this side of the House that you can afford to fund the cost of the HIH liabilities here in the Northern Territory. The CLP unashamedly supports private enterprise and small business. Small business is the backbone of private enterprise here in the Northern Territory. Small business constitutes approximately 90% of private enterprise in the Territory. It is a huge component of private enterprise. We need to do everything we can to support them. Why? Because - and this is a CLP philosophy - if you support private enterprise you will see a growth in productivity and employment. From that growth in productivity, you will increase the earnings of government through taxation; your revenues will increase. From those revenue increases, you can then spend money on the sort of services that you want to provide to the community. If you do not support private enterprise and small business, then you will be forever on the nipple of the public purse, particularly through the Commonwealth government and the grants program that they run in the Northern Territory. We will never stand on our own two feet in the Territory unless we support private enterprise.

      By doing this - what we are recommending through our motion - you will indicate your support to small business. We have already had graphic accounts today, particularly from the member for Blain, of how an impost of even $200 a year impacts on small business. Every little bit counts, and we need to do everything we can, particularly in these difficult times, to support small business. You have had a windfall. It was unexpected. Let us go out there and show small business that we will support them.

      A key component of supporting small business is things like this, because we know that their costs are incredible. They have the costs of transport, costs caused by isolation, costs of power and things like that, so every little bit is going to help them. The other cost that they have, I believe, is stress. Most small business are family businesses, and that puts a heck of a lot of stress on the people in a family. They are often in a case where, if the business goes down, everything that their family has had goes down the drain. If they, unfortunately, go bankrupt, they lose their family home. It is a very stressful situation, and yet small business are the people who are going to pull the Northern Territory out; pull us up to the future; make us leaders in this country of being able to be productive and to support our ageing population. We should be doing everything that we can to support them.

      I urge the government to support this motion. I urge you not to put the levy on to small business. We did, as a CLP government, introduce the legislation but we held off the implementation - and you know full well that we held off the implementation because we were hoping that something would happen to prevent us having to implement it. That has happened. You have seen a significant decrease in the expectation of the cost and, on top of that, you have had the GST windfall from the federal government. If we were in power, we would not impose this levy. We would use that money to cover the levy, just as the government in the ACT has done for its people. We know that this levy is not needed. Please do not be pig-headed about it. Help small business with this and dip into your money bag to cover the cost. The ACT has done it, we can do it. I urge that this motion is supported.

      Mr HENDERSON (Business, Industry and Resource Development): Madam Speaker, in speaking to this motion today I hardly know where to start after the rambling contributions from members opposite. I do take the point that the member who introduced this motion - much as I appreciate the sincerity in terms of his contribution - being confronted with the responsibility of government is a very difficult task. It is one that is not taken very lightly when any additional impost is made through levies on any members of the community, particularly the business community. We acknowledge the tough time that the business community has been facing over the last few years and continues to face, even though the signals are there. I acknowledge there are a lot of businesses that are still doing it tough, but there are also businesses around that do say to me that they are turning the corner and things are starting to pick up. All of the business growth figures that are being presented at the moment support that.

      Let us move to the motion before us today and debunk some of the furphies that have been put by members opposite. I move to point one of the motion: making provision in the Appropriation Bill to meet the forecast costs for 2002-03. What we are looking at here is not the imposition of this levy in isolation of the Northern Territory government’s financial position. What Cabinet has to do is to take into account the total climate, the total picture of the government’s fiscal position; its responsibility to fund services to the Territory community and its responsibilities to meet its obligations by way of the huge debt that we inherited from the previous government.

      This is not an issue that can be taken in isolation; it has to be taken in the context of the entire Territory budget which is not only on the services side of the equation. It is also on the capital works side of the equation - so many of our small businesses and subcontractors are involved in the construction industry and the industries that support that construction industry. A large part of the government’s budget is made up through the capacity to stimulate the economy through its expenditure on capital works.

      I will again go through the deception that this government discovered when we came to office and found that we inherited a budget position which was identified going into the election as being a deficit for 2001-02 of $14m and which turned out to be $124m. I pick up the point from the Leader of the Opposition when he said: ‘Well, you ran out and borrowed another $100m’. Those opposite still have not explained to this House - and we are 10 months into the new government - if we had not borrowed that $100m, how they were going to fund the continuing expenditure that the public service was structured to provide; how they were going to continue to pay the salaries of public servants without borrowing that additional $100m. That is what the borrowings went toward. They went toward funding the budget allocations that were put in place by the previous government, but the bodgy numbers did not support the allocations that were structured into them. So there we are: that explains why we had to borrow the $100m.

      We saw the recklessness - the absolute reckless irresponsibility - of previous CLP governments where, in the periods 1998-99 to 2000-01, expenditure of government was rising at 10.5% but revenue was only rising at 5.4%. That is a totally unsustainable position. Anybody in the community who is receiving an income knows that they cannot spend in excess of what they are receiving forever and a day without the banks moving in to foreclose.

      We were faced with a very tough set of decisions to make regarding the fiscal climate that we inherited from the previous government. To have the Leader of the Opposition come in here and say - and they are words that will stick with him - that by aiming towards and having a budget outlook with forward estimates looking to come in with a budget surplus, that somehow is not a responsibility of government; that government should not be aiming towards a budget surplus, and we should continue to pile debt upon debt upon debt. Well, I will be letting the business community know what his attitudes are. Sooner or later that debt has to be repaid, and repaid with interest. That interest that we are repaying on the debt is, I remind honourable members, to the tune of $0.5m a day and rising. Another figure is that 80% of our own source Territory revenue is interest on CLP debt.

      Therefore, if we look at the overall budget climate in which this decision was made, it starts to put the picture into some perspective. If we look at that net debt of $1.4bn - unfunded superannuation - those liabilities are going to be accruing over the next 10 to 15 years as the baby boomers move out of the public service. We are talking about $3bn of debt that we have to start structuring our fiscal accounts to actually meet the payments on. If we look at how we are compared with other states and territories in terms of this wonderful legacy bequeathed to the new Labor government from those fiscal magicians under previous CLP governments, that debt per capita is at $17 000 per head in the Northern Territory. The average of the other states is $5000, so we have over three times the per capita debt of other states and a population of 200 000 to service that level of debt.

      We have to take these things into context rather than these very simplistic statements that somehow we are going to magic-pudding some more money - we are going to magic-pudding $20m, $30m, whatever the number is - to continue to fund that. That money has to come from somewhere. It either has to come from, again, increased borrowings or it has to come from other areas of government accounts. The third option is to increase revenues in other areas. So we have not had explained where that money is going to come from.

      Point 2 of the motion is to put in place a system whereby the funding of this liability in future years can be met without recourse to further imposts on employers. Again, a very simplistic notion. We have received anything from many, many, millions from the member for Port Darwin - $150m, $600m over four years; pick a number, any number is a good number from the Leader of the Opposition; a windfall gain from that wonderful, magnanimous federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, who just loves Labor governments so much - particularly in the Northern Territory - he said: ‘Oh, it is so great to see you. We finally got rid of those cowboys in the Northern Territory and we want to see them out of government for many, many years so we are going to make it really simple for you, the new Labor government in the Northern Territory; we are just going to give you buckets of money. We are going to give you buckets of money; everything is going to be really rosy for the next three or four years. You are going to be looking really pretty because we never want to see the return of those cowboys in the Northern Territory, the CLP government, again. So we are just going to give you this windfall gain’. Absolute codswallop!

      The previous speaker and the Treasurer, on many occasions, has explained to this House that that additional funding was provided to the Northern Territory to pay for the increased costs of delivering services to the people of the Northern Territory. What those members opposite are saying regarding priorities, and I understand where they are coming from - this is politics; this whole motion is politics - what they are saying is that the Commonwealth provides the Northern Territory government money based on the rationale of increased costs to deliver services to the people in the Northern Territory; that we should be taking the money from that area of government expenditure and putting it into this HIH levy. What I would like to ask - and I am aware there are a couple of other members who are going to speak later on: regarding those services that we should not provide, can those members opposite explain which remote communities should we cut back some education services from; some health services from; some law and order from? Which particular communities? From Katherine, Tennant Creek, Ngukurr, Umbakumba over on Groote Eylandt, or Jabiru? Where should we not be spending this money to be able to cover this liability? That is what I would like other members in this debate to answer because that is what they are saying.

      They are saying that money has been given to us to cover the cost of those increased service provisions, not to provide more services or new services, but to cover the cost of increased delivery of services to those remote communities of the Northern Territory. I would like to know which communities in the Northern Territory, which services they believe that we should claw back that money from. If they cannot do that, then the credibility of this motion does not stack up.

      What this motion is all about is the Country Liberal Party finally coming to the realisation that they did lose the last election; going into a period of reflection, post-election analysis; understanding what sections of their support base they lost at the last election and trying to develop strategies to recover that lost ground of the support base. Being a conservative government - and a very conservative government at that - they have obviously looked to supposed traditional long-term friends in the business community and said: ‘Well, geez, we obviously have to start redeveloping our credentials amongst the business community’.

      I do not blame them. This is an easy mark politically for them to pick up on and they have come back from their Central Council meeting in Alice Springs - we always know when they have their Central Council meetings because they come back fired up, the party machine gets behind them. The party machine gets behind them and says: ‘Come on, get out there. There are a couple of issues that you need to get into’, and the HIH levy post the Central Council meeting in Alice Springs - out we come.

      But they do not have any credibility on this issue. If we go back to the legislation introduced into this parliament by the previous government, inheriting the HIH collapse - I will not go through all of the issues that my colleague the member for Nhulunbuy put on the table; but he is right, there was $3m. It was a loan to the nominal insurer, to be recovered from the business community by way of a levy, with interest.

      We went to the Northern Territory election with a very clear position. It was not counted by the CLP at that election. We went to that election with a very clear commitment and an election promise that we would grant to the nominal insurer $9m to pay for those liabilities post the election towards the end of the 2002 financial year. During the election, the CLP had an opportunity of placing its policies in front of the business community, to at least match that commitment. They did not. They stayed with their $3m loan. That was the policy position. It went to the Northern Territory election and they would have been coming into government with a mandate, had they won, to recover that $3m from the business community with interest and then to impose the rest of the liability on the business community.

      It is very easy from opposition to come in here now and say: ‘Oh, no, we would not have done that. That was not really what we were on about at all. That was all some sort of myth’. But after 10 months in government, and the responsibilities of government and the amount of thought that goes into the decision making process, that was a very clear decision in terms of priorities that the previous government made. They had an opportunity in the lead-up to the election to match the Labor Party’s commitment to fund that liability, and they did not. They had a policy position not to do that. That, in part, may have contributed to their lack of support among the business community. So to waltz in here seven or eight months after the election and say: ‘Oh, that was all a bit history and a bit of a mistake and we were not really going to do it’; you do not have the credibility to adopt that position.

      I will go to the member for Blain’s comments. I think he said that the government was playing silly games. I can assure the member for Blain that we are not playing silly games. We are absolutely committed to being a fiscally responsible government. We are absolutely committed to winding back years of CLP debt and coming into the next election having delivered a surplus - a small surplus, but a surplus at that - and we will be judged by the broader community on that performance. If we can return the budget to surplus - and I believe we will - what that means is there is less requirement for us to levy taxes and charges on Territorians, on the business community.

      One thing is absolutely certain: if we continued down the path that the Leader of the Opposition enunciated today - that a deficit reduction strategy was not needed, that a surplus budget was not needed, that what you had to do is keep spending at a rate of 10% growth and expenditure with only 5% matching growth in income - well that is a recipe for unmitigated disaster. We would see a flight of investment and capital out of the Territory because the business community would see the only way that the government could recover itself from that position would be to drastically raise taxes and charges or radically and recklessly cut back the public service and cut back expenditure. Members opposite really do have the proverbial leg over each side of the barbed wire fence on this.

      In terms of the silly games, I cannot finish my comments without talking about this. Since we are talking about silly games - this silly flier went out to the business community, because what this motion is all about is politics. It is all about the recovery of lost ground, in part with the business community, and it is all about ramping up the CLP’s supposed affinity with the business community. It was very misleading. Not a bad effort politically; we are all involved in politics and know that to get your message out there you have to do something a little different. It really is hard to get messages through to people. But the talk about this thing being a tax - it is not a tax. It is not money that is going back to consolidated revenue. It is money that is going to pay injured workers who are not at work because of an injury that they have sustained in the workplace. So it is not a tax. That is totally misleading. It is a very shoddy attempt at misleading the business community by using emotive words. Then, moving on, citing a $28m liability when the member for Blain himself acknowledged in debate that he was advised it was between $28m and $40m.

      Okay, this is a political exercise: ‘We will take the lowest number that suits our argument and go to $28m’. A political exercise; I understand what this is all about. They talk about the Labor government’s new tax in this flier but, in the same flier that goes out to the business community, the CLP considered it a levy. So it is a tax when the Labor Party does it but it is a levy when the CLP does it. Very clever! And you talk about silly games. Well, really!

      A member: It worked. It worked well.

      Mr HENDERSON: I accept that. I accept that this is all about politics. It is not about fiscal responsibility. It is not about making sure workers’ entitlements are met. It is not about what services you are not going to deliver if you are going to take the $70m extra from the Commonwealth this year. This is all about the CLP trying to regain ground in the business community. That is what this is all about and that is why it has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. We can see: they have come back from Central Council, where else do we have to go to build this broad church, this coalition of support that is going to lead the CLP back? Very strange bedfellows that the CLP are starting to find a new constituency over there.

      Yesterday, we had the absolutely amazing sight of the Leader of the Opposition all of a sudden becoming a greenie! He has probably got the Environment Centre’s application form on his desk where he says: ‘Oh, LNG plants at Wickham Point, that is very dangerous. We do not want that and you have to give an absolute cast iron guarantee’ - a cast iron guarantee he called for - ‘that there will be no other developments on Wickham Point’.

      I do not have the documents here, but I certainly remember them. When the whole of Wickham Point was zoned as an industrial zone when he was Chief Minister, we were going to have gas to liquid plants there; we were going to have urea fertiliser plants there, the whole place was going to be subsumed with industrial activity. Yet no, no, there is a bit of a pressure movement out there, you know the greens are getting a bit of traction on this, and all of a sudden: ‘Well we have got to be looking at some of those green preferences next time, so we are reconstructed greenies and you cannot do absolutely anything’.

      So we have the business, we have the green groups, and then we had the Leader of the Opposition talking about the unions, and quoting the CPSU as saying this and that about the government.

      Ms Carter: Is that the best you can do?

      Mr HENDERSON: The member for Port Darwin, Florence Nightingale, was saying the ANF is doing this, so we have another …

      Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member’s time has expired.

      Ms LAWRIE: Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I seek an extension of time for the member to finish his contribution to this debate.

      Leave granted.

      Mr HENDERSON: I will be very quick. Then last week there was …

      Dr Lim: There is not enough of them there! One, two, three, four, five. There is more on this side!

      Mr HENDERSON: They do not like it, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker.

      ‘We have the strategy for the business community, and we are going to wrap up the green preferences by siding with the Environment Centre on Wickham Point. We are going to get the unions locked up and we will be marching with them in May Day and getting involved with the unions’. They are going to get the dope smokers on board. It will be interesting to see their position on the bills that are coming before the parliament next week. That is the supposed youth vote and the dope smokers that they are going to be supporting tomorrow.

      Then I could not believe my ears when the Leader of the Opposition was saying: ‘We have now discovered the battlers. We have discovered the battlers and we are going to be developing policy in terms of the battlers and the strugglers in our community’. We can see exactly what this is about. This is all about repositioning the CLP in terms of the broad coalition and the broad church, trying to bring them back.

      Members interjecting.


      Mr HENDERSON: Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I say to Territorians and to the business community that this was a very, very hard decision for this government to take. It was not taken lightly, but we are mindful of our responsibilities to the community, to the taxpayers of the Northern Territory to start to pull back from the precipice of economic disaster, of fiscal disaster, that was bequeathed to us by CLP governments. It was acknowledged by the Under Treasurer when he advised the Treasurer that the budget that we inherited less than eight weeks after it was brought down in this parliament was absolutely unsustainable. That was reinforced by Percy Allan’s report. The fiscal strategy has received broad support and endorsement from the business community as being responsible. It is a very tough decision in that climate.

      For the members opposite to have any credibility in this debate in regard to this supposed windfall from that magnanimous federal Treasurer, Peter Costello - one of their mates who is throwing buckets of money at the Northern Territory because he is so pleased to see a Labor government in the Territory after 27 years of the CLP. He is so pleased to see us that he is going to give us buckets of money. I would like those members opposite to explain in the rest of this debate which particular communities this money is to pay the cost of increased service provision for …

      Mr Baldwin: No, it is not. It is discretionary money.

      Mr HENDERSON: No, no, no, no, no.

      Mr Baldwin: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

      Mr HENDERSON: This is discretionary money, from the member for Daly here. Discretionary …

      Mr Baldwin: Sit down and we will explain it to you.

      Mr HENDERSON: So here we have: we really believe it is the magnanimous Treasurer, Peter Costello, saying that: ‘Discretionary, this is not for any reason other than we love you. We love you, Labor government in the Northern Territory. We are so pleased to see you …

      Mr Baldwin: No, no, no. It is discretionary how you spend it.

      Mr HENDERSON: Discretionary; we are going to give you an extra $70m’. He knows that that is not right. He knows that we are funded under the Grants Commission formulae to pay for the increased costs of service delivery. To have any credibility with this motion, those members opposite have an absolute responsibility to explain to Territorians which services in which communities they will not deliver to pay for the words in this motion here today.

      Mr WOOD (Nelson): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I should say at the outset that I missed the member for Millner - oh, I cannot say that! I take that back.

      I will not be sitting on the fence, as someone mentioned to me yesterday; nor have I been to any Central Council meetings because I do not have one; and I do believe in politics. I thought I would grab the dictionary just to remind us what politics is about. It comes from the Latin and the Greek meaning pertaining to citizens or to the state. Sadly, politics sometimes gets mixed up with party politics, which can make things slightly different.

      This is about politics and, for sure, I am a politician. I have to listen to what people are saying, otherwise I would not be doing my job. Businesses are hurting. You just have to look at the present situation; and I should say I do not want to go back in to the past situation. The situation is as is. I was not here in the previous parliament. You can debate all you like about what the Labor Party promised. I have the list there from my last speech about what was said by both sides. If you ask me now, they seem to have both gone in opposite directions. That is the past. The present time is that we have businesses that are hurting. There have been cuts by the government - and I understand we are in debt and I am not going to debate that now. The government is quite within its rights to reduce spending if it believes we are in debt.

      Those cuts have especially hurt small businesses. When I talk to contractors, instead of having so much work in a 12 month period, they have less work in the same period which means that they have had to put people off. And yes, that is one of the effects if you are going to try and save money, but it has hurt.

      Of course, we have had other matters that have hurt small business. I go back to what I said in the discussion on this levy earlier this year. We have had extra charges for public liability, for property insurance, for workers compensation. We have had the budget development levy, and now we have increases in local government rates. Now, if you add on the HIH levy it might be, in some cases, the nail in the coffin.

      My point is that it is not so much the amount. I mentioned that in one case in a place where I used to work, it would probably mount up to about $160 per year. It is just that the impression that small business is getting is they are being slugged with another tax. That is something the government needs to take into consideration. It is a tax I feel that the government could pay. The reason I say that is because on the same day we had the debate, I asked the Chief Minister about how much money we got from the government, and I quote from Hansard:
        The total Commonwealth grants for next year are expected to rise by $137m and that takes us
        from $1.733bn this year to $1.87bn next year. The increase in the general revenue assistance,
        and that is in the $137m, in part reflects CPI, population and other estimates.
      And it goes on to say:
        The remaining $74m reflects the application of those latest Commonwealth grant relativities.
      My impression is that we do have more money than we had; we have increased funding from the Commonwealth and the bill, if you call it that, we are trying to cover, if you want to take it to $40m, does not have to be paid off in one year. It has to be paid off over a period of time, and that is what the plan is using this levy on businesses.

      Why, for instance, would one expect that our revenue is going to decrease so greatly that we will not continue to receive similar funding? The Territory, I gather, is the second fastest growing state or territory in Australia. When you spread that load over 10 years, surely it is not a big thing to ask government to absorb it, especially when they have these extra funds.

      I will keep it simple. I feel the government can afford to pay it. I do not think it will make a big difference to their debt because they have increased funding. The question was put: ‘Will you take this from certain communities?’ I have just heard word today that the Grants Commission has cut municipal funds quite considerably, and that money has gone to communities. I will be asking - because this has nothing to do with this debate - what has happened to municipal funding because in my case, Litchfield Shire, I will certainly be investigating if money has been cut. Already, the Commonwealth has reduced funding under Roads to Recovery; it has delayed some of the payments it was expected to make. I will be asking, for instance, why money from municipal councils has been cut and diverted to communities. There are a few questions on that area I would like to look into more fully.

      Ms Scrymgour: Maybe to balance some of the inequity.

      Mr WOOD: Ah, yes. I will take that debate up when it comes.

      In closing, I simply say there is money available. Small business is hurting. At this time you need to be sending signals out to make businesses feel that the government is supporting them. All right, times are tough, but we will at least try to remove one burden that in some cases may put people over the edge and put them out of business. If people go to Humpty Doo Shopping Centre at the moment, I think they will find four empty shops. There might be other reasons for them closing down, but there is an impression that things are tough. There are no more shops being built in the Humpty Doo District Centre at the moment. It is a very quiet economic climate, so do not send a signal out saying: ‘We have to hit you with another levy’. Absorb it and I think you will send the right message to business and maybe give them a bit of heart.

      Mr BALDWIN (Daly): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I fully concur, obviously, with the motion, but also with what the member for Nelson has just had to say. It is about the last nail in the coffin; it could be construed that this tax that is being placed on employers could be the last straw for some small businesses.

      Mr Henderson: You called it a levy.

      Mr BALDWIN: Look up the dictionary. The minister for business interjecting here - look up the dictionary and tell me what the difference is between a levy and a tax. Either way you look at it, this is an impost on business. There is no doubt about that. An extra amount out of a businessman’s pocket is an impost. That is what we are talking about here and that is what this motion goes to today. We have had a lot of talk in here on this matter, not only today but in the last sittings. We all should know the history of it by now. I will start with what the minister for business had to say, a pretty limp-wristed, wimpy contribution to this debate.

      Ms Carney: And that is the polite version.

      Mr BALDWIN: Yes, that it is polite version. His main thrust in this debate was that we were playing politics and, yes, we are. I confess we are playing politics. Politics for politicians is about looking after your constituency. That is what politics is about and that is what we do on this side of the House. That is what we do; we look after our constituency, one sector of which is the business community. If that is playing politics, I confess because that is what we are about.

      We will support business, and if that is politics we will do it. We will do it in the climate of a minus 21% confidence level in this government - that is the environment. The minister for business talked about the environment. Let us get this into context. The context is there is no confidence in the government as to what they are doing. Here is an opportunity for them to show that they are listening to what business is saying.

      ‘It is tough out there,’ the minister for business said. Well, listen to them and help them alleviate the pressure that is on them. It will not be a cost burden to the taxpayer any more than what they have contributed in this financial year, the $9m - and I will go back to that a bit later. But the minister for business also made very gratuitous remarks about the federal Treasurer handing over all this extra money. We have heard the answer as it was given by the Chief Minister to the member for Nelson. If he had any brains whatsoever and any experience in these matters, this minister for business would know that the federal Treasurer has nothing to do with handing over these amounts of money under the new tax arrangements with the states. It is actually a formula that is derived by the Grants Commission that is automatically handed on under the tax arrangements. Therefore, any talk of gratuitous payments by the federal Treasurer is just a lot of nonsense. When it comes in to your bucket, though, and lands in your bank account it is - what? Discretionary! Discretionary monies. The government can decide how they will spend it. So, do not talk to us about these fixed amounts of money.

      As the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Blain, the shadow minister responsible for this motion, have clearly articulated today, this is all about affordability. We have heard the arguments about affordability and how there is money available to pay the costs of this outstanding liability. We have had all sorts of figures thrown around. My understanding is the nominal insurer says that it is approximately $30m at this time. When we had our briefing, it was around about $28.5m. Whatever it is, around about that figure, it does not really matter.

      The fact of the matter is that the government will be providing monies additional to the levy on the public service. They will be providing money additional to the $6m grant and the $3m that was converted to a grant in this financial year because they have to make up the shortfall. So, if you can afford to loan the nominal insurer $5m in the current financial year, then why can’t you afford to pay the whole levy? The difference is about $2m for the next financial year.

      The briefing that we had indicated that in the next financial year, the nominal insurer expects to raise in the order of $2m out of the levy because of the way the premium notices fall, but the outgoings in the next financial year are estimated to be in the order of $7m. Obviously the shortfall is the $5m that government is going to pay, as a loan, to the nominal insurer. That is cash going from the government’s coffers into the nominal insurer’s coffers of around about $5m.

      So where does that come from? It comes from revenue. It comes from the discretionary monies that government has available to it. If they can afford the $5m that is going to be paid back at the end of the whole liability payout, then why can’t they afford the $7m total outgoing? Of course they can. It is logical. It is logical for me, anyway, but I do not think it is logical to the government.

      The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, this is going to be paid out in – they have said 11 to 13 years, but by estimates it could be anything down as low as seven or so years. That is the payout, but then, of course, you have to pay back whatever government has loaned to the nominal insurer, and that will increase the payout time, of course.

      This motion makes provisions in the 2002-03 Appropriation Bill for sufficient funds to meet the forecast cost of the workers compensation liability arising from the collapse, and there is no doubt that that can be afforded by this government. The business sector certainly cannot afford it. We have heard all the arguments about that. Some years ago, the average workers compensation bill, as a premium of wages, was around about 1.8%. The average now for employers, according to the flier that has been circulated by the government, is around about 2.9%, so nearly 3% of wages. They are the cost increases that have naturally occurred prior to HIH coming along, and now this government wants to slug them a further 4% on top of those increases. They just cannot tolerate that in the current environment.

      The government, in their nice new glossy Building a Better Territory

      Mr Burke: Plagiarised document.

      Mr BALDWIN: … plagiarised document, under the heading of Regional Development - our vision: increase prosperity and improved lifestyle in regional communities blah, blah, blah, blah. Strategic Approach - one of their priority actions: ‘… ensure government, legislative and regulatory requirements do not
      impose unnecessary costs or administrative burdens on business’.

      Here we have a new glossy document, launched not so long ago speaking out of that side of their mouth. At the same time, on the other side of their mouth they are saying: ‘But you, business, have to wear this extra tax’. What a lot of nonsense. There is no way that the business community believes them as to this not being affordable for government. There is no way that the government cannot afford to pay the total amount of the outgoings which are somewhere in the order of $7m a year for this next financial year, perhaps $7m the following year, down to $6m, down to $5m after that and perhaps $5m after that, a total of around about $30m. If you cannot handle that type of payment then you have your priorities wrong because you are certainly not supporting business and you will not build any more confidence.

      I would not be surprised to see business confidence in the community go down below minus 21%, if that is at all possible. Perhaps it will hit the big 30, I do not know. But certainly there is money to pay it. We have heard of the extra $137m. There is no need to create this further impost on business. Here is an opportunity for the government, the Treasurer, the Deputy Chief Minister, to show some support for this, to show that they are willing, as the Deputy Chief Minister said in March in a radio interview with Fred McCue:
        … that, you know, we’re an open government, Fred. I mean, this decision hasn’t been made, but it’s pending.

      Well, here is a time where you can show the business community that you really mean what you say. Here is a time now to show them that you will support them in their time of need, you will not hit them with any unnecessary extra costs - as per your nice, glossy, plagiarised document - and that you will take this burden off them, as they have done in the ACT. Nobody from the government talks about the ACT when they go on radio. Nobody talks about the ACT and what they did when they go on public air waves. They only talk about Western Australia and Tasmania. They say: ‘Western Australia and Tasmania did this, so we have to do it too’. What a load of nonsense!

      The ACT contributed $30m in to their liability to take the pressure off business. That is all that is being asked here. It can be spread - as we have shown and as the member for Nelson has said - over a number of years as the liability account comes in from those injured workers - $7m reducing every year more than likely, so that it is affordable. There is no doubt on this side of the House that this motion should be supported. It would be nice to see the government provide some confidence back into the business community by supporting this motion.

      Mr MILLS (Blain): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, the motion was placed squarely on the table for us to discuss. I would like to report that it was a lively debate. Comments articulated by members opposite, sadly, indicate they have no will to find a way of supporting business at this time. There has been no new message offered; there has been a re-running of tired old lines. I suggest to the government that they are not tracking very well on this, and I am sure small business will be taking what they have heard in this Chamber today to heart.

      The comments from the minister demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of even the mechanics of the operation of this. The fact that the so-called loan is going to be paid back by small business was not addressed. What was clearly demonstrated was a lack of will, a lack of ability or desire to understand, and to demonstrate some kind of understanding that would send a message. I honestly believe that the position we are placed in is one that were they not locked into a script and were they able to think, they would support us. It appears that they are making a grave error in not providing that support. The fact is it is very possible. To construct arguments as they have been reinforced - in fact, if you listened carefully and weigh it up, there have been a few points that have been reiterated, and I give them credit for that - they are able to keep coming out with the same perception and the same spin on things.

      However, there are some serious faults with the perceptions they are endeavouring to raise and sustain. One is: ‘Oh, let us try the line that if we have to help business, then we are going to be closing a school down’. That is rot, absolute rot! The fact of the matter is the money that has been given is not some great gift from the Treasurer; it is actually deposited in the account, signed off by the Treasurer, granted, but there is no attachment or connection to it. It is lodged in your account and it is for you to use your discretion on how you would like to implement those funds here in this community. Raising arguments such as which clinic, which school, where will you find the money – I will tell you where you will find the money, and I will explain that in a minute quite clearly. The money is there and it can be paid; it is not a huge amount.

      The issue is nothing to do with closing anything down. They are just emotive arguments to get themselves off the hook, and it is not going to succeed. I do not believe the community will swallow that, let alone small business. They are hurting, without a doubt.

      I will give you an example. One small business operator I spoke to yesterday told me: ‘The fact is I have to work for two whole days just to pay all the taxes that I have in my business. Then the next two days I have to work for the wages of those whom I employ. The last day is the day that I work to pay for the maintenance and the operation of my business. At the end of that day, I may end up with a small amount in my pocket, but those four days are spent servicing the small business operation, just the costs of it’.

      I am not apportioning blame here and saying it is your fault or it is someone else’s fault. That is the fact. They have that weight to bear. The nail in the coffin to which the member for Nelson referred is exactly that. Put that last little bit on and, in the words of this small business operator: ‘What is the point of this? Why do we get kicked and hit every time there seems to be a need?’ There is tax upon tax, weight upon weight falling upon these small business operators and it does not take too long before they start thinking: ‘What is the point of this? I can make more money by doing nothing, closing down, laying off employees’.

      A very telling point that he raised was that the cost of the MVR levy on his own operation, plus the cost of this 4% equals the wage of one apprentice. So there is no way that he could even consider taking on an apprentice because of the weight of these two levies or taxes on his business. He has no will or desire to do it, and no ability to do it.

      Since this debate commenced, we have clarification that the liability is in the realm of $30m. A big play was being made of the fact that I used the $40m. The $40m being put on the table was an endeavour to demonstrate that it is possible, even in the worse case scenario from the point of view of government, not as a retraction. It was a matter of demonstrating that it clearly is possible. But it is now more in the realm of $30m, plus or minus $1m or $2m. It becomes even more possible if you consider the scenario that I outlined before. With a liability of $30m, in five years it would be covered.

      Ms Lawrie: Where would you cut? Health? Education?

      Mr MILLS: If you can find it in the five years, just continue on for the next five years and do not bother small business because if you do not understand small business, you will make strange comments such as that.

      If you absorb it in the five years - and you can absorb it in the next five - I will tell you something that will happen. The magic pudding was mentioned here. I will tell you what we have with small business: if you give them confidence, if you give them a sign of support, they will perform for you and they will make up the difference. It will be injected into our economy. You will have apprentices taken on, you will have the extra employee taken on. That is where the extra comes from.

      You have to think outside the square and relax a little bit and understand that there are effects from supporting small business - positive effects. So it will come back. But I am telling you that if you can cover it in five years, you can cover it in the next five years, and if you don’t bother small business they will return it back to you.

      I would urge members opposite to stand in support of this motion. The mechanisms stay in place; you have confidence in the future, you know you have a confidence, you know there is going to be an upsurge in the economy, you espouse that position; your rhetoric echoes that. If you have confidence in the economy, if you have confidence in the future, you would be able to stand up and support this motion. You would have the mechanism in place. Let us say things turned down a bit. Then the mechanism is there and you can impose your levy if you have to, but at this point in time, you do not have to do it. In fact, you cannot afford not to do it. You have to take it off business at this point in time.

      If you have that understanding, if you have that will, you will certainly stand on our side. I tell you what: I would take no credit for it. In fact, I reckon business would be out there applauding you and it would be a disservice to us politically. But I prefer for that to occur for business and have you take the credit for it and have business support you and perhaps have their confidence levels pick up in this government for the sake of your support.

      Madam SPEAKER: The question is that the motion be agreed to.

      The Assembly divided:

      Ayes 11 Noes 13

      Mr Baldwin Mrs Aagaard
      Mr Burke Mr Ah Kit
      Ms Carney Mr Bonson
      Ms Carter Dr Burns
      Mr Dunham Mr Henderson
      Mr Elferink Mr Kiely
      Dr Lim Ms Lawrie
      Mr Maley Mr McAdam
      Mr Mills Ms Martin
      Mr Reed Ms Scrymgour
      Mr Wood Mr Stirling
      Dr Toyne
      Mr Vatskalis

      Motion negatived.
      Public Liability Insurance

      Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, I move:
        That this House, noting the hurt being inflicted on community organisations, sporting clubs and not-for-profit organisations by the continuing rise in public liability insurance and that Territory businesses are continuing to suffer hard times due to increasing costs and taxes, calls on the government to:
          1. refund any stamp duty not-for-profit organisations have had to pay to the Territory government
          on their insurance premiums relating to public liability insurance since 1 July 2001;

          2. urgently amend the Stamp Duty Act or its regulations to exempt not-for-profit organisations from
          having to pay such stamp duty from 1 July 2002;

          3. refund that proportion of stamp duty relating to any increase in public liability insurance premiums
          that Territory businesses have had to pay to the Territory government since 1 July 2001; and

          4. place a cap on the amount of stamp duty imposed on Territory businesses for their public liability
          insurance premiums where the risk insured has not materially changed so that only that proportion
          of the premium in place before 1 July 2001 attracts stamp duty.

      The crisis relating to insurance has become one of the constants of the news diet in 2002. The availability of insurance, the cost of insurance, the cost of insurance claims, dominate the news in ways no one would ever have expected just 12 months ago. How to address this crisis is something taxing all governments and efforts are being made to produce national solutions. We recognise that the government is heavily engaged in that search for solutions and we look forward to examining the package of changes that undoubtedly the government will eventually bring forward to this place.

      This motion is not about the whole crisis, but rather an area that we can do something about now, where this parliament can help Territorians face this crisis, where we can relieve some of the burden being placed on Territory businesses and on community groups; a relief that is desperately needed. We all know horrific stories about public liability insurance, about public functions being placed in jeopardy because the community group sponsoring the event either cannot obtain public liability insurance or cannot afford it, or about businesses that are receiving bills for their public liability insurance that have increased by enormous amounts.

      The public forums on the issue of public liability insurance in Darwin and Alice Springs earlier this year reported on the difficulties facing both business and not-for-profit organisations in obtaining public liability insurance. A wide range of businesses and sporting, community and charitable organisations reported that their present insurer was no longer prepared to offer indemnity protection for public liability risks. Alarmingly, the report on those public forums said that a number of organisations indicated that they may have to cease operations in the near future because of the lack of either available or affordable insurance.

      One company’s activities has been severely curtailed because they cannot even obtain public liability insurance for that aspect of their business. A consultant’s report to the First National Summit on Insurance in March this year estimated that the cost of public liability insurance was increasing by more than 30% this year. They attribute less than half of this increase to the events of 11 September, and they predict that premiums will continue to rise. To quote the report:
        It is clear that the average premium rate increase in the current year is very steep, and that the insurance
        industry is expecting further increases next year.

      The report goes on that evidence indicates that premium increases of 20% are routine, 100% are not uncommon, and increases of 500% and 1000% have occurred. Such increases are coupled with a reduced number of insurers and the readiness of insurers to offer public liability insurance to certain categories or, rather, the reluctance of insurers to offer cover.

      In the Territory, a recent survey by the Chamber of Commerce suggested that 75% of businesses have had their premiums increased. Of these, 80% reported increases of more than 50%. Territory insurance brokers and underwriters indicated further increases of around 20% could be expected for the next renewal period. The Trowbridge Consulting report to the March summit says that affordability and availability problems are widespread, particularly so in the areas of community events, sporting events, tourism and leisure operations, the retail industry and local non-government community groups that operate under the umbrella of local government. They stress that the availability of insurance is more likely to relate to the exorbitant new cost rather than it not being available at all.

      This is an area where we can begin to make some impact now, and I freely admit that this motion is seeking a beginning. If we can lower the price of public liability insurance for community groups by 9% then we may have made it affordable so that some of their activities and functions will be able to be carried on. If you exempt these groups from the 10% stamp duty on their premiums, you are automatically cutting their insurance cost by at least 9%. It may not be enough to cover the increases they are facing in their premiums, but it will be a help.

      This is not a Territory phenomenon. Just this weekend, there were reports of golf clubs closing interstate because they were either unable to get public liability insurance or afford the premiums they are being charged. The debate earlier this month in the New South Wales parliament cited example after example of the problems public liability insurance was causing. There were reports of gymnastic clubs being forced to close because of the big hikes in their premiums. In other sports, players’ fees have jumped by 50% in an attempt to meet the cost of public liability insurance. Resorts and clubs have withdrawn services like pony rides because they cannot afford to meet the cost of this insurance and the situation is being echoed here in the Northern Territory. In New South Wales, skating rinks are closing; even swimming clubs are facing a bleak future. You have to ask: where are the Thorpes of tomorrow going to come from? These examples are being repeated across the country and the Territory is certainly not exempt.

      The Chief Minister acknowledged the extent of the problem in March when she said the government was well aware that issues surrounding public liability insurance were causing considerable concern within the community and threatened the very future of certain events and businesses. There is nothing unique about this problem, nor is this immediate action for which we are calling a unique response.

      A month ago, the Premier of Tasmania announced that his government was abolishing state stamp duty on public liability insurance premiums. On 16 May, the ACT Chief Minister introduced measures that would exempt amateur sporting and community bodies from the stamp duty on their public liability policies. Earlier this month, the New South Wales government cut its stamp duty on insurance in half, from 10% to 5%.

      The public forums held by the government earlier this year also identified that cutting or a reduction in stamp duty would make a contribution towards affordable public liability insurance. That, really, is what this motion is calling for. The government can and should exempt community organisations from having to pay the stamp duty altogether.

      I acknowledge that the previous government did not do this, but the world has changed dramatically since we had the opportunity to do so. I would stress that this motion is not a criticism of the present government. They are facing problems with insurance that none of us could have predicted 12 months ago. This motion is a genuine effort to put forward a proposal that government could immediately take up, which would be of significant help not only to community organisations, sporting bodies and charities, but also to Territory businesses.

      The proposal is simple enough. In the first case, make all not-for-profit organisations exempt from stamp duty on public liability insurance premiums. I mean all those organisations that are set up for religious, educational, charitable or benevolent purpose; that promote or encourage literature, science or the arts; that look after or provide medical treatment or attention for people who need care because of a physical or mental disability or condition; that provide sport, recreation or amusement; that conserve resources or protect the natural environment from harm; that preserve the historical and cultural heritage; or that protect or promote the common interest of the community generally, or of a section of that community. Such groups should no longer pay stamp duty and, as an added bonus, whatever they have paid since the insurance crises took hold - or at least since 1 July 2001 - should be refunded to them.

      The second part of the proposal is to ease the burden on Territory businesses. We should draw the line at 1 July 2001 and say enough is enough. Only that proportion of the insurance premium that Territory business was paying before 1 July 2001 will attract the 10% stamp duty provided that the risk being covered has not changed. In other words, if the premium was $10 000 before 1 July 2001, then stamp duty paid to the Territory government would have been $1000. Since 1 July, if the premium has increased to $20 000, then the stamp duty remains capped at $1000. If they have paid excess stamp duty already, then it should be refunded or at least used to offset the stamp duty payable on future renewals of their policy.

      This will, of course, have an impact on Territory government revenues, but I do not believe that impact is anywhere near as significant as the relief these measures will bring to community organisations and Territory businesses. Some $10m was raised by stamp duty on general insurance in 2000-01, and these measures affect only a part of that revenue. Also, I would suggest that the enormous increase in premiums in public liability insurance that we are seeing and hearing about, particularly in the past 12 months, has meant an unexpected windfall for the Territory’s coffers. That windfall comes on top of the windfall the government has received from federal government funds. We have the word of the Chief Minister in the NT News that there is at least $70m of that windfall this government is trying to work out how to use.

      The opposition has made a number of suggestions and, whilst the government scoffs at all of those suggestions saying we would have spent all of that money and more already, the reality is the government has adopted none of them and, therefore, has not been obliged by any of those suggestions to date. This move, then, is another suggestion, but it would take only a small fraction of that federal windfall in Territory government revenues.

      We have talked a lot in this Chamber during the early stages of the Ninth Legislative Assembly about the hurt and suffering the business community is experiencing. The opposition has, several times now, gone out into the community to ask about what is actually happening. We came back here and tried to convince the government that there was a better way to deal with the crisis in workers compensation caused by the HIH collapse. We tried to tell the government that the last thing business needs right now is more taxes and more charges on their operations. We pointed out that they were already going to fund the shortfall caused by the HIH collapse if the government did not take up our option over the next four or five years. We pleaded with them not to make business pay for what government has already committed funds to. But of course, to no avail. We tried to tell them of the pitfalls and the unfairness of their tax on vehicles, again another increase in the taxes imposed on business - again, to no avail.

      This was their black hole tax. They saw it not so much as a revenue raiser but rather as a public relations exercise to remind Territorians, by way of a financial penalty, that their fictional black hole really exists. Their attitude was: we will make Territorians pay until they believe us. This is a tax that will raise $24m over four years. In the same time, this government will spend something like $10bn. $24m is a drop in the bucket for the government, but $90 per year per vehicle is a burden on ordinary taxpayers and on businesses already struggling with the downturn. $24m shrinks even further when you realise that the government has already acknowledged that in the same period they will receive almost $600m extra from the federal government, and that is $600m they were not expecting.

      Madam Speaker, in that context, can you understand why the government would not immediately move to alleviate some of the burden of insurance payments at a cost of only a few million dollars a year? Two weeks ago, we were told by the NT News that the Cabinet was meeting at Bonrook and facing a dilemma on how to use the unexpected extra $70m recommended by the federal Grants Commission. Well, this is a way to spend a few million of that unexpected windfall.

      It will be money well spent because it may mean a sporting group will not have to increase its fees so much that parents and kids can no longer afford to participate. It may mean a community group can continue to operate and provide services that we have taken for granted for so long. It may mean a pony club or horse riding school continues to offer our kids the opportunity to ride a horse. It may mean that a business can continue to operate, or that it can contain the price of its goods and services. It may mean all these things because it is a simple thing we can do now that will have an impact in the midst of this public liability insurance crisis. It does not preclude at all any other measures that the government will have to take. It is not a substitute for them, nor is it in any way a full solution. It is simply something that we can do now that will help Territorians. It is simply a matter of exempting all not-for-profit organisations, charities, sporting clubs, community groups, from having to pay an extra 10% tax to the Territory government on their public liability insurance. It is simply a matter of cutting the stamp duty Territory businesses have to pay on their public liability insurance.

      That is what we are urging upon the government in this motion. We are pleading with them to offer some help now to besieged community groups and Territory businesses that are at grave risk of drowning under the extra costs, taxes and charges they have had to endure. It is something the government can do now. It does not require the full package or the national decisions. I urge all members to support the motion.

      Ms MARTIN (Chief Minister): Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss motions that deal with public liability because it is an important issue. I certainly recognise the words and the intent of the Opposition Leader in moving this motion, but it is not as simple as the Opposition Leader would like to make it.

      Even though there is some sense in his speech that he recognises the complexity of the issues, to simply pluck an idea out of the air and say: ‘This will work and make a difference’ is not the way to go about it.

      It would have been more impressive from the Leader of the Opposition if he had come in here after seeking briefings on the national meetings. There have been two national meetings: the insurance ministers met in March in Canberra; then met again at the end of May. A lot of detail was gone through at both those meetings. There were something like 36 discussion papers put to that second meeting in Melbourne. A lot of complex work was done to test the ideas that had emerged about whether they would work. When you are dealing with insurance and the cyclical nature of the industry and the whole range of issues that underpin the increase in public liability premiums, I would have thought that if the Opposition Leader was genuinely interested - rather than playing politics on this issue - then he would have sought briefings on both those meetings. I can assure him that if he had sought briefings, they would have been given very readily and they would have been given in a lot of detail because this is not an issue that we are trying to hug to ourselves; it is an important issue for the community.

      When you look as the impact, as the Opposition Leader said, on everything from riding schools to adventure tourism operations to the local school having a fete or an Anzac Day march and the implications for those, it is an important issue for our community - not just for the Territory but for the nation. Having attended those meetings, one appreciates that it is an important issue for every state and every territory.

      It disappoints me deeply that the opposition has not asked for any briefings on this. We would have been enthusiastic to provide briefings. In that context, to come in here and say: ‘We have some solutions here; you follow these’ is very hollow and looks insincere. To me, it smells more about playing politics than actually introducing good, effective policy that is going to make a difference to the public liability premiums market.

      I find the motion from the opposition and the words of the Opposition Leader a little difficult to believe because a really strong attempt to put in place good measures would have been preceded by seeking briefings. It does disappoint me that not one member of the opposition has asked for a briefing on this. A lot of work has been done on this issue and is continuing to be done. We have accumulated a lot of information from those national meetings. I have been in discussion with business, with community organisations, in the media, but never once, other than the political rhetoric that I have heard from the Opposition Leader, has there been a request for a briefing. It disappoints me that, when we could be having a debate on this issue, we are dealing with items that have been put up in an ad hoc way and are not contributing effectively to the issues facing us.

      This government, as I have indicated, is well aware of the concerns in the community - right across non-government, the not-for-profit sector, the community sector, the small business sector - of the impact that higher premiums are having on all sectors. However, we want to ensure that the solutions really work for Territorians, just as every other state is engaged in making sure solutions work for their particular state or territory.

      To have gimmicks or window dressing that achieves nothing is not worth it. It is a simplistic approach. An understanding of the complexities of the insurance market would mean that you would not come out with a solution that is not going to be effective. As I have said constantly on this issue, it would be great to think that there is one thing you could do that would push premiums down. But it is not that easy. It might be frustrating, it might be difficult politically, but there is no one easy answer to the issue of public liability.

      Those meaningful and effective solutions are not easy as evidenced by the time it is taking all jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth and the larger states, to come up with solutions. Anything that has been put in place so far is just chipping away at the problems we face. There is no one easy answer. We also have to make sure that in the relatively small insurance market we have in the Territory, solutions are appropriate and affordable not only for the community but also for government. That is one of the issues that we do face in the Territory: we are a small market; we are less than 1% of the insurance market in Australia.

      The motion from the opposition calls for a range of refunds, exemptions, and caps to stamp duty on insurance. They are certainly some of the things that have been raised at the meetings attended by myself as the minister for insurance and by the Deputy Chief Minister, and form part of the range of issues that are now being dealt with by government, either through the work of Treasury or through the budget process. That is, quite properly, where this should be dealt with. We are currently working through the budget submissions; we are looking at the budget for the next financial year and future years through forward estimates and, quite properly, that is where those issues are to be canvassed.

      Again, I say to the opposition, if you were serious about this, you would have come for a briefing to understand what we are pursuing, but you have not, so how serious are you in bringing this motion before us today? Unlike the opposition, the government needs to consider all the impacts of its budgetary circumstances rather than picking up one or two items in isolation and running with them now as we are seeing the opposition do.

      I will go to each of the items in turn. The first one is a refund of stamp duty payable by not-for-profit organisations since July 2001. With under two weeks left to the end of the financial year, most organisations meeting this criteria would have already paid their stamp duty on public liability. Refunding that money now will make very little difference to their operations for the year, especially as the time taken to process refunds, even with the best efforts of our dedicated Treasury staff, would not be complete until after the end of the financial year. The calculation of refunds would have to be done by the insurance companies, as they calculated the amount of stamp duty payable in the first place. I believe the opposition is being hypocritical in claiming the current government is getting a windfall from insurance taxes.

      When the opposition was in government, it felt quite justified in raising insurance taxes by 37.5% from 1 July 2000. At the same time, all organisations were being asked to pay GST of 10% on insurance premiums for the first time. Therefore, the opposition aided and abetted the government tax impost, both Territory and federal, on insurance rise from 8% to 21%, increasing the tax take by more than two-and-a-half times at the stroke of a pen. Did we see them stand in here and say: ‘Oh, this is too dreadful’? Not at all. Doing a Territory …

      Mr Burke: Well, change it. Change it back. You are the government.

      Ms MARTIN: Not at all. So there is a level of hypocrisy. You were so convinced that this should happen and so wedded to the GST that you would not reconsider what was being done. I do not believe that the opposition has a leg to stand on when they are talking about rising insurance taxes and their impact on the community, because you put them in place.

      The second one was exempt not-for-profit organisations from stamp duty on public liability insurance from July 2002. As I said earlier, the proper place for long-term tax proposals is in the budget process, and let me assure you they are there. However, while the amount of revenue is approximately $200 000, the opposition has not consulted at all with the insurance industry - not at all - as to what the impact would be on the administrative costs for the insurance industry. If that is not the case and you have consulted, let me know, but I do not believe that consultation has taken place.

      Mr Burke: What is the cost? How much is it?

      Ms MARTIN: I just said $200 000.

      Mr Burke: $200 000. So it is too low?

      Ms MARTIN: But listen! The Leader of the Opposition has come in here with a motion to urgently amend the Stamp Duty Act or its regulations to exempt not-for-profit organisations from having to pay such stamp duty from 1 July, and had no idea of how much money he was talking about - absolutely no idea. You had no idea whether it was $50, $200 000 or $2m. No idea at all, and not a word of consultation with the insurance industry. What Mickey Mouse motions are you putting up here? No idea.

      Given that it is the insurance companies that collect the stamp duty and pay it to government, they would have to have administrative systems in place to distinguish between not-for-profits and all other organisations, and to separate out the public liability component from other insurance taken up by each organisation as part of an insurance package.

      Our discussions have been continuing, and since this motion was flagged yesterday we have talked to the insurance industry. Yet the opposition has not been able to talk to them yet. Difficulties with the phones, have you? Difficulties? Our discussions with the industry indicate that the administrative burden placed on them would be costly - not prohibitive, but would be costly. There is no indication in the Opposition Leader’s speech of any of that detail; just throwing up a line and saying: ‘Oh, this is a great idea’. No idea of the cost of it, no idea of the impact on the insurance industry, but thrown into a motion in this House.

      Discussions with the insurance industry indicate that administration of this would be costly and would be recouped - and you can guess it - by higher premiums, particularly in the short term. That does not mean we are not doing the detailed work on it. However, this simplistic motion put in here without any understanding of the detail confirms that what the opposition is doing today is political; it is not about long-term policy, and it is not about really making a difference.

      Not only then does the sector we would be trying to assist by such a measure potentially face higher premiums, but administrative costs are likely to be recouped from other sectors as well. Therefore, an initial assessment of what you are putting up shows there are a lot of difficulties with it. It does not mean that we are not pursuing it; but there are a lot of difficulties. So your simplistic notion that we can just do this: ‘Just do it, government, it is so easy. Just do it, government, because we do not know how much it might cost in terms of revenue - have no idea. We do not know what the impact on the industry might be; we have no idea whether in fact an initiative like this might lead to higher premiums. But we think it is a good idea, so we are bunging it on a motion on General Business Day because we think there is good politics in it. We think there is some kind of politics in it’. Talk about simplistic, and talk about hypocrisy! You have not sought a briefing.

      Mr Burke: I went to have briefings long before you went to your first meeting.

      Ms MARTIN: I pick up on the Opposition Leader’s point. There is no indication in the speech you gave to this parliament that you had any briefing at all. In terms of the work that is being done …

      Mr Burke: What? Are you calling me a liar now?

      Ms MARTIN: through the insurance, ministers and the heads of Treasury, you have asked for no briefing at all. None at all.

      Mr Burke: I do not need briefings from your own people absolutely. I will get those briefings when I need them. There are people interstate, you know, who can brief on these things.

      Ms MARTIN: Which people interstate? Which state have you gone to to get the briefings that are relevant?

      Mr Stirling: Are you looking for a transfer to Victoria?

      Ms MARTIN: Yes, the Victorians would not give you a briefing without …

      Mr Burke: You go to the people who are doing some work on these things and some action, rather than those who are sitting on their hands.

      Madam SPEAKER: Order! Back to the debate.

      Ms MARTIN: It needs careful consideration before implementing measures where the overall impact has the strong potential to increase the cost of insurance rather than lower it. I do not know where the Opposition Leader is sourcing his briefings, but are you sure it is to do with insurance? Are you sure it is to do with insurance because it does not make very good sense as we stand here.

      The third point is to refund that proportion of the stamp duty to business that resulted from increased public liability insurance premiums since July 2001. The same arguments apply as for the refund proposed for the not-for-profits. The calculation of any refund would be even more complex, as it only relates to the extra stamp duty related to the increase in premiums, not a refundable stamp duty on public liability as it is in the case for not-for-profits. The calculation would again rely on insurance companies. Their administrative costs would only be passed on to policy holders in yet further increases in premiums.

      The fourth point is to cap future stamp duty premiums for public liability for business where the risk has not materially changed to levels prior to July 2001. As I said earlier, the proper place for long-term tax proposals is in the budget process. These will be properly looked at and properly calculated because they are part of the overall package that we are looking it and …

      Mr Burke: So you will do it? You are going to do it, you just want to call it your own. Okay, I have the message.

      Ms MARTIN: No. I think the Opposition Leader should understand that these proposals need to be looked at very carefully. I am not saying that there is some element of sense, but if they have just been thrown down on a notice paper without any discussion arising from the wisdom that has been gained from those insurance ministers meetings - no discussion with the insurance industry, and these are complex areas.

      This fourth proposal, the cap, is another administratively complex area. The insurance industry - again, it shows that you have not consulted with them - has been critical of the difficulty that this would create for them. Each insurance company would have to determine whether the change in premiums reflected the underlying increase in insurance premiums across the board, or whether the risk profile of each particular firm had changed. Then they would have to put systems in place which would calculate the amount of stamp duty based on either a rate - if that was still applicable - or a flat, historical amount according to some flag they had built into their data base. ‘How are new businesses treated?’, you could ask. They would face a higher stamp duty cost compared to their competitors because they have no history prior to 2001 on which to draw. Similar arguments would apply to firms that, for whatever reason, sought to change insurance companies. They would have no prior history with that insurance company which would allow it to peg the stamp duty payable at a particular level.

      Let me make it very clear: we are looking at a range of measures. These have been carefully worked up through national discussions and work that is currently taking place within the Territory bureaucracy. But these proposals are not part of whole package. They are ill-conceived and, by and large, just on the surface of it they look impractical. What the opposition is proposing is an attempted quick fix that will do nothing to address the underlying increase in insurance premiums. Indeed, their measures, if implemented, could mean that insurance costs rise for Territorians rather than reduce. How ridiculous to see initiatives put in place that would add to the cost of insurance premiums rather than tackling them.

      What is needed, and what this government is doing, is addressing the underlying causes of the rise in insurance premiums in cooperation with the other states and territory and including the Commonwealth. That offers the best hope for stabilising premiums over the longer term. Measures such as tort law reform, changes to the Trade Practices Act, grouping arrangements for not-for-profits in conjunction with Queensland, implementing pre-court mediation, defining the concept of negligence and its application, are much more likely to impact on premiums over the longer term. It is also worthwhile remembering that overall, the Territory government’s imposts on insurance policies are far lower than a number of other states and territories except for the ACT and Queensland. For the opposition’s information, I can table the difference in those premiums. When you look at the impact on insurance premiums from stamp duty rates and emergency services levies, we are certainly at a very low level, as I said, except for the ACT and Queensland. I table that chart.

      New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania all impose their emergency services levies on insurance policies, including public liability, meaning that the state government tax impost on insurance ranges from 36% to 44% - way above the 10% level imposed by the Territory. A significant difference: 36% to 44%; the Territory is 10%. The Territory does not impose emergency service levies at all. Queensland and South Australia raise emergency services levies as a separate charge on land owners. Territory taxes on insurance are therefore lower than most other jurisdictions. While aware of the short-term cost pressures on the whole community, including business, the community is going to be best served by restoring integrity to the Territory’s finances. When we restore the budget to surplus then we will have greater scope to reduce taxes across the board.

      The opposition’s legacy of ever-widening budget deficits and of escalating debt while in government has to be brought under control. The Territory can simply no longer afford that kind of undisciplined financial management and the incurring of debt - and we have seen that, Madam Speaker. When they were in government, we saw the ad hoc way that the deficit blew out each year. Again, we have a demonstration in here of: ‘Let us just do all these things and hang the cost’. Just do all these things, is the opposition message today, and hang the cost.

      This government is putting in place measures, but, like in every other part of the country, they are not simple ones and they need to be put in place effectively. We have seen, on an initial calculation of the measures proposed by the opposition, the potential for increased premiums: it could mean that the cost to implement the measures would be that the insurance companies would have to charge higher premiums to cover the cost of administration.

      I am not dismissing the fact that this is an issue of great importance and, to a certain extent, I welcome it being raised by the opposition on the General Business Day of the parliament. But …

      Mr Burke: Someone has to raise it.

      Ms MARTIN: I constantly talk about it. The Opposition Leader said: ‘Somebody has to raise it’. This is an issue I talk about constantly. The work is being done. I talk with the business community and community organisations about their concerns. The work is being done appropriately. Again I say to the opposition: have a briefing.

      Mr Burke: You were not elected to talk; you were elected to act; to make decisions.

      Ms MARTIN: Make decisions? Make decisions that cause premiums to rise? Cause premiums to rise, I say to the Opposition Leader, Madam Speaker. How ridiculous! I do not stand in here pompously, as the Opposition Leader did in Question Time, and yell across the House and point fingers and act in an arrogant way. If you had looked from our side of the House, that is exactly what you did today. It is just appalling.

      For all those reasons that I have outlined, the current motion is inadequate. I therefore move to amend the motion in the following terms. I move that all words after ‘that’ be omitted and insert in their stead the following:
        This parliament supports the comprehensive package of reform measures announced by the government to
        tackle rising public liability costs in the Territory including:

        1. important legal reforms, tort law reforms legislated to cap thresholds for general damages and
        placing caps on loss of future earning capacity; discount rate for loss of earning damages to be set
        at 5%; prohibit claims arising from criminal activity and taking into account recreational drug use
        including alcohol in compensation payouts; place limits on circumstances and amount of damages
        allocated to family carers; introduction of compulsory conferencing or mediation prior to the
        commencement of court proceedings;
          2. additional measures to minimise the impact on organisations including legislation to exempt
          volunteers from any threat of public liability action; legislation to implement solutions for structured
          settlements; limits on legal advertising; joining with the Queensland Grouping Scheme from 1 September
          2002 to provide assistance for not-for-profit and community groups delivering economies of scale, more
          effective risk assessment and claims management;

          3. includes Territory government support for a range of national measures including ACCC monitoring of
          insurance market and premiums; examination of law of negligence; changes to the Trade Practices Act
          to allow for self-assumption of risk; greater collection and reporting of data from insurance companies;
          and benchmarking claims against world standards by December 2002.

        I believe that the way that this government is going about tackling the important issue of public liability increases in premiums is far more effective and deserves the support of this parliament.

        Mr MALEY (Goyder): Madam Speaker, I rise to place on the record my support for the motion as it stood without amendment, as articulated by the member for Brennan. We just heard some comments from the Chief Minister and all I can say is what a cop out! All we heard was it was it is too hard; other states might be chipping away, but at this stage we are just going to sit back and consider all the options.

        Need I remind honourable members of this parliament that it was, in fact, the Northern Territory which introduced legislation leading Australia such as the Motor Accidents Compensation Act. Any suggestion that this jurisdiction is too small and the economies of scale are such that it is impossible to implement a reform package which would lessen the impact which the rise in insurance premiums is having on not-for-profit organisations in business is really fanciful. The number of claims per 100 00 people is exactly the same as other jurisdictions. In fact, we probably have a larger working base of people. We have a ratio of people who are working and currently employed that is very high. In fact, the Northern Territory is ideally situated to make a few decisions and changes and genuinely help these people.

        We heard the Chief Minister harping on about briefings. This seems to go to the very heart of the problem of the Labor government. They want to sit around and talk about it. They do not want to do anything. It might be one thing for a mob of wealthy champagne leftie socialists who sit down over coffee and discuss these issues, but they cannot make a decision. They cannot make a decision. It is all about getting on with the job.

        Members interjecting.

        Ms Martin: Hands up who is a leftie socialist! Come on.

        Mr Stirling: Did you write this, Jodeen?

        Mr Vatskalis: And red sometimes, too.

        Madam SPEAKER: Order!

        Mr MALEY: These leftie socialists want to come here and say: ‘It is all too hard; let us talk to the insurance industry before we do anything. Let us ignore the community groups who we are trying to help here and say it is all too hard’. Well, let us see what mums and dads in the community of the Northern Territory say to that response, and I am glad that that has been recorded in the Hansard forever.

        The next point the Chief Minister raised was equally nonsensical and non-logical, the comment that it is only about $200 000 which would be saved here. To the champagne leftie socialists on the other side $200 000 may not be much, but it is a lot of money to non-profit community groups. Really, to dismiss the proposition on the basis that it is all too hard is really completely unacceptable. Their colleagues down south are already implementing reforms, and full credit to people like Bob Carr for at least having a go and chipping away at the coalface: at least they are doing something. If it is all too hard, perhaps it might be a good idea if we - according to Labor government logic and I do not support it - just blindly follow their lead. Well, the buck stops with the Territory government. They are the ones who should be leading; they are the ones who should be making a few decisions. If it is too hard, if their response is: ‘Oh, get a briefing’ because that will explain some of the hand-holding, left-wing socialist ideas that they have brought back from these junkets, then that is not an acceptable response.

        If the only response is: ‘There is a potential here to increase premiums; we have spoken to the insurance group’, and paying absolutely no regard to the effect the increase and the costs are having on non-profit organisations; and: ‘It might increase premiums, that is why we are not going to do it’, that is also unacceptable as an excuse to the mums and dads and the community groups.

        We talk about briefings. Well, if the Chief Minister wants to come along and say in a very broad brush way - in her words - that there is a strong potential to increase insurance premiums, perhaps the government with its resources could have made the inquiry and found out one way or the other. If it is going to increase premiums, well and good: you can place that evidence on the table and allow members to consider it. But no, no, it is too hard, let us just be rude and do what you do when you are that way inclined and not consider the issue and have a talkfest. It is a complex area, there is absolutely no doubt about that, but that is not an excuse to do absolutely nothing.

        Then the Chief Minister, in her response to the member for Brennan’s motion, in a repetitive way, returned to this call for briefings. It seems that these briefings are having no effect because the government is doing absolutely nothing.

        It is a truism that many hands make light work, and we all acknowledge the incredible generosity of our Territory community-based organisations. They are collective gifts to our society through their personal time and effort. Their expertise and commitment in fundraising are so immense that I know our way of life in the Territory would not be the way it is today if it were not for that enormous contribution. We all know of cases where their survival is seriously under threat and damage by the impact of escalating insurance costs. There is absolutely no doubt - there might be some complex issues to consider, and that is granted – that the proposition is that we must fix the problem. We must grapple with the insurance difficulty until solutions emerge. It may mean going back to square one, and I urge support for the setting up of – I am touching upon something which we are going to deal with later on - some sort of select committee to do just that.

        We may need to legislate to remove the need for insurance in some circumstances; to indemnify good Samaritans in our community against personal exposure to risk. It might also be necessary to set financial caps on payouts; certainly we need to restore the concept that if people do things to the best of their ability in good faith and conscience and something goes wrong, then they should not have to worry about an aggrieved party trying to sue the pants off them and crippling them with the associated legal costs and the burden of going to court.

        These things will take nutting out. It will take time to talk them through with the community and to have feedback on possible solutions. There are quite genuine solutions which will address the problem, but you cannot keep talking; you have to do something. To use what the Chief Minister said: ‘Other states are just chipping away’ - well, if the other states are chipping away and making a difference, if you keep chipping away you will eventually make a difference. Adopting that logic of our champagne socialist leftie brothers and sisters on the other side, then we should at least do something.

        In the meantime, our community groups are under the hammer, and we must make every effort to minimise their financial costs of securing insurance the best we can. We can help today, if we choose, simply by abolishing stamp duty on premiums. In the scheme of things, the stamp duty expenditure is not a major ticket item. However, as I said, many small costs eventually mount up and become a burden on these not-for-profit organisations and business. Exempting community groups completely from stamp duty is only a small step, but it shows these wonderful people who provide such a great service that this parliament does care, that we really do value their contribution and commitment, and that we will find ways and means of sorting out a dilemma not of their making, but one which they are well and truly caught up in.

        The motion includes a cap on the stamp duty imposed on Territory business. There is absolutely no doubt that the running of business is not easy. For example, it is not easy if I want to employ a young solicitor and pay him $60 000. I have to pay the government, the partner in employment, about $22 000. For a young solicitor to get $38 000 in the hand, the government gets $22 000. Every single burden adds up. We have untold levies and taxes - albeit a different terminology, but the money goes into the same account. These are all expenses business has to bear, and it does have an effect on their capacity to operate, make a profit, and keep people gainfully employed.

        As I said, the input into businesses all add up. Services can become slightly more unaffordable, consumer demand then falls of and production and activity then decrease and that has an impact on jobs. So it concerns and worries me that we have a Chief Minister who says it is too hard: ‘Let us have a briefing, let us have a talk about it. Let us have another Economic Development Summit and receive some recommendations and then just put them off’.

        It is not about just passing the buck; it is not about waiting to see what their southern bosses do to tell them which way to go. It is about having a go for the people who live up here and are not just of the ilk of the lefties on the other side; people who genuinely enjoy the lifestyle in the Northern Territory.

        Madam Speaker, for those reasons I endorse unconditionally and absolutely the motion as put by the member for Brennan.

        Mr STIRLING (Employment, Education and Training): Madam Speaker, one thing in common, I guess, with all members, is that we love the Territory. That is why we are here. But you have to be realistic about where the Territory stands in relation to the greater scheme of things, particularly national questions. The member for Goyder would have us believe that the Insurance Council of Australia waits with bated breath for the Northern Territory government to take action on what it might do in this area so that it will be made clear and, of course, all of the premiums will be fixed, they will all be reduced because the Northern Territory government has acted.

        Well, that is not quite the truth. We are less than 1% of the total market in Australia. I am not arguing here for a reason to do nothing because it is not the truth that we are not doing anything. The fact is it is what New South Wales and Victoria do - because it in New South Wales and Victoria where most people live and it is in New South Wales where these claims have been blown out of proportion and court decisions have cost so much money in recent years. It is not the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Tasmania, ACT or South Australia. It is led primarily by New South Wales and, to a lesser extent, growing in Victoria. It is very much the case in terms of a national impact on what premiums will be charged in the future, and what occurs in New South Wales and Victoria that will lead the way. That is no excuse - and I am not offering that as an excuse for us to do nothing because it is simply not the truth that we are not doing anything at all. The Chief Minister and Treasurer has made that clear.

        It is an interesting position that the member for Goyder adopts because, on the one hand he says you have to be there; we are the centre of the universe and what we do is going to affect everything. On the other, it is quite clear that the opposition has not even bothered to debate this or consult anybody in the picture with this, least of all insurance companies or people affected by it. One of the things I learned very early in this place is if you want to bring something into this Assembly on behalf of anybody, you would have the decency to talk to them first. You would get their views; put it to them and ask: ‘Do you think this will work? What difference would it make, if any? Is it worth pursuing? What does it actually mean?’

        No consultation at all with anyone but trapeze in here …

        Ms Martin: That is a good word.

        Mr STIRLING: … and the other interesting position - it is one of Stoney’s; it used to kill me every time - trapeze in here with this idea that we took off the whiteboard yesterday morning: ‘Let us try this’. But the other interesting position is brought in by the Leader of the Opposition because we heard very clearly in relation to HIH and workers compensation this morning the answer to that - the answer to all of the problems about HIH - was for government to spend. Government had to pick up the whole lot itself; not just the $9m that has already gone in there, not the $800 000 or $900 000 that we are going to put on in the future, but the whole lot: the whole $28m to $40m, whatever outstanding figure finally rests.

        We went through that this morning; I do not intend to revisit it. No one can put a figure on it. You do not understand how these things flow through; how they ebb and flow over time with the little peaks in the graph. That is why you should have a briefing; you should take Treasury advice so you might understand these things.

        This morning we had the spend, spend, spend approach to deal with HIH levy and this afternoon, it is refund stamp duty, amend the Stamp Duty Act, refund that proportion of the stamp duty rate, place a cap on the amount of stamp duty. In four parts of this motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, he has gone from spend, spend, spend this morning to eroding the revenue base, the tax base, this afternoon. You have to give it all out, but you also have to cut all of your taxes at the same time.

        This is how our predecessors finished up with a $126m deficit in one financial year. They would have you believe that you can, on the one hand, pick up all the liability on behalf of business by the government and, on the other, cut taxes, reduce and erode your revenue base. God knows what the deficit would be if we were to follow their advice on this one day.

        I was pleased to represent the Treasurer at the most recent ministerial conference on public liability on 30 May in Melbourne. I do not often pay tribute to representatives of politics on the other side of the fence, but I must pay tribute to one Senator Helen Coonan for not just the way that she chaired this meeting of ministers - she was the only woman in that room; she was the only conservative politician in that room - but her understanding, her depth of knowledge of these matters is simply breathtaking. She listened attentively throughout all of the presentations by APRA, by the Insurance Council of Australia, by Trowbridge Consulting - the consulting company working with the Commonwealth and with every jurisdiction in relation to these matters. She had such a solid understanding of every one of the issues that was brought before the table in the ministers’ round table discussion, and summed up most succinctly before the cameras. The thing that impressed me is if you go to a press conference – we are all used to doing it up here; you have a couple of cameras, you have a couple of reporters and maybe six or seven people - in Melbourne there were 43. There were 43 members of the media pack. She went before the cameras and in five minutes succinctly summed up exactly where the conference had arrived on the strength of the day’s proceedings, and she was supported in that by the New South Wales Treasurer, Michael Egan, and, indeed, the Victorian Treasurer.

        It is not the case that we are sitting on our hands doing nothing. You cannot have people believe that what action we could or might take will have any effect on the premiums charged at the global and national level. We have to play our part, and we will. We will work cooperatively with the other jurisdictions. The real reforms to come comprise quite a comprehensive package, as the Chief Minister detailed in her amendment to this motion.

        They are the tort law reforms; that is the legislation that will cut thresholds for general damages and place caps on loss of future earnings capacity, because it is in these areas that the courts have been awarding enormous damages. The insurance companies have to look at how they are going to cover that and, of course, up go the premiums. The discount rate for loss of earnings damages to be set at 5%. If you look at that against discount rate in our system: for worker’s comp it is 3%; for MACA, 6%. Prohibit claims arising from criminal activity and taking into account recreational drug use including alcohol in compensation payouts. Now, I do not know how many of those cases feature but, clearly, they should be knocked out and it all goes toward helping reduce the payout levels. Place limits on circumstances and amount of damages allocated to family carers. That is something that does not exist either in MACA or workers compensation at the moment. That is the way it should be, and that is the way it should be with public liability.

        There will be additional measures to minimise the impact on organisations, including legislation to exempt volunteers from threat of public liability action; legislation to implement solutions for structured settlements so that you can facilitate that process; possible limits on legal advertising; and in relation to the non-profits, which is a fairly major part of the Leader of the Opposition’s motion, joining with the Queensland Grouping Scheme. Terry Mackenroth was very forthcoming at that conference. Good fellow, Terry, from Queensland, and most accommodating in their offer for the Northern Territory to look very closely at going into the Queensland Grouping Scheme from 1 September to provide assistance for not-for-profit and community groups, delivering economies of scale - something we simply could not do on our own with our own size of market - and, of course, more effective risk assessment and claims management.

        This includes Territory government support for a range of national measures including the ACCC monitoring of insurance market and premiums, and we all know how comprehensively one Professor Fels takes to a task of this type of magnitude and nature, and we are sure that the ACCC will watch very closely.

        There is the examination of the law of negligence and whether there should be changes there. There are changes to the Trade Practices Act which have been facilitated through the efforts - and I pay tribute again to one Senator Helen Coonan. She is a great person to have charge of this within the federal government because she has pull, and if she wants to get one of these legislative measures up with urgency in the federal parliament, I will bet she does. I bet she will achieve it where many, of course, simply would not have the strength to pull the government agenda around to get these things up with the urgency they require. It is areas like the Trade Practices Act - unless they are amended along the way, we would simply be stitching up one hole in one area and allowing people to pursue another avenue through the Trade Practices Act, and we would find the same problem.

        Changes to the Trade Practices Act allow for self-assumption of risk, greater collection and reporting of data from insurance companies, and benchmarking those claims against world standards by December 2002.

        It is not true to say that this government sits on its hands and does nothing. The action is there. We will continue to work closely with the other jurisdictions and the Commonwealth because there does have to be a comprehensive form of measures to address this.

        Again, we have the interesting juxtaposition from the member for Goyder who came in and said this is a complex area. Yet he stands and supports a simplistic solution so he has had a bit each way. Also, of course, the Leader of the Opposition says spend, spend, spend this morning, and this afternoon erode, erode; cut, cut, cut your revenue base. We well know what happened with his bottomless pit theory of economics. He has not learnt from 31 August, and here we are getting on towards 12 months. We would hope at some stage that he would learn a little bit about economics, and the best place to start to inform yourself a bit better of these things is to go out and consult with the affected parties on any move that you want to bring in here. The second thing is to take advantage of the offer and avail yourself of a briefing from time to time on these matters and you might be better informed.

        Madam Speaker, I support the motion as amended by the Chief Minister.

        Ms CARNEY (Araluen): Madam Speaker, I will not spend any time at all commenting on the contribution from the member for Nhulunbuy. It was less colourful than usual, but in accordance with his usual practice, barren in substance. All he did was say that everyone in Australia is a good bloke or, in the case of Senator Coonan, a good woman; everyone is fantastic. Well, with the greatest respect to the member for Nhulunbuy, Territorians expect much better than that, indeed.

        This government it is not performing. The contribution of the Chief Minister was appalling and there are causes for great concern. You can see there is a pattern emerging of the Chief Minister and her colleagues coming into this parliament saying: ‘Get a briefing, get a briefing’. They are a pack of cockatoos on that side. I have always known that was the case and it came through loud and clear this evening in the Chief Minister’s contribution.

        It is a real concern because this lot on the other side, these lovers of democracy, have the audacity to come in here, as the Chief Minister has, and are essentially saying: ‘This is not a debate because you have not had a briefing’. What a sad day. ‘Get a briefing, get a briefing’. You cannot have a fair dinkum debate in this Chamber because we have not had one. I am appalled, and I think Territorians will be similarly appalled. I do not mind conceding that I know some people – indeed some of my friends voted for their personal reasons for this pack of turkeys. Don’t you think that I will not go home and tell them that these lovers of democracy - great democrats that they are, hypocrites that they have now become - would essentially throw away any prospect we have of debating on the basis that we have not had a briefing. How very extraordinary!

        The other interesting comment made by the Chief Minister was that she was talking about this issue. She has been: she has been talking and talking and talking some more. Again, not good enough. Territorians expect much better than that. This is a government which, inside 10 months, is known by the following traits: it is a government that sacks public servants, has higher taxes than any Territory government has had in the past, presides over, by its own admission, all the hospitals in the Northern Territory that are in crisis - are a war zone, says the Minister for Central Australia – and there are no answers in relation to juvenile crime. The Minister for Central Australia came out a couple of weeks ago and essentially said: ‘Um, er, well, we will talk about it’. It is a government that has a hallmark of presiding over something - for instance, the tourism industry. It says to everybody: ‘Oh, we care about this industry’. What does it do? It cuts the resources of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission.

        Get your head around this conflict that you must surely be wrestling with in your party room. I would love to be a fly on the wall because of some of their newer and enthusiastic - moronic though they are – members; you would have thought that they would have the guts and the wit to question some of their seniors. Of course, on this side of the House, the member for Goyder and I are often lectured by the Chief Minister who puts on her little voice and says: ‘Well, you two are not responsible, but this is what the CLP has done over 27 years’. We can boomerang that one straight back because the newer members on the other side, I would have thought, have a responsibility to not only represent their constituents, but to make some contribution other than ‘Yes, sir; no, sir’ inside their party room.

        Whilst I am dealing with the Chief Minister’s contribution, it struck me as something of an Academy Award performance: the tones denoting that she cares and that she is doing something. You will be judged on your performance, and Territorians see that the whiteboard has nothing on it. You have no runs on the board and you constantly, in parrot fashion, come in here and say you are talking about it. You had 27 years to get your head around what might happen one day if you would get into government. I thought that they might hit the ground running. Ten months on, they are bereft of any ideas, not to mention intellect.

        However, having dealt with the Chief Minister’s contribution, I turn now to the motion prior to its amendment; that is, the motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. He did not resile from the fact that this is a complex area. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this is a complex area.

        Ms Martin: This is your worst contribution ever, Jodeen. It is just dreadful! We actually thought you were better than this. That is a very poor contribution.

        Mr BURKE: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I am trying to hear the contribution from the member. Could you ask the other members to quieten down?

        Madam SPEAKER: Yes, there are a number of interruptions and interjections. I would also really like to hear the member for Araluen.

        Ms Martin: Jodeen, I am shocked.

        Madam SPEAKER: Order from the government side, I think.

        Ms CARNEY: The Leader of the Opposition said that this motion was a beginning and, on behalf of Territorians, we want government to do something, hence the motion. It is eminently sensible. The suggestions are intelligent, sensible, innovative, but above all, necessary. This motion, I thought, prior to the contribution from members of the other side, would test them. Well, it certainly has because, at the end of it, in patronising tones they say: ‘No, no, no. You do not know what you are talking about, and besides you should have a briefing’.

        The government is tested because months and months after this insurance crisis, it has not done anything. You would have thought that the crisis that we are all involved in would drive any government to come up with solutions to address the difficulties that both businesses and sporting, community and charitable organisations are having. Alas, nothing from this government. Talk, talk, talk; that is all there is. There are a variety of organisations that are now in a position where they are seriously considering their future. I have two community groups in my electorate that have been thrown into a degree of crisis as a result of this insurance problem, and we all know these groups - they are in all of our electorates. These are the people we serve, so this is not new stuff; these are the organisations that survive on raffles, on sponsorship. But, in my view, of course sponsorships are drying up as a direct result of this government’s attitude towards business; that is, high taxes, high cost without any support from the government. Businesses are now unable to provide the sponsorship to these community and sporting organisations that they once did.

        Therefore, at a time when business confidence is at an all time low, essentially because business has been cast adrift by this government, the mums and dads of these community groups have nowhere to turn. They ask, quite reasonably, quite properly: ‘What can our government do for us?’ We want government - they all do - to do something. It is a good question and one that should be answered. Quite frankly, for the Chief Minister to come in to this Chamber and say that they are talking about it does not wash. They are an intelligent electorate, they know that governments around the country are doing all sorts of things. Indeed, the Labor Party’s colleagues in three jurisdictions have done what we are suggesting by addressing the stamp duty issue. This government says: ‘Oh no, no, no; we are different’. You are different all right; you are more stupid than the rest of them put together.

        I have made a mistake, Madam Speaker - the only thing this government has done is to provide a hot line. Well, yippee! A hot line. That is good. Mums and dads in their sporting and community groups are really happy with that. They are sick of being told that the government will do something. They do not want this government to just talk and talk, and have talkfests with their colleagues interstate; they actually want results. Community groups and other sporting organisations want this government, regardless of how they voted on 18 August, to get some runs up on the board. The idea of offering an exemption from stamp duty for these groups is a do-able proposition. It is not hard; all it takes is a decision from this government and we are urging government to make that decision.

        This government, like any government, has the honour and privilege of being in a position to make decisions for those whom they govern. I would have thought that is the reason why all of us entered politics; we wanted to get in here and make a difference. Well, the opposition says for god’s sake, get on with it before the very fibre of the community that you say you are so close to deteriorates before your very eyes. I can say, Madam Speaker, as you presumably know, that prior to politics in my capacity as a lawyer, I acted pro bono or free of charge for a number of community groups. I was honorary solicitor to many of them. Indeed, over the years I have been a member of community groups. I do know first hand the problems they face, particularly when it comes to funding. So I speak with some degree of experience and confidence in this area.

        The problem is real; it cannot be understated. Equally, the simplicity of one of the answers - and we do not put it any higher than that - should not be understated. To exempt these groups from stamp duty is eminently sensible. It is incumbent on government to take action and by god, we want it to do so. The decision is easy. Whilst it is not the whole answer, it is something and we urge government to get on with it.

        In terms of what can be done for the business community, again we in the opposition proffer a solution: refund or at least offset stamp duty payable on the future renewals of the policies. There has been an unexpected windfall for the Territory government. It has, at the same time, taxed business like never before. The government has more money at its disposal that it could ever have imagined, so there can never be any doubt that it is able to do something. I do not know why it is that they have elected not to. When I was wracking my brain - really trying to think: ‘Why is it that this government is not doing anything?’ - I thought about the very serious allegations that were made in the Chamber yesterday by the Leader of Government Business when he suggested that there was some pork-barrelling prior to the last election with the use of the Community Benefit Fund. The penny dropped. Apart from rejecting those outrageous allegations, it made me think that the reason this government is not spending a bean while the fibre of Territory society falls down around its ears is because in three years time, on its wafer thin margin it will spend, spend, spend.

        Ten bucks says in three years time we will see the member for Nhulunbuy saying: ‘Spend, spend, spend!!’ It will spend like no government has ever spent before. It will spend on a scale that has never been seen by a Territory government. This government will pork barrel in a way that, for my money, will be unprecedented in Australian politics. Don’t you think I won’t be sending copies of this Hansard to the people in my electorate.

        Members interjecting.

        Madam SPEAKER: Order!

        Ms CARNEY: The only way that this government can possibly dismiss this suggestion is to relinquish some of its windfall, get the money out of the money box and get on with assisting Territory business; get on with agreeing to refund any stamp duty they have paid to government since July 2001. It is not a difficult concept. Your collective intellect is obviously very low, but I would have thought, nevertheless, that you would be able to get yourself together and say: ‘That is a good idea. Let us do that’. Alas, Madam Speaker, they do not. They just do not.

        Members interjecting.

        Madam SPEAKER: Government members, order!

        Ms MARTIN: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I thought more of the member for Araluen, that she would actually contribute to the debate not just attack the government, criticise us and call us names. I had higher hopes for her. As a new woman in the parliament, I certainly did.

        Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Chief Minister, would you resume your seat? You know that is not a point of order. Could we have fewer interruptions from the government side.

        Ms CARNEY: It is always very interesting to see when the buttons are being pressed. Look at them! They have all come in. It is like feeding the chooks: in they come! Yell and the member for Nhulunbuy goes red. That bloke over there gets more crazy than usual, and off they go!

        Mr WOOD: A point of order there, Madam Speaker! I am sorry, but the member for Araluen is denigrating chooks.

        Ms CARNEY: I unconditionally withdraw.

        Madam SPEAKER: Member for Araluen, I do have a comment: would you make your remarks relevant to the motion.

        Ms Scrymgour: That’s right, to what she is supposed to be talking about. Imbeciles!

        Ms CARNEY: I do not know what they eat over there, but …

        Dr LIM: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I think that the member for Arafura should withdraw.

        Ms SCRYMGOUR: I withdraw.

        Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

        Ms CARNEY: They are a predictable government. It is like having a control panel over here. Press this one and the member for Nhulunbuy will go up and get all funny; press that one and the other mob will get up.

        Madam SPEAKER: Member for Araluen, I reiterate to you: please make your remarks relevant to the motion. We have allowed you a lot of latitude but it is getting on.

        Ms CARNEY: Madam Speaker, the fact of the matter is that this is a sound motion proposed by the opposition. The democrats on the other side take the parliament seriously, so they would have us believe. We take the parliament very seriously and we think that apart from scrutinising government legislation, we have a duty to jump up and down when we think government should be doing something.

        We take our responsibility of representing our electorates very seriously indeed. When I have community and sporting organisations in my electorate who are staring down the barrel, I will come into this Chamber without hesitation and support motions - sensible, intelligent, innovative motions – proposed by the Opposition Leader. Quite frankly, I am appalled and amazed that the government fails to support it. Parts of the insurance dilemma are complex; we do not resile from that. However, the motion put by the member for Brennan is, as I have said, eminently sensible.

        It will be a test for this government as to how it addresses the crisis. For my money, I hope it has the wit, quite frankly, to make the right decision. On behalf of my constituents I do rather hope that the Chief Minister and her colleagues will stop talking and get on to produce something.

        Mr WOOD (Nelson): Madam Speaker, I am not sure how I should be described after listening to the member Goyder; whether I should be the centre left or right, iced coffee swilling member of the community.

        I would like to say something reasonably serious on this matter. I am not going to vote on either the opposition’s nor the government’s motion - not because I want to sit on the fence, but because some of the issues that are raised, from my point of view, require more in-depth analysis of costs, and that applies on both sides. I feel that this whole issue of public liability requires a ministerial statement so there could be a real, long debate on a lot of these issues.

        I decided to say a few words on some of the matters that the opposition has raised. I do have sympathy for what they are trying to do and I certainly would support the second point; that is something that could be done without any great difficulty. On points one and three, I would like to see some more in-depth analysis.

        Referring back to point two, the government should address a similar issue that concerns me and that relates to non-profit organisations that work on council land. I know from my time on Litchfield Shire Council that all council reserves have a public liability policy. Take, for instance, the Fred’s Pass Show, which has just been run quite successfully. It concerns me that all people who operate at the show are required to pay a public liability amount. So, not only are insurance companies getting a fee for public liability from Litchfield Shire Council for all the reserves it funds, you are having groups who are using those reserves also having to pay public liability. As Fred’s Pass Show is an annual event, I would be pushing to say that it is therefore a special event. It is not as though we have all of a sudden decided to run a one-off bungy jumping competition or a cattle stampede, or something like you see in Spain where it would not be the norm for that particular reserve. If we are going to look at this issue, we should at least be looking at whether some of these non-profit organisations are being hit for public liability insurance when they should be exempt, because the council is paying that already.

        On the issue of placing a cap on the amount of stamp duty imposed, point four; again, I am not sure exactly how that would work. Perhaps the government should look at - if it wanted to at least reduce some of the imposts on non-profit organisations - either having a flat rate of stamp duty or take a percentage overall off the stamp duty applied to public liability insurance; or perhaps even all insurance that is subject to stamp duty that non-profit bodies have to pay.

        There are some other things that should be looked at. I do have sympathy for what the opposition is calling for. I feel at the moment that there is not enough information, even from the government’s amendment, to say that I support or I do not support some of these things. Whilst I agree that it is good to have a go, I think it would be wise - more wise for me - to at least say: ‘What are the ramifications of these changes, either financially or practically?’ The intent is good, but in this case I would feel much better if I knew what the ramifications of each point of the motion and the amendments would be before I agreed either way.

        Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): In closing debate, Madam Speaker, I thank those members who contributed positively to the debate for their contribution, including the member for Nelson. Certainly his comments that he supports part, if not all of the motion but, as I understand it, with further explanation he may be persuaded to support the whole of the motion. In that regard, I apologise for not giving you, member for Nelson, further information prior to coming into this Chamber.

        I pick up a couple of things. One is that it is a great pity, unfortunately, that this debate has degenerated to becoming a political slanging match. The reality is that it was introduced with good intent; there are real issues that I believe need addressing now. The issue of how you can do anything to alleviate the overall cost of premiums is a real one and the initiatives that I am proposing here have been included in initiatives that are already being proposed in other states.

        The Deputy Chief Minister, in his contribution, made the point that the Northern Territory is too small to do anything. The first comment I make about it is this: we introduced our own Motor Accident Compensation Scheme in the Northern Territory when no other state was prepared to introduce the scheme designed the way we decided to design it. It was designed particularly for Territorians, and for our own insurance company. I recall from the latest annual report of the TIO that the MACA scheme has earned about $10m profit. Therefore, a scheme which, on the face of it, would be risky, expensive - and at the time it was introduced criticised as unworkable - is probably the most profitable part of TIO operations. It is a scheme which is not only warmly received by Territorians, but also a scheme that has been picked up by every jurisdiction nationally.

        The fact that we are a small jurisdiction in itself does not preclude us from doing anything. In fact, I believe it argues for the fact that we should continually search for how we can tailor programs and policies to suit our own particular needs. He reinforced that point by saying that - reflecting on his experience down south at the meeting he attended - in fact this public liability issue is really the cause of New South Wales - that is the largest state that is bringing forward these problems that are being visited on other states and territories - and to a lesser extent by Victoria. We are being caught up in the wave. We are only 1% and we are being caught up in the wave. Surely that is the reason why you sit down and say: ‘We do not want to be caught up in the wave. We are only 1% of this problem and we are not going to sit there and cop the other 99% of the problem visited on us when we do not have any direct responsibility for it’. In that regard, I believe the Deputy Chief Minister was precisely underpinning the reasons why we should look to initiatives particularly designed for the Northern Territory. We should, continually, at least look at those initiatives in a positive way rather than, frankly, the way the government so dismissively treated the initiatives that I have proposed.

        The government has moved an amendment to my motion and, in speaking to that amendment, in the first instance, I said that what was being proposed in my motion was certainly not a solution. I acknowledged in my debate that the problems facing public liability insurance are complex. I acknowledged that to deal with the whole solution is difficult. I acknowledged the fact that work is being done nationally and the part the Northern Territory is playing in that. I was simply saying that there are initiatives that we can take that are not the whole solution, but can provide some relief now. That is why I proposed the initiatives.

        The Chief Minister, in moving her amendment, has moved an amendment which essentially lays down what will be the main thrust, I imagine, of the initiatives that the government is working on at the moment and, in full or in part, will bring forward in the future.

        I note in those issues, though, that there is nothing with regards to reducing stamp duty. Yet yesterday, in speaking on public liability insurance, the Chief Minister said she was considering a range of issues and possible taxation and stamp duty changes. In that regard, I do wonder why stamp duty is not mentioned in this amendment. But these amendments are long term. They will take some time to implement, not only in the Northern Territory but nationally. I have no problem supporting those amendments if they came forward as a motion in their own right. However, the purpose of this amendment is to defeat the motion that the opposition has proposed and in that regard we will not be supporting the amendments. But I underscore that by saying if the intent of these amendments were that they could stand on their own without defeating the opposition’s motion and the intent of what was proposed by the opposition, we would have supported those amendments.

        Essentially, the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister have said it is a complex matter, there is no simple solution, we should all get a briefing and the things you propose are all too hard. In that regard, I say: why, then, did, a month ago, the Premier of Tasmania announce his government was abolishing stamp duty on public liability insurance? If it is all too complex and too hard and has to be part of a comprehensive package, why, then, on 16 May, did the ACT Chief Minister announce measures that would exempt amateur sporting and community bodies from stamp duty on their public liability policies? Why, then, did, earlier this month, the NSW government cut its stamp duty on insurance in half from 10% to 5%?

        The simple answer to that is that you can do it now. Other governments have done it. This government chooses not to do it now because it does not want to give kudos to an initiative that is raised by the opposition. I notice - and I will be introducing legislation later - that the government, in its range of measures for dealing with public liability, has now included the statement of legislation to exempt volunteers from any threat of public liability action. I note when I first raised that some months ago, it was scoffed at by the Chief Minister. She has scoffed at these initiatives now in terms of reducing stamp duty, yet that flies in the face of the fact that only yesterday she said that she would look at stamp duty changes.

        So the government’s attitude is one of: ‘Let us not support the opposition initiatives now because the opposition may get some kudos for it. We do not want them to get that, so we will simply defeat it and say that these things are all too complex, all too hard and need to be looked at in a wide and comprehensive way at some time in the future’; notwithstanding the fact that three other jurisdictions have the gumption to stand up and deal with those issues now, and that they are also working on those comprehensive solutions.

        The thing that is the most laughable part of the Chief Minister’s contribution is the argument on changes in stamp duty for non-profit organisations or reducing stamp duty for businesses would cost the insurance companies a lot of money administratively, as much as $200 000, and that is a reason for not introducing it. First of all, I say to you that if it was around $200 000 in up-front costs, I would have thought that would have been a small amount of money compared to the benefit that would be derived by all of the organisations which would benefit from reduction of stamp duty or a capping of stamp duty.

        Second, if the administrative costs of implementing these measures were such that you would not go ahead with them, what is your view when it comes to applying a HIH levy of 4% on every business in the Northern Territory? Where is the administrative cost in that? I bet if I talk to the people who are required to implement the HIH levy they would say: ‘This will be an enormous administrative headache. This is going to cost to get the administrative mechanisms in place, but we are going to do it’. Now that is simply the argument that the insurance companies would naturally put and that is the argument that I believe should be scotched right at the outset, and for government to say: ‘It will be done. It needs to be done because the benefits far outweigh the arguments that you cannot do it’.

        It is a disappointment to me that the government has treated this motion so childishly and patronisingly. I have not heard anything from the government that would have me believe that this is not possible, particularly when we see other jurisdictions are moving along this track. I will continue to try to propose initiatives to this government to provide some initiative to alleviate these problems.

        Ms Martin: Would you like a briefing?

        Mr BURKE: Madam Speaker, I will pick up the point - it has been raised by others, but the Chief Minister is running off what her Attorney-General first raised and then the Deputy Chief Minister raised. It is this: you do not stifle debate in this Chamber by saying: ‘Get a briefing. If you are not briefed up and you do not accept the arguments that we accept, therefore your arguments are fallacious and we will not accept them’. I do not really ...

        Ms Martin: I am offering you briefings on the information and detail that was put in front of the insurance ministers.

        Mr BURKE: I will get a briefing. Madam Speaker, it was the Chief Minister who complained once before about talking directly across the Chamber. She is a classic at it herself. At least be consistent and at least hear me out.

        I will welcome briefings when I believe the briefing will give me new information. The meetings that the government has attended are well and truly on the public record. The initiatives that I proposed today have been enacted in other jurisdictions and have been worked upon by people for some time, long before the Chief Minister attended her first meeting. Whilst I welcome the government’s briefings, it does not naturally follow that unless you are briefed and agree with the government’s line, you cannot speak or propose an initiative. It is simply wrong.

        Mr Stirling: You did not consult with anyone. You did not ask anyone.

        Mr BURKE: Well, I tell you what I would like to see and I have urged for some time: I would like to see a briefing where the government said to me: ‘We have done a survey of everyone in the Northern Territory who pays public liability insurance. We are only 1%; we do not get caught up in a wave. We want to see if we can come up with initiatives ourselves. We have surveyed everyone in the Northern Territory who pays public liability and these are the results of that survey: over the last 10 years, premiums that have been paid amount to this much. The amount of money that has been paid out in claims amounts to this much. What is the difference? How much have the premiums risen for different businesses and different circumstances?’

        That is a survey of the Northern Territory. You would at least know yourselves what is the true situation that you are or are not acting on. You have not done any of that. Nothing. The most I have heard is that you have talked to the insurance companies who have said to you: ‘Administratively, it is all too hard’. You are cooperating with the national solution about which the Deputy Chief Minister says you are only caught up in a wave; it is not your problem anyway; 99% of this is visited on you from New South Wales. That is precisely the reason why you should be designing your own policy. That is precisely the reason you should be saying: ‘This is not on. We are going to get out of this somehow. We are not to get caught up in this game’.

        Members interjecting.

        Madam SPEAKER: Order!

        Mr BURKE: Even if the government decided at the end of the day not to proceed along that track, at least they would have made a start. At least they would have said: ‘We are going to look at this as a separate jurisdiction, as a small jurisdiction that has our own unique opportunities and challenges and we are going to try and find a way, our way, out of it’. All we have heard is: ‘Helen Coonan’s real smart; every other bugger’s smart. The insurance companies have told us that it is all too hard and we are going to rattle and parrot forward what other states are doing because somehow that is the solution - and, by the way, Queensland has offered us a chance to get into there so we might take that one up as well’.

        If that is your solution, you are the government, you now make these decisions. But there was a time when Territorians said: ‘We own our own insurance company. We have our own particular problems and we are going to design solutions for Territorians’.

        Mr Stirling: You broke the Territory with that theory, you idiot!

        Madam Speaker: Order, order!

        Mr BURKE: I must be rattling the bell a bit. Madam Speaker, the motion was proposed in good faith. I am sorry that the government has treated it in such a childish way. For those who do believe that it has some substance, I thank them for their support.

        Madam SPEAKER: Now we are going to be voting on the amendments. The question is the amendments be agreed to.

        Motion agreed to.

        Madam SPEAKER: We now move on to the motion as amended. The question is that the motion as amended be agreed to.

        Motion, as amended, agreed to.
        Information Technology Problems

        Madam SPEAKER: Before we go on with the next general business item, if you recall this morning I spoke to you about the IT problems we are experiencing today. Obviously, by looking around the Chamber, we are still experiencing some of them. A meeting was held at lunch time between the Clerk and the senior staff of the Assembly, DCIS and CSC.

        The problems largely relate to the amount of space available on the main server and the age of the server. In the short term, CSC have transferred data off the main server onto temporary disk storage to free up space on the server. As well, there are now increased CSC technicians in place to deal with any issues as they arise. You may be aware that was one of our concerns.

        In the medium term, the main server will be replaced on the weekend of 29 June. CSC is working on a contingency plan for Hansard, which may include a separate server and a network for Hansard data. I will keep honourable members informed as to the progress of these plans and any other details which emerge from the formal report to be provided by CSC.

        I make these comments to you in the House so that you are aware that we are experiencing problems and addressing them in the best manner that we see fit. We hope that we will get a good resolution at the end of the day.

        Establishment of a Select Committee –
        Personal Injuries Accident Insurance Scheme

        Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, I move:
          That this Assembly establish a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly, as per Standing Orders 260 to 283, comprising two government MLAs, two opposition MLAs and one Independent MLA to urgently investigate:
        (a) Whether
            (i) a Territory wide accident compensation scheme to provide accident insurance for personal
            injuries caused by –

                work-related gradual process disease or infection;

                medical mishap or error

                could and should be established in the Northern Territory;
                (ii) such a scheme should subsume or exclude the present MACA and Workers Compensation schemes now
                operating in the Territory; and

                (iii) such a scheme would obviate the need for any other form of public liability insurance in the Territory; and
            (b) How such schemes operate elsewhere with particular reference to that which presently operates in
            New Zealand;

            The committee have power to: -

              (a) adjourn from place to place;
                (b) to send for persons, papers and records; and

                (c) to sit during any sitting or adjournment of the Assembly.

                The committee report its proceedings and findings to the Assembly no later than the September sittings of the Assembly.

              Mr Deputy Speaker, as we have noted in earlier debates in this parliament, the whole issue of insurance is causing enormous problems right across Australia. There have been two major summits of all jurisdictions and the Territory has been represented by the Chief Minister at the one in March, and by the Deputy Chief Minister at the one last month.

              We know that much work is being done to address the crisis which has engulfed the country. Some of the matters that have come to the surface can be addressed now by individual jurisdictions. Others, it is argued, require national solutions or at least uniform responses from all states, territories and the Commonwealth.

              One matter that everyone seems agreed on is that there needs to be some reworking of this whole area of negligence. On his return from the summit last month, the Deputy Chief Minister said that the Territory government was considering a number of measures, including introducing thresholds and caps on insurance claims, introducing complementary legislation to allow for structured settlements, prohibiting claims arising from criminal activity and taking into account recreational drug use, including alcohol in compensation payments, placing a cap on loss of earning capacity claims. I note that these were mentioned in a fuller sense in the earlier debate.

              The Deputy Chief Minister also said:
                It must be remembered that with less than 1% of the public liability insurance market, the Northern Territory
                cannot influence premiums in the way larger jurisdictions can.

              It is interesting in light of that comment that the largest jurisdiction, New South Wales, which has already introduced a number of reforms, makes no claim that its actions will bring down premiums. Rather, it expresses the hope that this might happen. As the New South Wales Premier said in introducing his reforms:
                The New South Wales government cannot guarantee that premiums will fall.

              Instead, he put the problem squarely in the lap of the federal government. As the Deputy Chief Minister knows, the federal government has announced it intends to provide the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the ACCC, with a standard brief to update its insurance industry marketing pricing review on a six-monthly basis over the course of the next two years. All of which, I would suggest, means that whether it is the smallest jurisdiction in Australia or the largest, or even the whole lot, no one is planning to make premiums fall in any of the plans mooted so far, except, I might add, certainly premiums would fall if stamp duty was immediately relieved in the Northern Territory.

              They are all just hoping that premiums will fall. Perhaps we need to look at a completely different system to ensure the premiums, or the cost of such insurance, does actually fall.

              Returning to the New South Wales Premier for a moment, when he was introducing his reforms to the New South Wales parliament, he related that the reforms he was introducing were to those already made in health care liability, motor accidents and workers compensation. ‘They are tried and tested’, he said.

              We on this side of the House have also suggested in recent months that our workers compensation reform and motor accidents scheme may show the way forward. The Deputy Chief Minister dismissed our calls as impractical and foolhardy, and I quote:
                Essentially, the opposition is saying the NT taxpayer should assume the risk of public liability.

              He continued:
                The Territory is too small for such a scheme to work, and it also has the potential to send the TIO broke.
                Only yesterday, the Chief Minister again stressed that the insurance market in the Territory is very small
                and therefore we have to look to tagging on to someone else’s scheme.
              But how does that explain the existence of the MACA scheme, set up in the Territory to cover Territorians? I refer the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister to the most recent Annual Report of TIO, quoting from page 15:
                The Motor Accidents Compensation Scheme … recorded a $10m profit compared to a profit of $2m in
                the previous year.
              The scheme seems to be handling the situation in a small market. We do not believe there is one magical answer to these problems; we do understand there is not a one-hit answer. We understand that the problem might have to be addressed gradually with a variety of changes to acts of parliament. It is why, in fact, later today I will be introducing a bill to remove the possibility of volunteers from being sued in relation to public liability. That is one small aspect that has been highlighted by this insurance crisis, and an area that I believe we can address now rather than wait for any package of solutions. It is one of the smaller measures that we could put into place, as the Chief Minister said yesterday.

              We are not saying that the package might not be the right way to go. We are not saying that adapting a MACA scheme to cover public liability insurance is the answer, but it may me. So, why don’t we investigate the possibility? We are not saying we should make the Territory-owned TIO take over all insurance cover in the Territory, but some sort of all-encompassing insurance body may be the answer. So, why don’t we investigate it?

              The reforms we initiated in the Territory in relation to motor vehicle accidents and workers compensation may offer a solution to the present crisis. The forums held in Alice Springs and Darwin earlier this year suggested the models used for MACA and workers compensation could be adopted. There would be no need to prove negligence and compensation would be based on needs, not losses. Certainly, elements of those schemes are being talked about as the way to go.

              Putting a cap on compensation payments and damages, and attempting to reach an equitable solution for victims without enormous legal fees for both sides are key aspects of the solutions put forward by the New South Wales government. They are key aspects of what the Deputy Chief Minister says the government is already looking at.

              Perhaps there is another way to achieve this. Perhaps, rather than seeing the smallness of the Territory as an impediment to finding a solution, we could see it as an advantage. Perhaps we do not have to wait for other jurisdictions to make up their minds and then see if we can join in. Perhaps New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Commission offers a model, and that is what this motion is all about. We are saying: why not investigate whether there is a way to find a Territory solution? If there are no guarantees that whatever is being done and considered is not going to bring insurance premiums down, perhaps we should look to a scheme that cuts out the insurance companies and the premiums.

              Only at the weekend, the Australian Consumers Association was claiming that insurance company profitability for 2000-01 was at its highest since 1997. The association says the insurance industry claims of a public liability litigation blow-out are not backed up by profitability figures released by the insurance regulator. The association seems to be suggesting that whatever changes do happen will only add to that profitability and do nothing to the level of premiums.

              There are many lobby groups in this argument. The plaintiff lawyers have one view, the consumer associations another, and the insurance industry a completely different one. Perhaps, given all this conflict and the crisis and upheaval, and that we are looking at rewriting the very basic laws relating to negligence, it might be the time to look at the whole area of insurance and the way it is delivered. Should we ask the question: is it right that a profit is made from the misfortune, the injury of our citizens? Is this area of providing protection for those injured or harmed through some accident a proper area for a cover-all scheme owned and supported by all?

              In that context, I mentioned earlier the New Zealand scheme. After the most recent insurance summit, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clarke, suggested Australia should look across the Tasman to solve its public liability crisis. She said:
                I think what has happened in Australia might get people looking across the Tasman and saying:
                ‘Haven’t they found a smart way of dealing with this?’.

              New Zealand has a successful insurance accident compensation scheme developed in 1974 and based on a no-fault principle. The scheme provides accident insurance for all New Zealand citizens, residents and temporary visitors to New Zealand. In return, people do not have the right to sue for personal injury other than for exemplary damages.

              According to the Accident Compensation Corporation, the ACC, the scheme provides cover for injuries no matter who is at fault; eliminates the slow, costly and wasteful process of using the courts for each injury; reduces personal, physical and emotional suffering by providing timely care and rehabilitation that gets people back to work or independence as soon as possible; minimises personal financial loss by paying weekly earnings compensation to injured people who are off work; and focusses on reducing the causes of the problems and circumstances that lead to accidents at work, at home, on the road and elsewhere.

              The scheme is also heavily involved in education programs, campaigns and producing strategies for organisations in the community to reduce the number of accidents. To get organisations in the community to have adequate risk management plans in place, the corporation is run by a board of directors which is responsible to the relevant minister. The scheme is funded by all New Zealanders paying a premium which is set by the government. Most importantly, and in direct contrast to what we are experiencing here, premiums have fallen by about 25% in the past two years.

              The New Zealand model might not be ideal for the Territory, but it or some variation of it could fit. Don’t we owe it to ourselves, to Territorians, to at least have a look? This does not stop the process already being undertaken by the government to produce a package of measures in an attempt to address the crisis. All it is suggesting is: why doesn’t this parliament, via a select committee, look at the whole situation and see if there is another way, if there is a Territory way of doing things, if a scheme along the lines of New Zealand’s would work here, if a MACA-type model would work, if some sort of scheme covering public liability could be established running alongside MACA, or whether the whole question of accident insurance - whether the accident happens at home, at work, at play, on the road or elsewhere - could be covered by one scheme. That is what this motion is all about.

              We are here to represent Territorians, to produce laws and policies that benefit Territorians. Maybe, just maybe, we can build a better Territory, using the Chief Minister’s slang, by going our own special Territory way. Why don’t we investigate the possibilities? The Chief Minister said yesterday we have few options if we act alone and that is what this motion is urging: that we make sure we examine those few options. I commend the motion to honourable members.

              Ms MARTIN (Chief Minister): Mr Deputy Speaker, again, it is good to see the opposition raising the important issues of public liability. We would not be criticising them in any sense for doing that in this debate. But again I would say - and I am sorry I have to repeat it - that even though when I raised the issue in a previous debate that it would be good to see the opposition ask for briefings on this issue, again, this underpins where they are going.

              I listened very carefully to the previous debate and the conflicting messages coming from the opposition. This is a very complex area and the message from the opposition last time was that it is a complex area yet, ‘We want you to do an ad hoc thing to see whether it will work’. There was no recognition of the fact that some of their suggestions would actually see premiums go up because no work had been done. There was no understanding of the complexities of the insurance market. This is another example of the opposition not being across the issue because in the last debate we were told to act now. In this one, we are being told to put a committee together to think about it.

              There is no consistency on this issue and we are seeing a knee-jerk approach coming from the opposition when what we need to tackle the public liabilities issues is careful working through what is going to work, what isn’t going to work; a real appreciation of the uniqueness of the Territory’s position and the fact that we are such a small part of the market. Again, if the opposition, and particularly the Opposition Leader, had bothered to get information that I will make readily available, there would be a much better understanding of these complex issues on that side of the House.

              There are two issues raised in this motion. One is whether or not a committee should be established and the other is whether the terms of reference are appropriate. Now, we on this side oppose both aspects of the motion, therefore we are opposing the entire motion.

              Looking at whether or not a committee should be established, the opposition is proposing that the parliamentary select committee report no later than the September sittings. The government is actively examining reform proposals now and I believe that to set up a committee like this would delay the process. On one hand, you say: ‘Act now’ in two hours of debate and in the next motion you are saying: ‘Slow it down; let us have a committee’. I seem to remember the member for Goyder talking about champagne sipping leftie socialists - the definition changed all the time - and the implication was that we were not doing anything. Yet here we have a motion that seems to be fitting exactly into the member for Goyder’s definition of what this side of the House was doing in the last debate. There is no consistency here and it is hard to take the motion seriously.

              I believe the select committee process would also divert scarce public service resources currently devoted to developing the government’s response, on to an inquiry into an approach that no other state or territory government is contemplating. Considerable resources could be devoted to investigating such a scheme with little prospect of worthwhile outcome. This government is not going to be diverted from doing the work that we have been informed by national investigations, national discussions, national meetings with the work that is being done locally with the industry, with the resources of the agencies here. To say: ‘Let us throw it off to a select committee’ seems to be flying in the face of the arguments we listened to this afternoon. I do not believe a committee should be established.

              Second, let us look at whether the terms of reference are appropriate. A discussion paper on a New Zealand type National Accident Compensation Scheme was presented to the first ministerial meeting on public liability insurance in March this year. The communiqu from that meeting and the subsequent meeting on 30 May made no mention of further pursuing such a scheme because not one state or territory was attracted to the option.

              Mr Burke: Why not?

              Ms MARTIN: If the opposition had sought a briefing, you would understand.

              Mr Burke: Well, tell me.

              Ms MARTIN: I will now outline it. Yes, I know! It is all very well to say: ‘Tell me now’ but why didn’t you ask before?

              Mr Burke: Tell me now. There is a debate for Chamber. Tell me.

              Ms MARTIN: Why didn’t you ask before, I say to the Opposition Leader, because we could have informed you before you put up this motion. This is a very ignorant opposition because you have not done the work to inform your motions on your General Business Day.

              Now the discussion paper - and you could have had a briefing - pointed out that such a scheme would have significant disadvantages. Government and taxpayers would be exposed to significant financial risk. The paper indicated that the New Zealand scheme had unfunded liabilities of around $NZ4bn. There is no guarantee that premiums for public liability and other risks will be reduced, and in the absence of competition, the cost of the scheme may in fact rise.

              There are real issues involved with the New Zealand scheme. Really, the bottom line is: watch your wallet. Watch your wallet because the unfunded liability is at a very scary level. There is also the real issue of saying: ‘We will have a no risk scheme’. Where would be the incentives for any organisation to put risk management in place if you could just put your hand out to the government and say: ‘Pay up’?

              There are really dangerous precedents established here. This discussion paper sets it out. Bottom line one of what the level of unfunded liabilities are for this scheme of $NZ4bn say to us: ‘Do not touch it’.

              There is also the issue of establishing a monopoly for this type of business that is unlikely to be supported by either the insurance companies or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. If such a scheme were to be established along the lines of the current MACA scheme, it would require up-front funding from the Territory government and a government guarantee. The MACA scheme currently has retained earnings or equity of around $28m to back the operation of the scheme. To establish a new scheme, equity funds would need to be diverted from other government priorities. In addition, through its guarantee of TIO, the government effectively guarantees an estimated outstanding claims liability of $168m for the MACA scheme alone.

              According to APRA, in the year to June last year, total public liability and products liability premiums in the Territory were $5.6m, which is less than 1% of the Australian total of which TIO already had 49.6%. The TIO ratio is likely to be even higher now with the collapse of HIH in March 2001. NT claims expense for the same period was $4.1m. Effectively, TIO already has around half the public liability market. With the exception of just a few areas such as equestrian activities and some adventure tourism operations, insurance cover is available for most businesses. TIO is already recognised as very competitive in terms of its pricing within the market for most types of insurance, although there are some exceptions.

              It is extremely doubtful that a Territory-wide scheme would produce lower prices than TIO currently offers and the scheme, by its very nature, would embrace high risk activities; so the cost of claims would increase, not decrease. Currently the premium rates are quite competitive and if we were to expand the scheme, and to increase its risk activities, inevitably claims would have to go up. The cost of claims would increase, not decrease.

              Under such a scheme, non-residents would still have capacity to claim under common law. If you look at the profile of what happens in the Territory, tourism is a major industry and this means we have a high proportion of interstate and overseas visitors who would still be able to claim under common law. There is a strong possibility of a single large claim exhausting the reserves, and we have certainly seen this happen under MACA. Premiums would need to reflect this and be adequate to build reserves in to the future. These increased costs would have to be spread across those firms and organisations that are currently able to access affordable cover, driving their premiums up still further, hardly a desirable outcome given the circumstances.

              Inevitably, a government statutory scheme for all personal injuries and accidents would mean higher risks for the government. These higher risks would mean that all Territory taxpayers would face higher charges and taxes to make up for any short-fall, and we would be looking at another black hole in the budget. The fact that private insurers are charging higher premiums or, for some high risk activities no longer offering insurance, indicates the significant risks involved in a scheme like this. These risks would not go away just because a government monopoly scheme was taking over the business.

              Based on data for 2000, the Territory had the second highest motor vehicle third party MACA contribution rates of all jurisdictions. While there are valid reasons for this - higher accident rates - the comparison indicates that having a government monopoly scheme does not guarantee low premiums.

              At the national meeting on 30 May, Commonwealth, state and territory ministers agreed to a range of initiatives aimed at improving the availability and affordability of public liability insurance. This has been a cooperative effort among all states and territories with a view to achieving a reasonable degree of national consistency, but not one jurisdiction, not one state or territory is contemplating the approach proposed by the opposition. Again, I say that if you have been briefed you would have understood this.

              Following the meeting, the Territory is examining various tort law reforms, as I have mentioned before: the caps and thresholds for general damages; caps on loss of future earning capacity; and changes to procedures to encourage resolution of claims without resorting to litigation. Several of these measures have been previously implemented for workers compensation and motor vehicle accident claims. These reforms are also integral to resolving the medical indemnity problems being experienced nationally.

              I have to say that this is yet another hair-brain proposal from the party that was hooked on debt and has saddled Territorians with liabilities way in excess of those of any other jurisdiction. This proposal will only add to those liabilities, meaning that Territorians, long into the future, will have to meet the costs that the opposition, when in government, racked up after 23 years of controlling the finances. Our net debt and unfunded liabilities are already $3bn for a population of only 200 000 people. That is an obligation on every Territorian of $17 100 - more than three times the level of the Australian average, and more than 50% higher than the next worst jurisdiction, which is Tasmania.

              Thanks to the Country Liberal Party when they were the government, even if we managed to get our debt under control, the other liabilities related to superannuation will keep on rising well into the future. In government, the Country Liberal Party hamstrung the Territory and by this proposal want to put us into hock even further. No other place is prepared to consider such a proposal and yet the opposition wants us to go on a wild-goose chase, sending committees off to New Zealand to investigate a scheme that has already been dismissed as unworkable for Australia. I take the Opposition Leader back to that figure and what that discussion paper said about the New Zealand scheme: unfunded liabilities of around $NZ4bn.

              Mr Burke: For how many people?

              Ms MARTIN: Three million, I think.

              Mr Burke: Three million?

              Ms MARTIN: I think New Zealand has three million.

              We have a scheme that the opposition wants to pursue, and if the opposition had asked for a briefing, the discussion paper would have shown them that this is not a workable scheme and has not proved successful in New Zealand.

              The government does not support this motion. The government says again that, while recognising the importance of the issue of public liability and the increase in the premiums that we have seen and the impact it has, the opposition should put up proposals that are going to work and source the information to underpin what you are going to talk about in this House.

              I am not being patronising. I am saying do not be sitting up on the 4th floor, thinking up what is a political solution when what we need here are comprehensive policy solutions. We are not going to support this motion.

              Ms CARTER (Port Darwin): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, of course, it is of no surprise to us at all that the Chief Minister’s address was essentially sanctimonious and arrogant.

              My feeling is that she resents the fact that we are in opposition, that we have an opinion, and we have General Business Days. There is this overwhelming feeling of ‘tut, tut, tut’, going on. The call that you must have a briefing for everything that is going is becoming quite laborious. We are here trying to work to help the Territory improve its problem. We all know that insurance is a major problem here and in the rest of the country.

              I support the motion to establish a select committee of the Assembly to investigate and make recommendations to improve the disappointing state of insurance in the Territory. We have a crisis worldwide. Twelve months ago, before the incidents in the United States, things were already looking grim for insurance. The problems, of course, often relate to the undercutting of premiums and the fact that people are not paying high enough premiums to cover the costs and, of course, in many areas people expect extremely high services from insurance companies. For example, if somebody is injured in the workplace, or on the roads through a trauma, the care provided is generally through private hospitalisation. All types of investigations are done and very fancy care is provided. There is a need, I believe, to look at not only the low premiums often being paid, but also the very high standards of care, and the cost of that care that often is afforded to people who have insurance.

              The end result, of course, was not unpredictable. We have seen a collapse of insurance. The problem now is that those insurance companies try to make some ground by very high premiums being set, so much so that in many cases, insurance companies are making a decision not to insure at all. By setting extremely high premiums that no one can afford to pay, we see community groups deciding not to conduct the type of services that they have provided in the past.

              Point (a)(i) of our motion calls for the establishment of a Territory-wide accident compensation scheme to provide accident insurance for personal injuries caused by accident, work-related gradual processes, diseases or infection, or medical mishap or error.
                I used to work in the Health and Community Services Complaints Commission and I was aware from working in that role of the difficulties faced by insurers, by the people who are insured - for example, doctors and dentists - and, of course, the people who have lodged complaints about those specialist providers - their clients, their patients - when something has gone wrong.

                A number of problems come up in that area and they are very similar to workers compensation problems. These are the costs of premiums. On the other side of that is that if someone is successful, they take somebody to court - and of course it is incredibly expensive to do that. If, for example, you have had an operation in a hospital and you are unhappy with the outcome, you can sue the doctor concerned; take them to court. This process takes years and it is very expensive. The cost to our community is unbelievable. The end result can be spectacular payouts; most of that money, of course, ending up being paid to the lawyers. But every now and again you will get people who do silly things. For example, we saw the case a few weeks ago of a fellow who dived into shallow water in New South Wales and became a quadriplegic and as a result had a multimillion dollar payout.

                I seem to have been working in all sorts of jobs in my life. About 20 years ago, I worked in a spinal unit at Royal Perth Hospital - I have qualifications in that area - and we had education about spinal injuries. One of the interesting statistics - and I guarantee you it has not changed since then - is that the average spinal patient is a male teenager, older teens, early 20s, inebriated at the time of the incident and has does something reckless. That is often diving into shallow water, car accidents, motorcycle accidents, things of that nature. The end result used to be that they would get a huge payout; a multimillion dollar payout just like the fellow in New South Wales. Then what happened was that that money was frittered away in many ways: gifts to family, lots of parties, renovation of a house, special car and within about three or four years, most of that money was gone.

                Here in the Northern Territory the MACA scheme was introduced to address that issue which, instead of the big payouts, provides people with care for the rest of their lives. I think the MACA scheme has proved successful in the way that it provides care to the people of the Northern Territory.

                What I am illustrating with my story there is the huge payouts that people receive, the reckless behaviour behind those injuries, and the fact that we need to do something drastic with our insurance system for public liabilities here in Australia.

                One of the sad aspects when I worked in the Health Complaints Commission here in the Territory was that I dealt very closely with many people who were unhappy with the medical care that they had received. Most of it was very genuine. However, on occasions I did come across people who were out to get a doctor. They knew that the doctor had insurance; therefore they were out to get them. Sometimes you really had to decide that the complaint was frivolous, that it was spurred on by angst, and the motivation was often revenge. Many medical people will be aware of very stressful situations that they have been in, when they have someone gunning for them and using every system at their disposal to get them, basically. So that is where you come in with this no fault business because we have to do something to reduce the cost of people receiving compensation and to avoid the use of the court system.

                As point (a)(ii) of our motion points out, such a scheme as we are proposing should subsume or exclude the present MACA and workers compensation schemes now operating here in the Northern Territory. MACA and the workers compensation scheme certainly have worked well to provide generally affordable insurance. As I have said at other times here in the House, I do have some concerns with regard to workers compensation in that the premiums do not cover the costs. However, I am aware that a review has occurred and I certainly encourage the government to take the steps needed to ensure that the scheme breaks even in that, of course, you reduce the costs of services and work on the premiums.

                MACA and workers compensation do prove that the Territory can do it. Such a scheme that we propose would obviate the need for any other form of public liability insurance here in the Northern Territory. The select committee, I believe, should investigate schemes which are operating elsewhere. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. As we have heard, the Accident Compensation Corporation, the ACC in New Zealand, has a good reputation and certainly Helen Clarke speaks highly of it. I would be interested to learn more as to why she would speak in such glowing terms and then hear such a bad report. Certainly, there is a difference in there which is of some concern because I have heard from others that it is a good scheme.

                However, the scheme in New Zealand provides cover for injuries; it has a no fault system; it works to eliminate the activities and costs of courts; it provides care and rehabilitation for people who have been injured and works to get people back to work if they have been injured at work; and, as I mentioned earlier, like our MACA system and our workers compensation system, it provides weekly earnings as compensation and also works just like our workers compensation does to provide initiatives to reduce risks in the workplace so that you do not have people injured in the first place.

                The New Zealand system is very similar to our workers compensation and MACA scheme. The ACC in New Zealand spends about $1.4bn each year on rehabilitation, treatment and weekly compensation. To fund these services they collect premiums. They also earn income from investing the funds they hold. All New Zealanders pay premiums for ACC cover. Premiums are set to pay for the current and future costs of claims made that year and the government funds the costs of injuries to people who are not in the paid work force. That comes from the ACC’s web site.

                You say, of course, that their system is no good. I will take that on board, but perhaps there are other jurisdictions in the world that have a system that does work well. That is why we should have a bipartisan committee to look at the options that are available. We have a crisis of insurance here in Australia and this is an urgent matter. Many factors have created the sorry state of affairs in insurance here. They include, for example, the cost of premiums; the expectation by the public that when something goes wrong, someone must pay; the extraordinary court cases that we have heard about, their costs and the payouts that they provide and, of course, the ridiculous level of risk which some people insist on taking in their lifestyle and - oh, goodness me - find themselves injured.

                The sky has now fallen as far as insurance is concerned. We are having major problems with regard to medical insurance and quite frankly, I wonder why a bright young person who has done well at school would even think of joining the medical profession now given the problems that they face with things such as insurance. It must be a very difficult decision for these people to make. We are all affected now and we need to move quickly on it.

                In conclusion, I support the motion. I urge the government to support it also. What we are suggesting is a bipartisan committee to look at the issue and to come up with some solutions. We heard earlier from the Chief Minister a tirade with regard to our need to have briefings and the comment that ‘Oh dear, oh dear, the opposition is supporting the need to have a committee as opposed to doing something’. Well, I am glad she appreciates that sometimes committees can stall things. However, our whole afternoon here today has not been about setting up committees per se. We have provided two previous motions that were action - that was with regard to HIH and the stamp duty - they were things that you could do now.

                This committee situation is looking at something that is very complex, something that needs to be dealt with for the future and needs to be done carefully. That is why there is some value in setting up a committee. We have proposed three motions today: two are action motions with regard to work you could do now; one is a committee. So don’t put it on the record that we propose purely to set up committees. There were two things that you could do now. I support the motion.

                Mr MALEY (Goyder): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I rise to place on the Parliamentary Record my support for the motion as articulated by the member for Brennan. It is almost a year since the poll on 18 August last year and the Northern Territory people have had to endure this non-action government. At the Fred’s Pass show recently, someone commented on the difference between the barn door and the Labor government: the barn door actually does something; it moves every now and then. That really summarises the position of the government in respect of this issue.

                The Chief Minister, in another poorly articulated and poorly thought out response, stood up and her first bleating comment was: ‘You should have sought a briefing’. In a very rude and arrogant way, she said that we cannot have an informed debate here and directed her comments, inappropriately, directly to the member for Brennan and said: ‘You should have had a briefing.’ Fortunately for this parliament and the institution, the words uttered by the Chief Minister are not examined closely because, if you follow that logic, there is no need to have parliament because we can just have a briefing and then we can decide exactly what we are going to do – they have that nonsensical approach.

                The briefing - and a summary of it was given by the Chief Minister to honourable members – does not advance the situation. Indeed, the conclusion was that it was all a bit too hard; we have had a couple of feel good talkfests and no one else wants to adopt this particular model or consider that, so we are not going to either. Territory people and the Territory public deserve a bit more respect than that.

                With respect to the member for Fannie Bay, there is a significant difference between the first motion and this motion. The first motion dealt with, in a succinct way, as a sign of good faith, a measure that is reducing the stamp duty payable on certain premiums. Sure, that is not going to be the final solution, but it is something that could be easily implemented and then decided and debated wholeheartedly. The motion currently before the House is a more comprehensive remedy to the genuine problem which exists. To say in one second in a very shallow way, ‘Do something’ and in the next second, ‘Let’s form a committee’ - using that to draw some kind of comparison or inference that this motion and the motions as a pair put by the opposition are poorly contrived - does the Chief Minister a disservice.

                This is a motion which is important. It is an issue which does affect many people in the Northern Territory and this parliament needs to get on top of the problem which is building daily. The problem of insurance - its affordability and whether the safety net it was designed to provide is financially sustainable - is something that needs to be addressed. Business of all shapes, community service providers, and essential infrastructure providers are all going to be strangled by costs unless solutions can be found. The issue is not just a Northern Territory problem. That is something with which the opposition agrees. I am sure that other states are also worried. Indeed, I know there are ministerial councils currently examining the matter.

                We all need to bring to bear, like never before, our best efforts to sort out a seemingly insurmountable problem. Risks need to be underwritten, safety nets provided, but everything must be affordable and sustainable. Without it, we would soon cease to function, but all users of insurance must be able to afford it and not bankrupt themselves in the process.

                On the surface, it seems that we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. We need to be creative in designing possible solutions. We need to test risk setting. We need to eliminate rorting and exploitation. We need to revisit how well or badly we have been served by the doctrine that every misfortune must have a malefactor and be dollar compensatable. Clearly, accidents will happen and we must never abandon good work practice and safe working environments. However, there is a limit that, if exceeded, financial compensation can collapse economic and functional viability.

                We propose a select committee to examine these matters, a committee made up of members from both sides of the great political divide. It is a committee which can get all the briefings it wants. It can genuinely take on board some issues from community groups and the insurance industry which has so dominated to the Chief Minister’s speech, and listen to people from every walk of life to come up with some conclusions - and not just a committee which is open ended, but set a deadline and deal with the problem. We cannot just wait for our interstate counterparts to come to some sort of solution and then, if it suits us, mimic them because, ultimately, the number of claims per 100 000 people is precisely the same as our counterparts down south. It is all about ratios. We have the structures in place to potentially put in any safeguards which are financially viable.

                I am not saying for a moment that we should not collaborate with the other states and the Commonwealth. Indeed, part of the process will be to consult with those users. I see merit in maintaining the concept of a safety net which, of course, insurance provides, but it must be sustainable and based on fairness and accountability. The insurance industry is entitled to take a profit from risk taking, but we must be persuaded that it is within fair limits and not biased in favour of unaccountable, unidentified, overseas reinsurers which apparently is a significant problem.

                I see merit in going to the community and finding out what they believe is a fair thing and how much risk and responsibility they are prepared to shoulder individually and collectively for events which adversely affect them. I see merit in looking back into our history to identify the best human elements and characteristics which built all those things which we enjoy today and we take for granted. I suspect some bold, brave qualities of our forebears in getting things done and busting through barriers has a price - their blood, sweat and tears; in fact, a great deal of blood, sweat and tears. The Territory would not be here today if it was not for a bit of lateral thinking and a bit of genuine ‘Let us have a go, get out and do the job’ type mentality. I suspect there are only …

                Ms Martin: Have a committee, Mr Champagne.

                Mr MALEY: I pick up on the interjection. The Chief Minister has chimed in. We have a change, which is good; we have not the call for a briefing, but we have the call for a committee. Well, this is precisely what parliament is all about. This is a complicated issue; this is a global issue. Let us deal with it. Let us deal with it in a bipartisan way.

                There will not be political point scoring in terms of the ultimate resolution. It is a long-term strategy. Quite genuinely, form a committee, examine these issues. We have a number of other committees - and not denigrating for a moment the importance of those committees, but this is an important issue which affects lots of people who live within the Territory.

                I suspect that the only safety net of our forebears was the ideology of helping those who were hurt, doing a good turn to others and being generous enough to give a hand when it was needed, and to accept assistance for themselves with dignity and gratitude when they and their families faced hardship and problems that were not of their making.

                I believe all our people must have some protection from calamitous events and they must be restored to wellbeing after hurt; there is no doubt about that. I know that this will cost. I also know that fair and reasonable costs and real rehabilitation would not present a problem to our community provided we accept that all of us are individually responsible for what we do or do not do. It is not just or fair to automatically assume that every adverse event has to have blame attached to it and be compensatable. We are all entitled to sit at the well of community support and assistance, but we must not squander our opportunities or be greedy about what we hope to get.

                This is a serious issue. To find solutions to this insurance dilemma, I believe we must revisit and recalibrate what our community wants. We must put on the table the need and justification for financial dividends which seem to flow from misfortune. We must ask our constituencies whether and where they want the line to be drawn. We cannot afford to ignore the sextant that will guide our future in favour of polishing the port holes. We have to deal with the issue.

                I am asking honourable members to support the formation of a select committee so that the widest range of issues can be aired and, hopefully, their advice to us will yield a decent and quite genuine benefit to the people of the Northern Territory. There needs to be a deadline. The government needs to give a commitment; there needs to be a genuine commitment to this process. What is surprising and of real concern is that the Chief Minister’s comments have referred, several times, to the insurance industry. Well, the real benefactors of this process are of the Territory people. The best way to gauge what they think is to have some sort of forum where they can make a contribution and we can quite genuinely redefine what is acceptable and what is not.

                We often see articles produced by journalists in papers of events leading to an unjust result or an enormous payout. We also see or hear about certain calamitous events where someone suffered a dreadful misfortune and has been left ultimately without anything to sustain them for the balance of their lives. There needs to be some consultation. The select committee and the structure proposed by the member for Brennan in the form of this motion is quite sensible. It is not political point scoring; it is a process. If the member for Fannie Bay is so absolutely adamant that at the end of this process the committee will come back and say: ‘It is all too hard’, that is a view that she can express and she can get her scribes, or who ever provides her briefings, her champagne leftie socialist friends, to perhaps make a submission. But at the end of the day, it is for that committee to decide.

                All Territorians have a right to feel protected and all Territorians ultimately deserve some safety net there. Territorians really placed their trust in this new government and, in my view, this complete inaction, this denial and the way in which the government dismisses quite constructive motions demonstrates clearly that their trust has been betrayed. There will be nothing gained or lost from the government’s perspective if they were to seriously consider this type of select committee. That is quite genuine. But to arrogantly stand up and say ‘I am offended’; ‘What about the briefings?’; and ‘You do not know what your talking about’ is the height of arrogance.

                There are 25 members in this Chamber. The member for Nelson, I think, said in his maiden speech that we have more in common than we have differences, and one of the things we have in common is to try to do the right thing by the people we represent and who pay our wages and the benefits we enjoy as politicians. This is a mechanism which would help resolve something which is serious, and you cannot sit back as a government, any government, and say: ‘Look, it is too hard; I have to go down south, have another seminar. I will see what they are doing and we will all do it together’. No. Let us see what Territorians want. Let us deal with the problem. If we do not set a deadline and we do not deal with it, it is not going to go away.

                Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I endorse absolutely and unconditionally the motion the member for Brennan has placed on the table.

                Mr DUNHAM (Drysdale): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, there are several approaches we could take to this problem. The first approach is: let us define the problem; problem finding and problem definition. Having done that, we have to then, as legislators and respondents for the community in this House, look at the various factors. This has a bookkeeping factor in it, and the Chief Minister has spoken about that. It has an actuarial factor in it. But it has a human factor. We are talking here basically about some of the protections that society affords those who are somehow faced with a calamity not of their making.

                We need to bring all those things together. First, the problem definition; second is for us to look at what the community might wear and look at the numbers that are provided by the government. If we did this in the style that has been recommended by the Leader of Opposition, it would take a lot of the politics out of it. You would find a concerted effort with people moving in unison, particularly those who are members who could come back to their own party rooms, go back to their own electorates and go back to the community at large and convince the people why this approach is necessary. The smoke and mirrors of saying: ‘You cannot afford it’ or ‘It will send us broke’ or the emotion that is often attached to some of the accidents and work-related issues can be used by people who are spoilers.

                What is necessary is openness and transparency, dare I use those words, where we can go as a group and say: ‘This is what the parliament thinks is a good proposition for the community’. I remember when the Work Health changes were on foot and the government said - the then government, which was the CLP government - that the best thing for somebody who suffered an accident is a speedy return to the workplace. A speedy return to the workplace has all sorts of good rehabilitative measures, particularly psychological, familial and financial.

                There was significant debate about it because it was felt that the Victorian scheme at the time - which said if you lose an arm or a leg, you get so much - had the litigious nature that has been described by my colleague the member for Goyder where people had to wear the neck brace in other places for the 18 months until it came up so that they could get this massive payout. They had to demonstrate the injuries were of such an ongoing nature and the situation was aggravated by not looking to speedy means to rehabilitate and heal the injury. What we are talking about here is the best circumstance for the people. No fault schemes provide that. No fault schemes allow us to say: ‘Let us have that argument at another time, but really what we are trying to do is get people back to the quality of life they once held, and if the injury that they have sustained is permanent, maybe there are other places they can work’. We cannot keep going down this line of expecting such enormous amounts of money to be generated by misfortune in the workplace or by an accident, and we cannot deny that the trends that are there are leading to an unsustainable situation.

                If we take the lead that has been provided to us by the Leader of the Opposition, the benefits are obvious to us. First, we all have a notion of what the problem is. The figures that can be provided by way of briefing or some of this ‘I am informed’ or ‘It is possible that this might happen’ can be laid on the table and we can debate them. We can call those specialist advisors in and we can talk to them. We can then, having made a series of recommendations, legislate in this House and go back and convince the community why that must be so. If we do it in this form, it takes a lot of the pain out of it for government, I would suggest, because it will be a less divisive, less emotional proposition and will also use the good talent that is available in this parliament through our committee systems.

                I urge all members to look at such an approach and to look at the corollary to not accepting such an approach. The consequences of saying: ‘Okay, we are going to have a fight about this because we do not agree with your numbers’, will be that we will be on a journey of discovery for numbers and we will have a lack of confidence in the various numbers that are provided because they are being used often in a specious way or to maximise the government case.

                We then, obviously, are going to have to change systems, and when we do that, the best way to do it is to take the opposition with you, I would have thought. In taking the opposition with you, you have the capacity then to market those changes to the community at large. If the alternative approach to this is: ‘We know best; we know the numbers and you do not. We will tell you - maybe. If you seek a briefing, we will let you know’, you do it at your own peril because inevitably what will happen is this will develop into a very divisive situation.

                I would like to echo the words of the member for Nelson that have already been quoted in this debate, and they are: ‘Let us look for grabbing those things that we all agree on; let us look at grabbing those portions of the debate where we can put them aside and say: “Okay, that is reasonably well understood” by the elected members of the people’. It does not take away from us the necessity to go back to those who elected us and to convince them that the government’s bona fides with whatever action we are taking is in the best interests of the community.

                I urge those opposite to look at the benefits that could come from this motion and be very wary of the potential for this to turn into an unnecessary and combative debate between the two parties in the event that a high-handed position is taken by the government. I urge that the motion be supported.

                Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, notwithstanding the fact that I do have some members here who wish to speak on this issue, I ask them to desist because it is quite clear from the Chief Minister’s comments and from the lack of contribution from government members that it is unnecessary to prolong the debate.

                I will pick up the member for Drysdale’s closing comments that really come to the substance of the motion. The motion was proposed in good faith; it was proposed to attempt to avoid playing politics with this very important issue of public liability insurance. It seeks to inform Territorians. The Chief Minister made some comment about the New Zealand model and said: ‘Oh, well, we have had a look at that model’ and then proceeded to dismiss it in its entirety. I do not doubt that the Chief Minister may have had a look at that model. She might have taken the opportunity to explain that model to Territorians because the real issue is that Territorians out there - nearly 200 000 of them - are affected and concerned and confused, not only with this whole business of public liability insurance, but where we are going in the future. The government has a responsibility to assuage them of those concerns.

                Now, the government claims that it is - and I do not dispute that - involved in discussions with other jurisdictions and eventually will bring forward a whole range of proposals which will solve the problem for Territorians in some shape or form. That is fine. As I said when the Chief Minister presented an amendment which proposed some of those reforms: on the face of it, the opposition would support all of those measures.

                However, it does not detract from the substance and intent of the motion, and that was to recognise that we are masters and mistresses of our own destiny. We are only 1% of the Australian population. We should not have visited upon us unnecessarily all of the issues and problems that affect other jurisdictions. Are there solutions that we can design peculiar to ourselves? Perhaps there are none. I do not suggest for a moment that the New Zealand model, which is what the Chief Minister focussed on, is necessarily the way to go. One of the positive outcomes from a select committee would be that it could be definitely decided and explained to people that it is absolutely not the way to go. But at the moment, people do not know that. At the moment, people are being asked to have confidence in the government. The government itself, with little explanation of what is a very complicated issue in the face of competing arguments from the insurance industry, lobby groups and different governments, has varied views on how the problem should be solved; and those views all centred around a national solution. Again, it may be that a national solution is the only way to go in the future; I do not dispute that.

                To suggest, as the Chief Minister does, that a select committee to look at this issue is a waste of time, I believe is quite wrong. I believe it would be positively received by the community, particularly if it is looking for a Territory solution unique to Territorians. If it was constructed in a bipartisan way, it could come forward quickly, particularly if some of the issues are so self-evident, as the Chief Minister suggests. It could come forward quickly and cheaply with a report which would assuage not only the MLAs concerns, but help them to explain the direction forward that the Territory intends to take; and do it in a way that Territorians would understand and support.

                The Chief Minister and government have stated they do not intend to do that. They have made some derogatory comments about the opposition’s intent. That is their right. All I can say is that it was proposed in good faith and I do recognise the support that some members of the House have given to the motion.

                The Chief Minister made one comment, though, which I thought was interesting. I might ask if I could get further explanation on that issue in the future, because I certainly will explore it myself. She made the comment that the New Zealand scheme was a dud, notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister of New Zealand thinks it is pretty good. She said it is a dud because it has an unfunded liability of about $4bn. Okay. I say that in this context: it has an unfunded liability of $4bn. For a scheme that is all-encompassing for all New Zealanders, it covers the whole range of issues which includes all forms of civil damages, in fact, arising out of accidents. She then goes on to say that the MACA scheme was designed only for motor vehicle accidents in the Northern Territory and has an unfunded liability of $169m.

                Now, $169m unfunded liability for 180 000 people compared with an unfunded liability of $4bn for 3 000 000 people seems to me, on the surface, to be comparative in that the MACA liability, if it operated in its entirety and alone in New Zealand, would have an unfunded liability of about $2.53bn. That is only for that scheme. That scheme, I think on the face of what the Chief Minister says, suggests that the New Zealand model is not as bad as she painted it with that cursory throwaway line.

                The other thing I also recognise is the fact that if the New Zealand model is in such bad shape with actuarial problems because of unfunded liabilities, how come premiums have dropped by 25% in the last two years? It bears out some further investigation and interrogation.

                As I said, it may be the wrong model at the end of the day, but I believe a select committee would be constructive in its approach. As the member for Drysdale said: it has a great capacity to create confidence in what government and opposition believe is the way forward because it has been reported as the proper way forward by such a select committee that has deliberated in a constructive way. I am disappointed the government rejects the motion out of hand. Notwithstanding that, I thank those who have contributed to this debate.

                Motion negatived.
                (Serial 76)

                Bill presented and read a first time.

                Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I move that the bill be now read a second time.

                In our society, community groups, charities and sporting organisations play an important and vital part in developing, enhancing and ensuring the style of life we live. It is a lifestyle particular to the Territory and that we value so much. It is a lifestyle that all sides of politics proudly proclaim as an essential part of living in the Northern Territory. But none of these groups would be there to support this lifestyle if it were not for the thousands of volunteers who unstintingly give their time and effort to these groups.

                This bill is aimed at ensuring that these very important people do not have to give any more than their time and effort. This bill is aimed at protecting these special people from public liability claims. I know that some would argue that under the common law, these people are already protected, but I believe that we must make sure that they are. We must put the issue beyond doubt. In the climate that exists with regard to insurance, and in particular public liability, volunteers should be left in no doubt that they are protected from being sued just because they give of their time and effort to make life better for all of us. In the report that was specially prepared for the National Summit on Public Liability held on 30 May and attended by the Deputy Chief Minister, the second recommendation is to protect volunteers. As that report notes:
                  Many people are concerned about volunteer work because of the possibility of being sued for negligence.
                  While the common law would probably hold the organisation liable for the negligence of a volunteer,
                  there is no certainty over this question. Furthermore, in the current insurance environment there is
                  heightened sensitivity.

                I note that the Deputy Chief Minister in his press release report of the national conference made no mention of moving to protect volunteers. I am sure that was an oversight and I am sure the government will have no problem in supporting this legislation.

                This bill is based on the act already in place in South Australia and that proposed for Victoria. It is but a small part of what must be done to address the crisis in insurance and, particularly, public liability. But it is a small part that can be done now and one that will offer some comfort and protection to a group of people who are very deserving of this parliament’s support.

                I make no claim that this will redress any of the problems these sorts of organisations face in obtaining public liability insurance, nor will it have any impact on the continuing rising cost of the premiums for such insurance. It is simply to address one of the problems that we have all become aware of since the insurance crisis began last year with the collapse of HIH and then was exacerbated by the horrendous attacks of 11 September. Without those twin disasters it may have well become an issue due to the increasing litigious nature of our society. But until the last six months or so, it was not one that most legislators or legislatures felt required urgent action. I do not think anyone here would disagree that the situation has dramatically changed.

                Today we face a desperate situation on two fronts. One is that volunteer organisations face going out of business because of either their inability to find public liability insurance or being able to meet the rising cost of premiums. The second is the source of volunteers may dry up because people are becoming very reluctant to be involved. They are scared they could be sued. They are fearful that their volunteer work could cost them the family home or worse, and what makes this bill even more crucial is that those fears could be proven right at any moment.

                Let me go through the bill. What this bill is all about is stated clearly in clause 3. We are attempting to strike the appropriate balance between the rights of those who suffer injury, loss or damage and the need to protect volunteers from personal liability when they act in good faith while carrying out community work. This act limits the personal liability for negligence of volunteers who work for community organisations and transfers any liability to the organisation itself. It defines community work as work for one or more of the following purposes:
                  a religious, educational, charitable or benevolent purpose;

                  promoting or encouraging literature, science or the arts;

                  looking after or providing medical treatment or attention for people who need care because
                  of a physical or mental disability or condition;

                  for sport, recreation or amusement;

                  conserving resources or protecting the natural environment from harm;

                  preserving historical or cultural heritage;

                  a political purpose; and

                  protecting or promoting the common interest of the community generally or a section of the

                A volunteer is defined a person who carries out community work and receives no remuneration or only some form of limited remuneration such as expenses. The act does not cover a person who is ordered by a court to carry out community work nor is someone covered if they are reckless in carrying out the community work or under the influence of drugs including alcohol, or acting contrary to the instructions of the organisation or the purposes for which the organisation exists. Put as simply as possible: this act means that if a volunteer is doing the right thing and for some reason or another, another person suffers injury, loss or damage then the volunteer cannot be sued.

                Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, as I said at the outset, this offers no solution to the continuing crisis in insurance, but it does offer some comfort to volunteers who have become caught up in this crisis. It is something that we can do now while we continue to work through the big issues, and I plead with members of both sides to support the bill.

                Debate adjourned.
                (Serial 75)

                Bill presented and read a first time.

                Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Speaker, I move that the bill be now read a second time.

                This is a simple bill with a simple intention. It is an attempt to alleviate some of the pain being suffered both by business and community groups from the insurance crisis and particularly that related to public liability insurance.

                This is no solution to that crisis, but rather a temporary measure that can be taken now to ease the spiralling increase in public liability insurance premiums. We recognise that much work needs to be done, particularly in relation to the whole area of the law relating to negligence, and this certainly does not tackle that area. We recognise that something must be done to halt the continual increase in claim costs and this does not tackle that.

                We recognise that something must be done to contain the cost of insurance and this certainly does tackle that to the extent that government can do so. Insurance premiums attract GST and then on top, the state applies a stamp duty tax. Here in the Territory, it is a 10% impost on every public liability insurance premium. As I said, we may not yet be able to bring down the cost of that premium, but we can influence the tax that community organisations and businesses have to pay on top of those premiums. We can, in effect, cut the cost of public liability insurance by 9% for every charity, every sporting body and every community group in the Northern Territory.

                We can do that by simply exempting those organisations, those not-for-profit groups, those public benevolent institutions, from the stamp duty on their public liability insurance. Then we can offer some relief for Territory business by putting a cap on the stamp duty that they have to pay for their public liability insurance. We can recognise that these premiums have risen enormously in the past 12 months and show no sign of abating. We can put in place a cap that says to Territory business: ‘You are still up for the 10% stamp duty on the insurance premium you were paying before this crisis got out of hand, but that is enough’. We can say that if nothing has changed in your insurance and the risk that is being covered, if nothing has changed except the cost of the premium has gone through the roof, then you will not have to pay stamp duty on the increase. That is what this bill does.

                We canvassed in earlier debate today the reasons for this action and the fact that it is not some revolutionary act by the CLP and some way out idea from the opposition; some proposal designed just to spend government revenues or embarrass the government. It is a simple proposal that will help ease the hurt being felt by many Territorians. It is a simple idea that this parliament can act on now and not wait for the full package of proposals that will have to come to address the insurance crisis.

                I do not propose to go over again all the ground that was covered by my earlier motion, but rather turn directly to this bill and its contents.

                The first and most important to note from the bill is that it is retrospective and is deemed to have come into effect on 1 July 2001. That date was chosen because it is in the past 12 months that this crisis has rapidly developed and premiums have gone through the roof. It means that community groups and business will be entitled to a refund of the stamp duty or part thereof of what they have paid on public liability insurance since 1 July.

                It would be rather futile and defeat the very purpose of this act in the way it aims to help Territory business if the cap on insurance premiums was to come into effect from the day this bill receives assent. To set the cap on premiums as they exist today would offer little assistance because, essentially, the horse has bolted. This legislation says we closed the gate 12 months ago. This legislation says that if your public liability insurance premium has increased by a few dollars or a few hundred dollars or many thousands of dollars, then the government is not going to penalise you further.

                This legislation says to Territory businesses: the amount of money you paid before July 2001 as stamp duty on your public liability insurance is enough. If your risk, your insurance cover has not changed, you do not have to pay the stamp duty on any increase in your premium. It is frozen at the amount you paid before the world of insurance went mad.

                If the public liability insurance premium plus GST for a Territory business was $1000 before 1 July 2001, then the stamp duty paid to the Territory government was $100. If the premium has now jumped to $2000 and the risk it covers is the same, then the stamp duty is still $100. If businesses have paid more in stamp duty renewing their insurance since 1 July 2001, then they are entitled to a refund. I believe it is up to the government and businesses to decide whether that refund is paid or is used to off-set the stamp duty on future renewals.

                This will not solve the enormous burden being placed on Territory businessmen and women by insurance crisis, but it will help. Similarly, the action of exempting public benevolent institutions from having to pay any stamp duty on their public liability insurance policies will help ease their burden, not wipe it out. For them, any stamp duty they have paid on their public liability insurance premiums since 1 July 2001 needs to be refunded.

                I do not believe this places an onerous burden on the revenues of the Territory. In many cases, the enormous increase in insurance premiums has meant an unforeseen windfall for the government. I would argue that it is a windfall that government can afford to forgo. The total revenue raised by stamp duty on insurance, not just public liability insurance, was some $10m in 2000-01, and we are talking here about a small part of that revenue.

                While that may not appear to be much in the context of government revenues in the order of $2.5bn, it is a windfall desperately needed by Territory businesses and community groups. The bill, as I said, is a simple one. It does not pretend to cure the ills of the insurance crisis but it is something that government can do now while that cure is found. It is something that government and this parliament can do now to help Territorians.

                Madam Speaker, I commend the bill to honourable members.

                Debate adjourned.
                (Serial 74)

                Bill presented and read a first time.

                Ms CARNEY (Araluen): Madam Speaker, I move that the bill now be read a second time.

                This bill is introduced following a matter raised by me in my maiden speech. In order to refresh the memories of members, let me repeat what I said on 16 October:

                  Another area in need of reform is the selection of jurors. As members of this House are aware, a jury
                  panel is selected from a large number of people chosen at random. Once assembled they are given the
                  opportunity to advise the court whether they seek to be excused from jury service, and they must then
                  explain to the judge, in front of all potential jurors, often as many as 100 people, why they want to be
                  In a rape trial earlier this year in Alice Springs …

                I should add for the sake of the Hansard that by ‘this year’, I meant 2001:
                  … two women felt obliged to say when giving their reasons that they had had a similar experience.
                  In other words, that they had been raped and therefore were unable to be objective jurors. The public
                  disclosure of this personal and distressing information was made in front of people who could have
                  been neighbours, friends, colleagues or people who they might see again around the streets of
                  Alice Springs.

                I asked, at the conclusion of those remarks, whether or not it would be wise to amend the Juries Act to ensure those people seeking to be excused from jury service could do so in the absence of potential jurors.

                I indicated on 16 October last year that I would happily allow the Attorney-General time to consider the matters I raised. I have exchanged a degree of correspondence with him and his most recent response did not dissuade me from introducing this bill.

                I will not go through the objection raised by the Attorney-General because it dealt with, or in some way sought to address, another component I raised in my maiden speech which is not pressed in this bill. In other words, if the Attorney-General considers this bill and comes back with the same objection as stated in his letter to me of 30 May, he will not have done his job at all well because the objection he raised in that letter does not, in my view, in any way apply to this bill.

                For the sake of the record, Madam Speaker, I seek leave to table the letter to me from the Attorney-General dated 30 May.

                Leave granted.

                Ms CARNEY: I might say in passing in respect to that letter, it is clear that the Attorney-General noted an objection and he relied on advice received from the Chief Justice. Although the Chief Justice is a man I like very much and respect enormously, I would encourage the Attorney-General to use the privileged position he now holds to make some decisions and be a bit proactive, dynamic and adventurous in the legislation put before him.

                Of course, that might be quite difficult for the Attorney-General, because so far in this Chamber I have not seen him display any of those qualities. The point I make quite simply is: just because the Chief Justice has a view, it does not mean that it is the right view, or that there is not a contrary view that should be given equal or more weight.

                I would be very concerned indeed if the Territory’s first law officer took his directions, instructions and advice from judges alone. Certainly, the Chief Justice, in that capacity, ought to be properly consulted about a variety of matters. However, for the Attorney-General to simply dismiss ideas from others just because the Chief Justice said so is arguably cause for alarm. In any event, I have digressed somewhat.

                The bill I now introduce may not quite be the one anticipated by the Attorney-General, so I urge him to consider it on its merits. Indeed, it is hard to see what objection could possibly be taken to this bill; it tackles head-on the difficulties raised by me, in October 2001, and sensibly provides a solution. It provides that after section 37 of the Juries Act, an amendment be inserted that reads:
                  A potential juror or a person who has been selected to be a juror, when giving reasons, whether before
                  or after being sworn, why he or she is not indifferent to the matter, or otherwise should be excused from
                  trying the issues on the trial, may elect not to give reasons in open court, and a proper officer:

                  (a) must ensure that all potential jurors are informed of this right; and

                  (b) if a person so elects, must provide the person with the opportunity to present his or
                  her reasons in writing or otherwise in private to the judge.

                This ensures in very clear terms that those who have a private or a personal reason not to tell all in front of a room full of strangers will no longer have to do so. The case I raised in my maiden speech is not an isolated one; there are others like it or similar to it. I say to the Attorney-General that there is nothing wrong with providing a statutory right to privacy, and that is what my bill is all about. Put simply, it is sensible and appropriate.

                I understand that the Juries Act is being reviewed by the Department of Justice. However, that in no way prevents the Attorney-General consenting to this bill. I cannot imagine for a moment that this bill can possibly be opposed, and I look forward to the Attorney-General’s consent to it in due course.

                Madam Speaker, I commend the bill.

                Debate adjourned.
                (Serial 44)

                Continued from 27 February 2002.

                Mr AH KIT (Local Government): Madam Speaker, I rise to support the bill proposed by the member for Nelson.

                I appreciate that it is unusual for the government to support bills proposed by private members. I believe that there are very few occasions on which this has happened in the past. This government has said that it will take an inclusive approach, and it will do so. Where a bill is a sensible and workable proposal, and it is in a form that we can support, then we will do so.

                The bill before the House reinstates the provision that was taken out of the Local Government Act in 1996. It will provide the capacity for members of council to submit a resignation so that they are able to contest a seat in the Legislative Assembly. Such resignations will, however, be capable of reversal should the council member not be successful in the election.

                The bill contains a relatively simple provision that will have a significant effect. The effect of the bill will be to allow local government councillors who have demonstrated a commitment to service to the public at a political level to offer themselves for election to the Legislative Assembly without being forced to go through a by-election for their position as a councillor or alderman should they fail. Councils will no longer be forced to pay substantial amounts for a series of by-elections following failed attempts by their elected members to achieve election to this House. These costs can be substantial and are an unnecessary burden on ratepayers.

                Some have made the point in the past that members of council should be prepared to commit to their councils and not stand for the Legislative Assembly during their term. The view put has been that it is only when an alderman or councillor must face the prospect of a by-election that true commitment can be assessed. The reality, though, is that some councillors will always want to offer themselves for election to the Legislative Assembly. Local government provides a useful introduction to political representative activity for many people who may wish to move into other spheres of government. It is possible to take account of this reality and save councils from the unnecessary expense of by-elections. This bill achieves that purpose.

                Madam Speaker, you will note that this bill is very similar to a bill that was proposed by the member for Braitling in February 2001 and rejected by the then government in July 2001. If that bill had been passed, ratepayers in a number of local government jurisdictions would have been saved a considerable cost in the conduct of by-elections for candidates who failed to achieve election to this House.

                The central provision of this bill was intended to be part of amendments that the government is planing to propose to the House relating to the Local Government Act. These amendments will deal with a range of matters that have been discussed with the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory over a period of time. The government has recently decided to proceed with the preparation of draft legislation that will incorporate many of the proposals that have been discussed. An opportunity will be provided to the public, to LGANT and to councils generally to discuss the proposals before they proceed through this House on these amendments.

                At this time, it is our intention to include provisions dealing with such issues as the setting of rates for strata titled self-storage sheds; the establishment of a process to ensure that councils perform to achieve at least minimum outcomes in key service areas; clarification of the processes for dealing with conflict of interest of members; changing the date for municipal councils’ four yearly elections from May to March so that an incoming council will be able to frame the next year’s budget; requiring greater transparency of councils through the requirement to prepare annual business management plans; and clarification of some financial accountability provisions to provide more protection of communities.

                There are some other issues that may also be included. As I said, though, there will be further consultation with LGANT before we move to take the bill through the processes of the House.

                Madam Speaker, while it was our intention to move in the direction proposed in the bill before the House now, the government is happy to accept the bill proposed by the member for Nelson.

                Dr LIM (Greatorex): Madam Speaker, I note the member for Nelson’s second reading speech on this bill in which he states that he wanted to encourage as many people as possible to stand for public office, not put impediments in their way to discourage them. The opposition does not have any problems with that noble statement. We are of similar mind, wishing to have in this Chamber good representatives for our constituents. I wish there were more high quality members, unlike some of the rabble …

                Members interjecting.

                Dr LIM: There, they start already! They are already at it! … in the government benches whose cacophony make them sound like a bunch of geese.

                I listened to the Minister for Local Government closely and I hear that he supports the amendment bill. However, I find it curious that the minister and his government, who so keenly support the bill, did not initiate it. Instead, he had to depend on the member for Nelson’s private member’s bill to do this.

                I believe we need to remind the minister that he is now in government. He is there to govern, not sit there passively making motherhood statements and doing nothing for Territorians. The minister digressed during his speech to talking about the raft of local government amendments he is proposing. They have been waiting there for the last 10 months, waiting for the minister to do something yet he has done nothing about it.

                Members, in voting on this bill, need to take some points into consideration. Members may not know that the Northern Territory Electoral Act of 1995 does not allow a member of the Legislative Assembly to resign and contest a seat in the federal parliament and then reverse the resignation if unsuccessful. Consequently, the CLP government repealed section 13 of the Local Government Act for consistency with the Northern Territory Electoral Act of 1995, coming into effect in August 1996.

                Mr Henderson: You did it to knock out Kevin Diflo! That is why you did it.

                Dr LIM: Show me where! Prove it. Get me any Hansard that you can to show me that! You cannot.

                Mr Henderson: Look at the time frame when you repealed it.

                Dr LIM: Come on, prove it! You cannot prove it, can you?

                Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!

                Dr LIM: The member for Wanguri cannot prove it. He interjects all the time, but he cannot prove it. Now, prove that and then I will accept it from him.

                Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Address the Chair, please, member for Greatorex.

                Dr LIM: I am speaking to the interjection, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, and I am addressing you while I am doing it. I am saying that the member for Wanguri cannot prove anything. He stands there accusing the former government of doing something. Prove it! He stands up throughout these last two days asking for proof, yet he does his own thing and he has no proof about it.

                Let me repeat this: because of the change in the Northern Territory Electoral Act of 1995 the CLP government repealed section 13 of the Local Government Act for consistency with the Northern Territory Electoral Act coming in effect in August 1996.

                The situation now is that a member of a local government council who wishes to seek election to the Territory parliament or the federal parliament must formally resign from the council before actually nominating. If unsuccessful at the election, and wanting to resume membership at the council, the only avenue is to seek re-election at a subsequent by-election. Many members here, and especially those in local government, will focus on the expense of a council by-election, and justifiably so, as by-elections are costly.

                Let me put a few points to members to consider: all elected members at all levels of government make a commitment to their constituents to represent them in the respective levels of government for the duration of their terms. This commitment is not an each-way bet. It is not something to be casually abandoned when something bigger or better becomes available. People who go into local government need to be serious about their decision and to be committed to be properly representing those constituencies.

                If elected members decide that there are overwhelming reasons why they should leave local government to contest an Assembly seat, that is their decision and that is fine. It is when they put themselves back for re-election for local government that their commitment to local government can be put to the test. If they can simply walk back into their former local government, their commitment to local government cannot be put to the test until the next local government general election. Thus, the by-election is the test for a local government elected member.

                As for a public servant, they are not elected to their jobs. Should they decide to exercise their political right to stand for election, it is appropriate that they should do so from outside the public service which must continue to operate in a non-partisan manner during the election period. It is also entirely appropriate that these public servants be allowed to return to their paid employment if they fail in their bid to be elected to the Legislative Assembly. Local government elected members who are also public servants who decide to contest Legislative Assembly elections would be reinstated in their jobs if they were unsuccessful. Under the current legislation, however, they would still have to contest by-elections if they wish to continue to represent their former local government constituencies. This situation is entirely appropriate. They are entitled to return to their paid employment but they should have to explain to their former constituents why they chose not to keep their previous commitments before returning to local government. These are the points I ask members here to consider when they vote on the amendment bill.

                Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I repeat my earlier point that I note the minister for local government, while he supports the private member’s bill, was not the one to bring the bill before the House, especially since he tells us how keen he is to see this amendment take place. The opposition will not oppose the private member’s bill.

                Mrs BRAHAM (Braitling): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, may I say right from the start that I welcome support of the government for the bill, and I welcome the fact that the opposition will not oppose the bill. The member for Greatorex did not say that he would actually support it.

                Obviously, this bill is an identical bill that I introduced in February last year, but it was defeated through lack of support from the CLP government, who now, as the opposition, support it; so there seems to be a dichotomy here.

                These amendments, as we all know, means aldermen can stand for the Legislative Assembly knowing prior to that decision, if they are not successful they can resume their position on local government. As the minister pointed out, it cost local governments across the Territory a great deal of money after the last Northern Territory election. It is a little unfortunate that the government of the time did not support it because local government and LGANT support it; we had lots of support coming through.

                So what this government is doing, in supporting the Independents’ bill, is acknowledging the role of Independents within this parliament. I consider that to be a very valued position that this government has taken. I am quite sure the minister did not take that decision lightly, but he has given recognition to the fact that an Independent can raise a matter, can present a bill, and government is prepared to work with the Independent and accept it. That is a very honourable thing, Minister, that you have done because, as you said, it has been done on very few occasions - I think four other occasions within the Northern Territory parliament.

                It is certainly an historic step for the member for Nelson, being able to introduce this bill successfully. It is also a very historic step for this very new government that they have decided to support the Independent this way. Now, of course, it is the government who will have to implement the bill, and I hope they do so enthusiastically. Certainly, I will be interested in the other amendments that the minister talked about.

                I was pleased to hear the member for Greatorex say that he will not oppose it, but I feel I should remind him of some of his words last year when he said in this House that for the government to reinstate that amendment which it had considered previously, tested in practice and rejected - it would be foolish to reinvent the wheel. He also said:
                  Let me make it quite clear this government does not accept the proposition that aldermen, councillors
                  and mayors should be able to abandon their elected post with impunity.

                He is saying that this amendment would allow elected members to effectively abandon their constituencies. At the time, he was probably responding the way government of the day told him to. However, I am quite sure, as an elected member of local government himself, he sees the value of elected members standing for the Legislative Assembly, particularly from Alice Springs. We have had a number of very fine people, like Tony Greatorex, after whom the Greatorex electorate is named. We had Paul Everingham, who went on to greater things within this parliament.

                Even though you might see it as a breeding ground for politicians, obviously the end result for the Northern Territory has been significant. It is interesting when you listen to the member for Greatorex’s speech, that he was also quoting quite extensively from what he said on earlier occasions. I find it a little hypocritical that the member for Greatorex now takes this stand. I can only assume that perhaps it has something to do with the self-interest of the CLP. I say that because I have noticed that there are a number of aldermen who have declared themselves as CLP and likely candidates. We have the Lord Mayor of Darwin who stated that quite publicly. We have a number of CLP aldermen in Alice Springs. I know the ones who are queuing up for the electorate of Braitling were probably, in a way, quite relieved that the past candidate who stood for the CLP will no longer be able to contest it because I do not think he is on the scene anymore.

                You have to wonder why there has been a change. You might say: ‘Okay, we are in opposition now’, but that says we have no principles; we just changed sides because we have moved. If you have a principle that you oppose something, you should do it no matter where you are. I am wondering whether they spoke out against it previously out of spite for the fact that I introduced the bill. Is that what it was all about?

                It will be interesting to see how many of the CLP aldermen now in local government contest the next Northern Territory election. Of course, they can do it with the assurance that the cost of a by-election will not be incurred if they are unsuccessful.

                I need to put this on record. In my role as the Independent Speaker of the House, I have followed the House of Representatives practice in the past. Let me read it for you. It deals with impartiality of the Chair. According to May - and I will not read it all:
                  … competence and the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful
                  working of a procedure, and many conventions exist which have as their object not only to ensure the
                  impartiality of the Speaker, but also to ensure that his partiality is generally recognised. He takes no
                  part in debate either in the House or in committee. He votes only when the voices are equal, and then
                  only in accordance with the rules which preclude an expression of opinion upon the merits of the question.

                You may say that in this instance as the member for Braitling, I have taken off my Speaker’s hat and done that. To date, I have not voted on any bill or motion within this House. I have done that purposely to retain that impartiality of the Chair. However, on this occasion I do feel compelled to vote so that the vote will be unanimous within the House. It would be a great thing if it could happen. The member for Nelson certainly has achieved something.

                I also want to make comment to the member for Greatorex. I thought it was rather petty of you in your press release claiming that the three members of the CLP in Alice Springs were standing up for business because they voted against the government’s bill, as did the member for Nelson as the Independent, but of course, the Independent member for Braitling abstained. What he failed to say in his press release is that the member for Braitling, as Speaker, had abstained on all occasions. So it was a little mischievous in that way.

                Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, we have reached an historic step in the Labor government’s first term in office, and I thank them for their support for this bill. I commend the bill and congratulate the member for Nelson on what he has achieved.

                Members: Hear, hear!

                Mr WOOD (Nelson): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, at this late hour of the night, it is a little overwhelming to realise that it is an historic occasion in this House. I thank all members for their comments.

                Mr Bonson: The minister.

                Mr WOOD: Yes, the minister mentioned to me that he had to go away, so I would especially like to say that I very much appreciate the government’s support.

                From my point of view, being a newcomer in parliament, the more bipartisan we can be - whether it is an Independent or the opposition - when it comes to private members’ bills, it would make a great government and parliament where these bills are worthy of support for the government to take them on.

                I know in the parliament there is great kudos in putting up a bill and having it passed. Of course, that is something that is unavoidable at times. I know that the government wanted to include this bill with the changes it is proposing to put to this parliament later on in respect of local government reform. That is why I very much appreciate what the minister has said and he has …

                Mr Stirling: We are a gracious government.

                Mr WOOD: Am I talking to the monarchy or to the government? It is in the national anthem. Thank you, Leader of Government Business.

                I say that with all sincerity; I do appreciate the government supporting this bill. I have deliberately tried not to go over past debates because I feel that, whilst it might be good to get a few things off my chest, I am not sure that it achieves anything.

                However, I should mention a couple of things that the government might consider. One of my pet beliefs is that the terms of government should be fixed - that is we should have four year terms fixed on a certain date - similar to New South Wales. If you had local government elections which are also fixed three months after a Northern Territory government election, a person could resign - because you can resign in the last 12 months - and that allows an appointment to occur in local government. Then an election would occur if the person was not successful in the Northern Territory election; that person could still stand three months later. I mention that as a proposal the government might find worth looking at.

                I should also make it clear that even though there may be a difficulty sometimes with a local government person standing for the Commonwealth elections, in some states - New South Wales in particular - you can be the mayor or a member of your local government and be a member of the state government. So it is not unusual for laws to allow local government people to have even two jobs at once which, I do not think you can have in the Northern Territory.

                I do think it is an important amendment, not only from an economical point of view where you save some by-elections, but it is also a practical amendment. It realises that we do not have a lot of people in the Northern Territory and therefore it allows us to have as many people as possible standing for elections. In other words, it is a sensible amendment.

                As the member for Greatorex said, and I appreciate his comments - we are here not always to pat one another on the back. This is a House of debate, and I do not stand here assuming that every time I say something people are going to agree with me. I think the member raised some important issues, although I might not agree with them, and I take those on board.

                Finally, Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for your support. I realise it was you who raised this issue last year and it is not nearly identical - it is identical - to the bill that you proposed last year which was unsuccessful. I would also like to thank - and I nearly forgot - my friends in local government. Recently, we had the Local Government Association meeting in Darwin, and for me it is always great to get back and meet local government people. They are a great mob of people; they come from all over the Territory. They represent all walks of life, all sizes of communities. People in local government, I reckon, are always very genuine people. They themselves have supported this motion for years. I hope at least by moving to parliament - and some people said to me: ‘If you stand, you won’t have any influence’. Well, if I do nothing else, I can say I did have influence in one area: we made some changes to the local government that I think were important.

                Another point that I nearly forgot: I do hope that government will continue to support private members’ bills regardless of sometimes whether I agree with the government or not. I see my role as not being here to give favour to one side or the other; I still see my role as one of looking at issues on their merit, and I will vote accordingly. I hope that government, when it looks at matters that I and the opposition might raise in this parliament, will also look at those issues on their merits, and not reflect on history.

                Once again, I put it on record that I very much appreciate the support of the whole House, particularly the government and especially the Minister for Local Government.

                Motion agreed to; bill read a second time.

                Mr WOOD (Nelson)(by leave): Madam Speaker, I move that the bill be now read a third time.

                Motion agreed to; bill read a third time.
                (Serial 36)

                Continued from 27 February 2002.

                Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General): Madam Speaker, it is my understanding that this bill is to be withdrawn.

                Mr MALEY (Goyder): Madam Speaker, when this bill was first presented, which is on the member for Araluen’s table, there was considerable debate and eventually the government brought amendments in a similar vein to those provisions contained in it, so I ask that the bill be withdrawn.

                Madam SPEAKER: Withdrawn?

                Mr MALEY: Is that the …?

                Dr TOYNE: You have to move the motion to that effect, I think.

                Mr MALEY: Can I just clarify one thing? This is not the Juries Act, this is the …

                Madam SPEAKER: No, this is the Criminal Code Amendment Bill. So you are withdrawing the bill, member for Goyder?

                Mr Kiely: What about that HIH one? That was a bit fallacious.

                Madam SPEAKER: Member for Sanderson, would you …

                Dr Lim: Stop that. Don’t be stupid.

                Mr Kiely: Oh, you poor boy. You have done a backflip. Now listen to you.

                Madam SPEAKER: Member for Sanderson!

                Dr TOYNE: Just move that it be removed from the Notice Paper.

                Mr MALEY: Madam Speaker, I have just discovered the motion. I apologise for that. Madam Speaker, I wish to withdraw the item of General Business Orders of the Day No 2 entitled Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2002 (Serial 36) standing in the name of Ms Carney.

                Madam SPEAKER: That is all you have to do. Fine.
                (Serial 40)

                Continued from 27 February 2002.

                Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General): Madam Speaker, the bill before us seeks to amend section 29 of the Small Claims Act. Section 29 currently provides that the court may make costs orders if fair and reasonable to do so, only in respect of claims for more than $5000. The proposed amendments would give the court discretion to make an order in relation to costs in small claims where the amount claimed is less than $5000 in two situations:
                  1. Where there is a written agreement between the debtor and creditor stating that the recovery costs in
                  respect of the debt will be paid by the debtor; and
                    2. Where the proceedings are for the recovery of a debt within the meaning of section 46 of the Unit Titles Act.

                  Section 46 allows a body corporate to recover money against a member of that body corporate for money that it has expended under the Unit Titles Act for negligent acts or omissions on the part of the member. The second reading speech for the Small Claims Bill on 28 May 1974 indicates that the small claims jurisdiction was intended to be a better, cheaper and more simplified procedure to deal with small monetary claims, and solicitors costs will not be awarded against an unsuccessful party. It continued:
                    The Attorney-General is determined to do all in his power to lift the heavy burden of fees and costs upon
                    litigants so that no longer may this be the cause of a denial of justice.

                  When the small claims jurisdiction was increased from $5000 to $10 000 in 1997, the former Attorney General, Mr Burke, stated in his second reading speech on 25 February 1997:
                    While the government is generally committed to the principle that a no-costs rule is fundamental to a
                    small claims system, it recognises that an exception should be made in extremely limited
                    circumstances. Accordingly, clause 7 amends section 29 to provide that the court may make an order for
                    costs in respect of an application for rehearing - this is the present situation - and also where the amount
                    of the claim exceeds $5000 and the court is of the opinion that, due to circumstances such as the complexity
                    of the law, the facts or any other matter in respect of the proceedings, it is fair and reasonable that an order
                    for costs be made. The government considers that this strikes a fair balance and would not encourage
                    wealthy debtors to resist bona fide claims from small consumers on the assumption that their entire cost of
                    resisting claims may be recoverable. As members may be aware, the cost of legal proceedings as both creditor
                    and debtor are fully tax deductible for a small business.

                  The proposed amendment has no qualification of fair and reasonable having regard to the complexity of the law, the facts or any other matter in respect of the proceedings similar to that under section 29(1) for matters over $5000. This could lead to an anomaly in that under section 46 of the Unit Titles Act, a costs order could be made in respect of a claim for less than $5000, but in respect of a similar matter for more than $5000, the court would have to be satisfied that it was a fair and reasonable claim before making such an order.

                  Although it can be a problem, as Mr Maley stated in his second reading speech on 27 February 2002, people who owe less than $5000 to a creditor are not concerned about the prospect of civil recovery litigation, as the cost associated with the recovery action by the creditor often makes the whole exercise uneconomical. There is no reason why two examples that were chosen to underpin this bill - the written agreements or Unit Titles proceedings - are any more deserving than any other situation of an arrangement as the bill is suggesting. A no-costs rule is fundamental to the operation of the small claims system and, for those reasons, the government will not be supporting this bill.

                  Ms CARNEY (Araluen): Madam Speaker, I wish to speak in support of this bill which is one of the most commonsense bills I have seen for some time; so it is in fact refreshing. As a lawyer, I have worked in the small claims jurisdiction, and have advised clients what to do in situations when, even if successful in their claims, they would not be able to recover costs. Of course, this is contrary to what occurs in other courts, such as the Local and Supreme courts, where, to use the phrase most often used by lawyers, costs follow the event. That is, if you win, you get your costs.

                  As a lawyer, I can say that there is nothing more frustrating than telling clients who are paying $200 an hour for legal advice that they could pursue a claim, but even if successful they will not be able to recover their costs. However, the frustration in respect of not being able to recover costs in the normal course of events for clients turns to anger, resentment and confusion where there is a written agreement between the debtor and creditor stating that the recovery of costs in respect of the debt will be paid by the debtor. It is this difficulty that the amendments that have been very sensibly proposed by the member for Goyder seek to address.

                  A second impressive component of this bill is the way it provides an opportunity for body corporate managers to recover costs from recalcitrant debtors of a body corporate. The amendment of the Small Claims Act will enable recovery of costs against a member of a body corporate. This is what should make it attractive to government. Indeed, if government opposes the bill, which it clearly does, it sends a clear message, in my view, to Territorians who are a part of a body corporate, and there are a lot of them. It will also send a dreadful message to the managers of bodies corporate; and that is that the Australian Labor Party in the Northern Territory does not care about them and it is prepared to ignore a commonsense bill provided in this Chamber.

                  Given all of the rhetoric and promises made in the election campaign, I would have thought that this government would do the right thing, In any event, that is a matter for the government.

                  A practical example, however, in my own electorate, illustrates why this bill should not be opposed. I know of a body corporate that has 49 units and about the same number of owners. In that group, there are two recalcitrant owners who owe thousands of dollars. The owners rode the loss caused by the other body corporate members, and the two recalcitrant ones in particular, for about 18 months, until the body corporate decided to instruct a lawyer. Proceedings have subsequently been issued. The problem is that the claim is issued from the small claims jurisdiction, and it seeks to recover slightly less than $5000. The legal fees cannot be recovered and, arguably, they will ultimately outweigh the benefits of undertaking legal action. However, there were about 40 to 45 owners, and rather than sitting back and doing nothing, they decided to take action - that was legal action - in respect of the debts because there was no alternative to getting the money from these two owners in particular. The purpose of highlighting that example is to demonstrate very clearly that this amendment should be agreed to in the Northern Territory, probably more than any other place in the country. It has more bodies corporate, more units than just about anywhere. However, that, as I said earlier, is a matter for government.

                  I note that the member for Goyder said when he introduced the bill that he had spoken to and consulted with small and medium-sized business, as well as a couple of managing agents of bodies corporate who were of the view that this type of amendment was required. I knew this to be the case and took the liberty of asking the managers of the largest bodies corporate in Alice Springs to comment on the bill. I have received a written response which I will shortly seek leave to table. Before doing so, let me quote from the letter. It is from L.J. Hooker in Alice Springs and it says:
                    We can relate various instances wherein bodies corporate have been reluctant to instigate
                    proceedings for outstanding amounts due to both the costs involved and the time incurred in
                    these actions. Additionally, judgments are often made wherein judgment is for the debt to be
                    repaid in minimal amounts over a long period of time resulting in a failure by the debtor to
                    continue payments and accordingly further action to pursue the debt.

                    We fully support the introduction of this bill and look forward to it being successfully passed in the
                    near future.

                  I seek leave to table that original letter, Madam Speaker.

                  Leave granted.

                  Ms CARNEY: I say to the government: shame on you. Shame on you. L.J. Hooker, a national agency and the biggest one in Alice Springs, received a copy of the member for Goyder’s second reading speech and a copy of the bill, think it is a good idea. However, this government, not caring about business in any way, shape or form cannot even think outside the box. No comments have been made about the efforts the Attorney-General made to consult. Of course, the Australian Labor Party on the other side of this Chamber have been fairly critical of the CLP for not consulting. I would have thought that for a bill like this which is very sensible, the Attorney-General in particular who, as I see it, prides himself on being a sensible sort of a bloke, would have taken the opportunity or, indeed, had his staff do it - and he has so many, particularly in Central Australia – that they would have gone to the trouble of asking a real estate agent who manages bodies corporate. Again, that is the government’s call.

                  I would like to assure members tonight that I will be sending a copy of this Hansard as well to L.J. Hooker in Alice Springs who will no doubt remain aghast about why it is that the Attorney-General - himself from Alice Springs - has elected not to support this very sensible bill brought by the member for Goyder.

                  In any event, it is obvious that the bill makes sense. I was going to urge the Attorney-General to support it but obviously, for his own reasons that I fail to understand, he elects not to. His failure clearly demonstrates that not only is it a stupid government but it is an arrogant one. It has not consulted and it does not even have the humility to acknowledge that this is a good idea. We in the CLP have been coming up with good ideas for 27 years; that is why we were elected time and time again by the good people of the Northern Territory, and in opposition we can continue to do the same thing. We will bring bills and motions into this Chamber as regularly as we possibly can, because this government is so bereft of ideas it is incumbent upon us to produce ideas for it.

                  Madam Speaker, it is a real shame that the government has chosen not to support this bill. In any event, I commend the member for Goyder for bringing it to the House.

                  Mr MALEY (Goyder): Madam Speaker, the fact that the Labor government is not supporting this bill comes as no surprise to me. I was approached by not only concerned constituents but community groups. I spoke to a number of small businesses, so a problem was genuinely identified. It is one of those amendments in which there are probably not a great many votes on whether or not it rises or falls, but if it had gone through, it would have resolved, in my view, a loophole which currently exists for recalcitrant debtors.

                  It is a genuine problem and I appreciate the candid and well articulated support from the member for Araluen. Also, my family friend and neighbour, the member for Nelson, has been very supportive during the course of this process in talking to some of the community groups that are interested in the outcome of this legislation.

                  The Attorney-General once again does himself a disservice. Without articulating any form of consultation from the government’s perspective, he has stood up and given a view as to whether or not this sort of legislation should be supported. There was no indication that he had spoken to industry; no indication that he had spoken to any of the potential stakeholders like the opposition has done.

                  I can put this on the record: the opposition has done the research, undertaken the consultation and instructed counsel to draft a short amendment which would fit succinctly into the Small Claims Court framework and would resolve a genuine problem. It is a real shame and disappointment to see that the government is not in a position to help business. We have spent most of the day arguing motions and engaging in debate about the pressures on business - everything from stamp duty to rising insurance premiums. This is something which quite genuinely would, at no cost to government, alleviate some of the wastage and costs which small business currently endure and operate under.

                  I am not surprised the government has not supported the legislation. They do not understand it; they did not consult. There was no request for a briefing. The Attorney-General could have written to me and I would have made time for him to talk to my electorate secretary who could have explained it to him. I am surprised there are no briefings. How can he come here and debate this thoroughly before the House without being briefed? Even more disappointing, he could have brought an amendment. I am surprised there is no amendment. We could have resolved this outside the House.

                  Ms Carney: Together!

                  Mr MALEY: Together! Team, team! We could have resolved this like father and son together. No amendments, no briefings.

                  Members interjecting.

                  Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!

                  Mr MALEY: I move that the bill be read a second time, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker.

                  Motion negatived.
                  Order of Business in the Assembly

                  Mr STIRLING (Leader of Government Business): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I move –
                    That, unless otherwise ordered, and notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders, the Assembly shall proceed each day with its Ordinary Business in the following routine:-

                    (1) Prayers
                  (2) Petitions
                  (3) Ministerial Reports
                  (4) Government Business – Notices and Orders of the Day
                  (5) At 2 pm Notices
                  (6) Questions
                  (7) Government Business – Notices and Orders of the Day
                  (8) Papers
                  (9) Ministerial Statements
                  (10) Discussion pursuant to Standing Order 94 (Matter of Public Importance)
                  (11) Adjournment

                  I circulated this yesterday so that members would be aware. We are simply putting down and making regular what has been adopted practice over the recent sittings, and that is to clearly specify the order of business that we will move through. I did not receive any comment from the other side, nor did anyone seek a briefing on this matter, so I assume that all is in order. However, it does make regular exactly how we have been carrying out business. I urge support for the motion that the order of ordinary business as it stands on the Notice Paper go in to standing orders.

                  Mr WOOD (Nelson): I would like to speak briefly on this matter, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker. My concern was that by having Notices at 2 pm - which I know we do have - there is not always a guarantee that you will have at least a minimum of a one hour Question Time.

                  The Speaker of the Tasmanian parliament told me that they can have one hour or more of Question Time, but you must have a minimum of one hour. It is up to the Speaker to decide when that one hour is up. What happens there is when a question is too long, a stop watch is held. If the question goes on and on, that time can be added on; a little bit like extra time at the World Cup. Perhaps the standing orders committee can have a look at it.

                  Dr Toyne: It depends who is ahead, though.

                  Mr WOOD: It depends who is ahead. Well, as long as we have Independents here, we might get somewhere. We need to be careful with Question Time. It is an important time and we should get the most out it. I ask that if notices are in there and they take up time - sometimes they would only take up a short amount of time; other times they might take longer - that we definitely do at least get one hour of genuine Question Time.

                  Mr STIRLING (Leader of Government Business): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I acknowledge the comments from the member for Nelson. Of course, it is his right to seek a reference to standing orders at any time through the parliament to have a look at those matters.

                  In relation to Question Time, I do take note. I do look - and I go by the clock above your head at the back there, just so that you are not confused by this matter. I do not go by my own watch because there is a significant difference between the time shown on that clock and actual Northern Territory real time. So, for the benefit of everyone, I do use that clock up the back. If we have notices such as we had today when it was 2.05 pm before the first question was asked; it was 3.05 pm that I rose and asked that further questions be placed on the Questions Paper.

                  I won’t always get it right but it is my genuine intent to go by that clock for an hour from the time that the first delivery is sent down the wicket and I will stick by that. That aside, I take it everyone is supporting it and I thank them for it.

                  Motion agreed to.
                  Take Five Bills Together

                  Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I move that so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent bills entitled Auctioneers Act Repeal Bill 2002 (Serial 65); Auctioneers Act Repeal (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2002 (Serial 66); Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Amendment Bill 2002 (Serial 67); Hotel-keepers Amendment Bill 2002 (Serial 68); and Prices Regulation Amendment Bill 2002 (Serial 69):
                    (a) being presented and read a first time together and one motion being put in regard to respectively the
                    second readings, the Committee’s report stage and the third readings of the bills together; and

                    (b) consideration of the bills separately in the committee of the whole.
                  Motion agreed to.
                  Auctioneers Act Repeal Bill
                  (Serial 65)
                  Auctioneers Act Repeal (Consequential Amendments) Bill
                  (Serial 66)
                  Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Amendment Bill
                  (Serial 67)
                  Hotel-keepers Amendment Bill
                  (Serial 68)
                  Prices Regulation Amendment Bill
                  (Serial 69)

                  Bills presented and read a first time.

                  Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I move that the bills be now read a second time.

                  The main purpose of these bills is to implement reforms identified as a consequence of the various National Competition Policy reviews of acts now administered by the Department of Justice. These acts include the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act, Prices Regulation Act, Hotel-keepers Act and Auctioneers Act. Other justice acts will be subject to legislation to be introduced later this year.

                  It is well known - and it has been previously stated in this parliament in respect of many other bills - that in April 1995, the Commonwealth, states and territories signed three inter-governmental agreements that comprised the National Competition Policy reform package. Compliance with the agreed National Competition Policy reforms is a prerequisite for a series of competition payments to the Territory from the Commonwealth. These payments have been estimated at over $7m per annum from 2001-02.

                  One of the National Competition Policy agreements, namely the Competition Principles Agreement, obliges the Territory, along with the states, to examine all legislation that may contain provisions that are anti-competitive. Within the context of the Competition Principles Agreement, a very broad approach is taken as to what provisions are anti-competitive. The provision may be anti-competitive if it does any of the following: governs the entry or exit of firms or individuals into or out of markets; control prices or production levels; restricts the quality, level or location of goods and services available; restricts advertising and promotional opportunities; restricts price or type of input used in the production process; is likely to confer significant costs on business; or provides advantages to some firms over others by, for example, shielding some activities from pressures of competition. Critically, it can be seen that the provision is anti-competitive if it has the effect of imposing costs on business.

                  This examination requires that the objectives of the legislation be identified and confirmed as to their current application. It then requires that each restriction on competition be assessed to determine if it is in the net public interest. Thus, it is plain that competition policy does not require the removal of all provisions that may be anti-competitive. Rather, it requires that all state and territory governments reach a judgment as to whether an anti-competitive provision can be justified as being in the public interest after regard is had to the cost and the benefits of the restriction.

                  In summary, the guiding principle underpinning each review is that legislation should not restrict competition unless it can be demonstrated that the benefits to the community as a whole outweigh the cost of the restriction, and that the objectives of the legislation can only be achieved by restricting competition.

                  The Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act was identified as possibly containing anti-competitive provisions. This act has been reviewed by consultants, namely the Centre for International Economics. The consultants were overseen by a steering committee established by the former Department of Industries and Business, and comprising representatives from the former Northern Territory Attorney-General’s Department, the former Department of Mines and Energy, Northern Territory Treasury and the Chief Minister’s Department. CIE produced an issues paper in 2000 and conducted wide-ranging consultation with persons and organisations that might be interested in the operation of the act.

                  CIE produced its report to the former government in October 2000. Some parts of the act are subject to separate national reviews. These parts include those dealing with the Credit Code, Part 9, and Travel Agents, Part 11. CIE reported on all of the matters required for the purposes of the NCP review. I will now summarise both the findings and the government’s response to those findings.

                  The most significant issue to be resolved in an NCP review is that of what is the objective of legislative intervention in the market. CIE found that the act contains a diverse range of objectives in relating to consumer protection. In summary, these objectives are as follows:
                    public health and safety regarding dangerous goods; the promotion of energy conservation
                    and the reduction of demand for energy by providing consumers with information about energy
                    uses of certain kinds of goods;

                    the protection of consumers from certain high pressure sales tactics;

                    to promote fair trading by members of various occupations;

                    to reduce opportunities for criminal activities in certain consumer transactions - an example,
                    trade-in of stolen vehicles and other stolen property; and

                    the protection of the consumers in respect of their dealings with various occupations - for example,
                    motor vehicle dealers, credit providers, tow truck operators, pawnbrokers, second-hand dealers and fair
                    credit reporters. The protections include protection from default by the business and reduced costs
                    arising from imbalances of information between consumer and business.

                  The government accepts these findings in respect of the objectives.

                  The next most significant matter is that of identifying restrictions in the legislation. CIE found that the main restrictions in the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act are restrictions on entry to various occupations through licensing and registration, and restrictions on the mode of operations of agents. It also identified various other restrictions that add to the cost of business from the point of view of both business and customers. In respect of these restrictions, CIE recommended that:

                    1. the restrictions as contained in Part 4 of the act dealing with the sale of dangerous goods be
                    retained without amendment;
                      2. that restrictions concerning the mandatory energy labelling of certain kinds of goods, as contained
                      in Division 4 of Part 4 of the act, be retained without amendment;
                        3. that restrictions on door-to-door trading as contained in Part 7 be retained without amendment;
                          4. that there be a retention of the power of the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs under Part 12 to
                          request that credit providers execute deeds of assurance following improper, negligent or unfair
                          conduct by the credit provider;
                            5. that the power under Part 13 to make codes of practice be retained and, more specifically, that the
                            Tow Truck Code of Practice be retained; and
                              6. that there be a retention of the provisions in Part 14 governing the licensing and regulation of
                              pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers.

                            The government has accepted all of these recommendations. However, I mention that the tow truck code has been recently extended for another two years. At the end of this period of extension, the Trade Practices Act 1974 will operate to preclude any further extension under the Northern Territory regulations. The tow truck industry needs to consider seeking an appropriate authorisation from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

                            I also advise that the Department of Justice, in conjunction with the police and industry, is examining Part 14 concerning a possible requirement that pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers hold and provide information to the police in electronic form.

                            CIE also made some recommendations for amendments to the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act or to the various regulations under the act. These recommendations concern Part 8, Fair Reporting; Part 9, Trading Stamps; and Part 10, Motor Vehicle Dealers.

                            The fair reporting provisions of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act impose various restrictions on what might be contained in such reports and on what information must be disclosed to consumers concerning information in the reports. CIE found that most of these requirements duplicated other requirements under Commonwealth law, and that insufficient benefits had been demonstrated. However, CIE also noted new national issues relating to residential tenancy data bases. CIE recommended that any repeal of Part 8 be deferred pending resolution of these new issues. The government accepts this recommendation for deferral. This substantial policy issue will be considered in due course.

                            CIE concluded that the trading stamp provisions of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act are, in respect of trading stamp schemes other than those relating to tobacco products, inoperative because no relevant regulations have been made. CIE recommended that either regulations be made or the provisions be repealed. The CIE recommendation was such as to require no immediate action. However, the government is considering the implications of this finding in terms of the adequacy of consumer protection in relation to the various frequent flyer and reward schemes that currently exist. Consequently, the bill provides for the repeal and re-enactment of Part 9.

                            The new Part 9 makes it clear that a trading stamp scheme relating to matters other than tobacco products will not be unlawful unless it is either a prohibited scheme or unless it breaches a provision in the regulation; and that the minister, based on advice from the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, may declare that a particular is a prohibited scheme.

                            Finally, CIE recommended that the provisions of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act and regulations concerning motor vehicle dealers be amended so that:
                              the provisions in the regulations concerning the submitting of annual financial returns be removed.
                              The government has accepted this recommendation;

                              the financial test applied to applicants for new licences be formalised. The government has accepted
                              this recommendation. The recommendation involves administrative action and possible amendment of
                              the Motor Vehicle Dealer’s Regulations;

                              removal from the act of the power for the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs to require applicants to
                              provide a bank guarantee. The government has accepted this recommendation. Clause 35 provides for
                              an appropriate amendment to section 136;

                              removal of the requirement that dealers only employ as managers persons approved by the Commissioner
                              of Consumer Affairs.
                            This final finding is at odds with the outcomes of many other NCP reviews of occupational legislation. They have generally supported the need for some positive or negative licensing concerning the person who is in charge of the business. However, it must also be noted that there are strong views to the effect that the provision should be repealed on the basis that the onus regarding supervision of employees should squarely rest with the dealers rather than with the managers. Managers are, in one way or another, regulated in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. They are not regulated in Tasmania where there is no licensing scheme, nor are they regulated in the Australian Capital Territory.

                            However, it also appears to be the case that the Northern Territory scheme is the least objective. The Motor Traders Association has been calling for a general review of the motor vehicle dealers provisions. The Department of Justice has prepared and released an issues paper. It seems appropriate to defer consideration of the proposal considering dealers’ managers at this stage, but to make clear that the issue will be reconsidered in a more general review that is currently occurring. Deferral of resolution of this issue is not to be taken as an indication that the NCP recommendation will be rejected in the long run. The National Competition Council’s response to the previous government’s decision about motor vehicle dealers was to the effect that the Northern Territory’s public interest justification for dealer management approval meets the CPA tests.

                            The bill also provides for certain other reforms and revisions of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act. These include:
                              a review of the penalties in the act and the conversion of them so that they are stated in terms of
                              penalty units rather than in monetary amounts.

                            The review has resulted in substantial increases in the maximum penalties that might be imposed;
                              a review of the provisions of the act dealing with the powers of the courts to issue injunctions
                              and to take enforcement actions under sections 89, 90, 95, 96 and 189.

                            The Chief Magistrate raised the possibility that the Local Court should also have these powers. The government can see no reason why this should not be the case. Accordingly, the bill makes appropriate amendments to these sections;

                            a review of the provisions regarding the making of applications.

                            Currently the act provides that the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs must publish applications for licences under the motor vehicle dealers, travel agents, second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers provisions. Under other Consumer Affairs legislation such as the Agents Licensing Act, such responsibilities lie with the applicant for the licence. This seems to be a more appropriate policy position. Accordingly, sections 132, 190 and 251 are to be amended so that the responsibility for advertising shifts from the Commissioner to the applicant. Finally:

                            the removal from section 125 of an exemption from motor vehicle licensing provisions gives to
                            persons who sell vehicles on an instalment basis.

                            This provision seems unnecessarily broad.

                            Moving now to the Prices Regulation Act which was enacted in 1949 and provides for the setting and enforcement of maximum prices for declared goods and services. Under the act, the minister may appoint a Controller of Prices who has the power to declare and set maximum prices for controlled goods or services. The Controller of Prices has a range of powers to ensure that the maximum prices are enforced. These include:
                              the power to require the production of balance sheets and other financial records;

                              powers of entry to premises and inspection of records; and

                              the power to summon witnesses and require disclosure of information.

                              Other provisions of the act are aimed at preventing suppliers from circumventing controls. For example, suppliers are not permitted to

                              bundle declared goods or services with undeclared goods or services and charge a total price that
                              embodies a price higher than the current market value for the undeclared product;

                              package smaller quantities of goods in containers than were ordinarily packed in such containers when
                              the control was introduced; or

                              reduce the quality of the declared goods compared to the quality at the time of introduction of the controls.

                            As has been the case with similar legislation in other jurisdictions, the Prices Regulation Act has a long history dating back to the period immediately following World War II. At that time, the objectives of the act were likely to have focussed on curbing rising inflation and addressing problems arising from shortages of goods. Since 1993, when the last general price control, which controlled the price of milk, was lifted, the act has basically been held in reserve to be used in times following states of emergency and other adverse events. In fact, the last time the provisions of the act were utilised was in the Katherine region following the 1998 Australia Day floods when the prices of items such as foodstuffs and building products were controlled.

                            As I said earlier, the Prices Regulation Act underwent a National Competition Policy review in the year 2000. As with the review of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act, this review was conducted by CIE and supervised by the departmental steering committee. The CIE review recommended that the powers to regulate prices under the act be retained, but made a number of recommendations for amendments to the act, and these have been accepted by government.

                            These amendments are included in the Prices Regulation Amendment Bill 2002. The review recommended that the exercise of powers to regulate prices under the Prices Regulation Act be restricted to controlling incidents of price exploitation following natural disasters or similar events that severely impact on the operation of markets. Further, if there is a demonstrated need for more permanent regulation of monopoly or oligopoly firms, separate case-specific legislation should be introduced to impose these controls. At present there is no limit on the length of time for which a Price Control Order can be in effect. The review recommended that the act be amended to include a provision that limits the length of time a price control may be in effect. The bill introduces changes which will limit the length of time for which a price control order can be in effect to 12 months. As recommended in the CIE review, there is nothing to prevent a further order being introduced following the expiration of the previous order.

                            The review also recommended that the objectives for regulation be specified as part of the act. As recommended in the review, clause 6(2) of the bill introduces a purposes clause into the act. In keeping with this purposes clause, and to better describe the functions of the act, the bill will change the name of the act to the Prices Exploitation Prevention Act.

                            The bill implements a further recommendation of the review by restricting the record keeping requirements under section 57 to suppliers of goods and services that are actually subject to price controls under the act.

                            In addition, the bill makes a number of statute law revision amendments such as removing outdated references to the old Commonwealth regulations, modernising some expressions, updating penalties and expressing those penalties in terms of penalty units.

                            The bill also provides that the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs is to be the Controller of Prices.

                            Moving now to the Hotel-keepers Act. This act was identified as containing some anti-competitive provisions. This act has been reviewed by a review team established by the former Department of Industries and Business, comprising representatives from the Northern Territory Departments of Justice, Treasury and Chief Minister. The review was completed by the Department of Justice. The review was conducted under the National Competition Policy guidelines as a stakeholder-focussed review.

                            The review team identified the following objectives as being relevant to the Hotel-keepers Act:
                              to limit the harshness of the common law which imposed unlimited strict liability on innkeepers
                              and hotel keepers for loss or damage to a guest’s property;

                              to make certain an hotel keeper’s liability so that disputes are resolved in an orderly manner; and

                              to clarify hotel keepers’ liability in clear terms so that it is readily understandable to those it most

                            The review team found that the act met the overall objectives. Further, it found that the act does not contain anti-competitive provisions that cannot be justified in the public good. The review team made several recommendations regarding the Hotel-keepers Act. The main recommendations were as follows:
                              that provision is made in the act to allow regulations to be made which can describe other modes
                              of accommodation that the act will cover;

                              that provision is made in the act to allow regulations to be made to prescribe the monetary limit of
                              liability of hotel keepers; and

                              that the procedure for exercising the statutory lien under the act is considered as part of the review of
                              the Disposal of Uncollected Goods Act being conducted by the Department of Justice.

                            The government has accepted these recommendations. The main rationale for these recommendations is to ensure that there are mechanisms that give flexibility and which also allow regulations to be made to provide for a level playing field for all accommodation providers.

                            There is currently no proposal to extend the coverage of the Hotel-keepers Act to other modes of accommodation currently not covered by the act. There is, however, a national working party called the Australian Standing Committee on Tourism which is considering uniform legislation in this area. The Northern Territory is participating in this forum. Some of the issues being considered in this forum include:
                              the amount of hotel keepers’ liability and possibly establishing a common level in all states
                              and territories; and

                              whether the state and territory legislation should be extended to cover other forms of
                              accommodation currently not covered.

                            If there is a proposal to extend the operation of the act to cover other forms of accommodation currently not covered, the Department of Justice will consult closely with industry, peak industry bodies and other stakeholders before undertaking any action to implement the proposal. The Hotel-keepers Amendment Bill 2002 will allow the Northern Territory to easily implement the outcomes, if any, from this forum.

                            The Hotel-keepers Amendment Bill also provides for other reforms. In particular, the bill provides for changes in terminology in the act and these should raise greater awareness of the legislation.

                            The Auctioneers Act was identified as containing some anti-competitive provisions. This act has been reviewed by a review team established by the former Department of Industries and Business, comprising representatives from the Northern Territory Departments of Justice, Treasury and Chief Minister. The review was completed by the Department of Justice. The review was conducted under the National Competition Policy guidelines as a public review. As a result, industry and other stakeholders were provided with copies of a discussion paper and advertisements were placed in newspapers inviting submissions to the review.

                            The review team identified the following objectives as being relevant for the Auctioneers Act:
                              to ensure that consumers and businesses have, in respect of auctions, appropriate choices;

                              are provided with safe products and services;

                              that they have a right to be heard in respect of auctioneering services, products and regulation; and

                              that they have a right to receive appropriate advice in respect of these matters.

                            The review team identified a number of provisions in the Auctioneers Act that are anti-competitive. In the main, these are provisions that establish a licensing system for auctioneers and auctioneer’s clerks. Other provisions include those that restrict the times in which auctions can be held. Importantly, it found that the licensing system only partly achieves some of the objectives of the act. It also found that the licensing scheme does not, in a cost effective way, assist in achieving the objectives of the act. The review team could not find evidence of significant market failure in the auctioneers’ industry, in that there has only ever been one licence refused in the last 10 years; no licences cancelled in the last 10 years; and no formal complaints made against licensees in the last 10 years.

                            In addition, almost half the number of licensed auctioneers also hold real estate agent’s licences under the Agents Licensing Act and are therefore subject to two regulatory schemes which cover their auctioneering activities.

                            Of the few informal complaints that have been received against licensed auctioneers, the majority are related to the practice of ‘dummy bidding’ at auctions which is not dealt with under the Auctioneers Act. Dummy bidding is a major issue in many interstate jurisdictions where this practice has been found to occur and cause detriment to consumers, and consequently to the reputation of the auctioneers industry. This government believes that this is an issue that needs to be seriously looked at in the Northern Territory.

                            The review team did not find a deregulated auctioneers market to be an appropriate alternative. It recommended a negative licensing scheme as a better alternative. It also recommended that this could be implemented by a mandatory code of practice for auctioneers under Part 13 of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act. The government accepts this recommendation.

                            Under a negative licensing scheme, auctioneers would be able to operate without being licensed, but could be prohibited from conducting auctions if they fail to comply with standards prescribed in the code of practice. The types of standards that will be put into this code of practice will largely depend on consultation that will be undertaken by the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs with industry and stakeholders. However, some of the issues that will be looked at include:
                              trust accounting requirements for auctioneers;

                              dummy bidding practices;

                              appropriate standards of conduct;

                              verifying ownership of property to be sold at auction;

                              prohibiting particular types of false or misleading practices;

                              training requirements;

                              clarifying when the auction period is complete; and


                            The Auctioneers Repeal Act will not be commenced until the code of practice is developed.

                            This government is committed to a strong and competitive auction industry. The repeal of the act and the establishment of a negative licensing scheme for auctioneers should have the effect of improving the current situation. There will be proper standards developed in consultation with industry and stakeholders and the Office of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading will be closely monitoring compliance with the code of practice.

                            The Auctioneers Repeal (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2002 also provides for certain other reforms and revisions. These include:
                              re-enacting section 14 of the Auctioneers Act which relates to appropriate record keeping
                              by auctioneers, into the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act;

                              re-enacting section 15 of the Auctioneers Act which relates to bidding by a seller, into the
                              Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act; and

                              various statute law revision amendments to other legislation to correct references that will become
                              out of date and inaccurate once the Auctioneers Act is repealed.

                            Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I commend the bills to honourable members.

                            Debate adjourned.
                            DISTINGUISHED VISITOR

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: I draw your attention, honourable members, to the presence in the gallery of the member for Kimberley in the West Australian government, Ms Carol Martin, MLA. Welcome to the Territory and enjoy your stay.

                            Members: Hear, hear!

                            Dr TOYNE (Justice and Attorney-General): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I move that the Assembly do now adjourn.

                            Mr BURKE (Opposition Leader): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I raised in Question Time on a number of occasions the issue of the departure of Mr Bartholomew from the Department of Health and Community Services.

                            I take the opportunity to raise that issue this evening in adjournment. I raise it in the context, firstly, of the Auditor-General’s findings in his report to the Legislative Assembly of February 2002. In that report to the Legislative Assembly, he reported in particular about the departure of CEOs and the terms and conditions of the departure of those CEOs since this new government came to power.

                            Dr TOYNE: A point of order, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker! I hope the member for Brennan is not raising the issue of the CEO of Health in particular, because that has been covered in debate earlier today. If the member is raising in general points about these dismissals …

                            Mr BURKE: I raised this in Question Time. This is the adjournment, not a motion.

                            Ms Carney: He can raise this whenever he likes. Read your standing orders.

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is no point of order. It has only been the subject of questions, not debate.

                            Mr BURKE: Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, in his February 2002 report, the Auditor-General raised issues regarding the departure of CEOs since this new Labor government came to power. With regard to his findings and comments, I wish to put again on the record some of his comments, and I quote in part:

                            Key findings. The 13 November 2001 agency restructuring removed a number of CEOs from their positions.
                            While the former CEOs were offered continuation of employment at their current contract remuneration terms,
                            those who did wish to cease their employment received termination payments as if their contracts had been
                            terminated by the government. There was insufficient documentation prepared to support the decisions to
                            provide those termination payments.

                            He said:
                              Termination payments and payments additional to contract requirements are being approved and paid
                              without sufficient record why the payments were made. In particular, there are still no records of whether
                              the variations to the standard termination arrangements were assessed as having an improved outcome for
                              the public benefit.

                              Their termination payments were calculated on the basis of an ‘Employer Termination’ under the
                              government’s contract arrangements, allowing them, based on their pre-contract employment history,
                              to receive up to 48 weeks of their notional salary and an additional five weeks payment in lieu of notice.
                              If these employees had resigned they would not have been entitled to those payments.

                            He said that:
                              In one instance, a termination payment for a former Executive Contract Officer was approved using total
                              employment costs instead of the notional salary as provided by the contract. The notional salary was
                              65% of the total employment cost of the departing employee. No reasons for the extra benefit being
                              provided were recorded.

                            In response to the Auditor-General’s report, the government replied through the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment:
                              It is acknowledged that there is a lack of documentation on the files with regard to the termination payments
                              cite, and this matter will be addressed in the future.

                            In regards to the departure of Mr Bartholomew, we have an undertaking by the Chief Minister that his contract was terminated in accordance with the undertakings that were provided by the government to the Auditor-General.

                            The second issue that underpins my questions to the Health minister is the fact that the member for Nelson, Mr Gerry Wood, is so concerned about the Auditor-General’s findings that he has made a reference to the Public Accounts Committee that those comments be investigated to further enlighten Territorians as to the reasons why those CEOs were paid in the manner in which they were paid.

                            The issue that is central to my questions to the minister is that Territorians have a right to know how much was paid to Mr Bartholomew and why that money was paid to him. It is not an issue of whether or not the minister is entitled to have private conversations with Mr Bartholomew. It is certainly not an issue as to whether or not the minister has a right to sack Mr Bartholomew. She certainly has that right and the opposition does not dispute that. But what the Auditor-General made very clear, and what this government has undertaken to do is to ensure that public servants who depart the Northern Territory are paid in accordance with their remuneration entitlements.

                            The whole issue at stake here is: if Mr Bartholomew left the public service voluntarily, his remuneration payments should have been no more than his leave entitlements; if he was paid more than that, he was not entitled to that payment. If Mr Bartholomew had his contract terminated, then clearly he was entitled to payments which would have been in accordance with his contract that accorded with the circumstances of his termination.

                            What we have not been able to gain from the minister is any clarity as to the circumstances as to why he left and any clarity therefore to allow us to understand why, how and in what circumstances Mr Bartholomew was paid. The minister claims that this is the purvey of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment and also that these things are confidential and not for public comment. In that regard, it seems very easy for the government to provide for public comment the full details of separation payments for a ministerial officer of the previous government. Therefore, the amount Mr Bartholomew was paid and the reasons why he was paid, and whether or not those reasons were in accord with his termination, are clearly available to the government and should be clearly available to the public if the minister and the government have nothing to hide.

                            Whether or not the minister herself has misled this House and, in misleading this House we have a major issue on our hands, is something that I intend to pursue and to pursue vigorously because, Minister, you may feel fairly secure and safe at the moment in the comments you have made, but they fall far short of your responsibilities as a minister. Until those comments are provided, this issue will not go away.

                            The issue could go away quite easily if you simply had said: ‘I decided that we needed a new CEO for the Department of Health and Community Services and Mr Bartholomew’s contract was to be terminated’. In that case, he was clearly entitled to significant payments for the residual amount that his contract provided. But the minister has come in to this House and said: ‘Mr Bartholomew and I had mutual and considered discussions over a lengthy period and as a result of those discussions, we mutually agreed to go our own ways’. That might sound pretty cute in avoiding the question, but it falls far short of answering and addressing the central issue.

                            We have on the record, one month before Mr Bartholomew left the public service, an interview with Fred McCue on 16 May. Mr Bartholomew said quite clearly that he was not going anywhere. In response to the comment that :
                              There were rumours around within your own department that you yourself are planning to leave by the
                              end of the year.

                            Mr Bartholomew said:
                              Of course I am aware of the rumours. All I can say to you is that they are unfounded. I haven’t applied for
                              any jobs. I’ve had no job offers made to me, and I am here for - I don’t know - until something else happens.
                              I’m just the same as anybody else in this organisation. My plans are for the future and for the Northern

                            On 16 May, Mr Bartholomew is not going anywhere. Mr Bartholomew’s plans are to stay as the CEO of the Department of Health and Community Services. Yet the minister has said in this House that she has had long and considered discussions over an extended period with him around this issue. Someone is misleading this House or someone is misleading the media and something smells because, on 18 June we find that Mr Bartholomew has gone. Mr Bartholomew, on 19 June, is technically gone - he may be physically still there, but he has gone based on her own report. On 19 June, the minister tells this House that she and her CEO have been talking about him going for a long period of time.

                            When directly challenged about this discrepancy in their two stories, the minister restates her position leaving us to draw the only conclusion: that she believes that her CEO is not telling the truth. If you have had long and considerable discussions with your CEO around this very issue, Mr Bartholomew was clearly lying to the media when he said he intended to stay in the Northern Territory. Therefore, the issue here was that in the minister’s opinion, Mr Bartholomew had intended to go and was willing to go and would go in due course, based on her discussions and decisions between him and her. If that is the case, Mr Bartholomew left his job willingly; Mr Bartholomew, as the minister has said, was not sacked. It might have been a mutual arrangement, that he said to her: ‘Well, it is now the day, Minister. We have talked about it for a long time. It is now the day that I have decided formally to say I am off’. If that is the case, fine, but he would have only been entitled to his leave entitlements and not a penny more.

                            What we find that there is an untold story here as to what money this CEO was paid. It seems from the evasion by the minister herself that Mr Bartholomew was paid a substantial amount of money as part of his departure from the public service. If that is the case, the minister legally has to have his position terminated, in which case he was entitled to those payments or the minister has misled the House; Mr Bartholomew left willingly and Mr Bartholomew has been the subject of a substantial, unwarranted and illegal payout by this Northern Territory government. I ask the question: what is the truth?

                            Territorians deserve to know the truth. We have a government that claims to be open, honest and accountable; we have a government that claims that no longer will there be shady practices, that this is the new form of government in the Northern Territory; this is the government that when it speaks to Territorians, it speaks the truth. Yet on this particular issue, on a very simple question of was the CEO sacked, was his contract terminated or did he leave willingly, we cannot get any answer. Also, not only can we not get an answer, we cannot get any indication from the government of the circumstances of his payout.

                            I note that when Commissioner Peter Ryan left the New South Wales Police Force, the amount of his payout was front page news,. There were concerns about whether he deserved that payout or not, but details of the amount that he was paid were known. Yet we cannot get that from the government. Notwithstanding that the Auditor-General said that he had great concerns about them not revealing it, but also whether or not these payments are being made appropriately; the government will not reveal how much he was paid.

                            The government, I say, has an obligation to explain to Territorians either in this House, as a result of a PAC inquiry or, eventually, through pressure through the media; but it will happen. What was the amount that this individual was paid, and why? When that is revealed, someone’s head is going to fall because the Health minister has said that he was not terminated. If that individual has been paid a substantial amount of money and his contract was not terminated, there has been an illegal act, there has been a cover up by the government, and there have been lies told in this House by the minister. Now I put that on the record…

                            Mr HENDERSON: A point of order, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker! The honourable member knows full well that he cannot say that.

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Unparliamentary language. I ask you to withdraw.

                            Mr BURKE: I withdraw, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker.

                            The minister has dissembled on this issue on every occasion that she has been asked, and it simply will not wash. Territorians deserve to know the answer; the media wants to know why they have been led up the garden path. This involves well over $100 000 of taxpayers’ money, and this open, honest and accountable government, this minister who purports to be a church-going Christian, has robbed taxpayers of that amount of money and will be held to account for it.

                            Ms CARNEY (Araluen): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I rise to draw attention to a series of events in Alice Springs that can only be described as an unmitigated disaster. In particular, the disaster occurred in my electorate.

                            The background simply is that the new Labor government decided, not unreasonably, to demolish Gillen House on its site in my electorate of Araluen, in particular in Gillen, and it decided to build a seniors village. The problem, however, was that the demolition works have only just been completed, and now the site needs to be built up. What generally occurs in these situations is that truckloads, often hundreds of truckloads, of fill come into the site and are built up to provide the foundations for a building, in this case a seniors village.

                            I was contacted a week or so ago by constituents who wanted to bring to my attention what was happening. Put in very simple terms, the compacting of soil that was used on the site was causing untold damage on houses across the road and further down the street. The damage was fairly broad. I was invited by residents to look at some houses, and saw the damage first hand. There were significant cracks appearing in walls, skirting boards were coming off the walls, some homes had burst pipes, grouting was cracking in bathrooms, and so on. It was, on any analysis, a very serious situation that the residents found themselves in.

                            I might say that the particular method of compaction - it was confirmed to my by a certified builder with whom I spoke - was the type that was used at Albert Park in Victoria when the then Victorian government built the site for the Grand Prix. That method caused untold damage to houses in the area and exposed the Victorian government to millions of dollars of compensation.

                            I met with residents. They had separately engaged an independent building certifier who confirmed to them that, in his view, there was no doubt that the extensive damage occurring to their homes was a direct result of the compaction method being used by the government contractor. Of course, this being a government project, government was at all times in charge and responsible.

                            As a result of the concerns raised and the devastating effects of this that I witnessed, I arranged for these people, my constituents, to see a lawyer. I rang around and managed to get a lawyer, Ms Nardine Collier from the firm Collier and Deane, to attend a meeting free of charge and she very kindly obliged. She advised the residents of their rights.

                            I had written a letter to the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure requesting that he do the decent thing and fund an independent report from a suitably qualified expert so that the residents could themselves have an independent report without having to pay for the report themselves. Of course, my request to the minister arose from public statements the minister made to the effect of: ‘Well. once the residents can prove the government was at fault, we will pay’. I would have thought, and it was a view I had at the time and is certainly shared by the residents, that a compassionate government would have put up its hand and said: ‘Yes, we will fund a report from a suitably qualified expert’.

                            Nothing occurred. The lawyer, Ms Collier, wrote to the minister; a copy of the letter was very kindly provided to me. She advised the minister not only that it was reasonable for the government to obtain and pay for a report from an expert, but that in the event that the works did not stop, she would apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction on behalf of the residents for the works to cease.

                            At all times, I was very impressed with the way the residents conducted themselves. Most of them are pensioners; they are not well-off people for the most part, and they were devastated. They were devastated that their houses, which are in a unique part of my electorate, a green street, were basically falling apart. They did not feel that the government was assisting them. Of course, I am delighted to say that as a result of advice received this afternoon that the minister, through his departmental officers, have told Ms Collier that now the government contractors will stop using the current compacting method and they will use an alternative method.

                            In addition to difficulties with the method of compaction, residents also raised other quite serious concerns including that construction work occurred outside the stated hours. Residents received, early on in the piece, letters that said that construction would occur between certain hours and, unfortunately, the construction went well beyond those hours on numerous occasions. Furthermore, the dust and the noise was nothing short of extraordinary. I went to the site myself when works were being undertaken and to physically feel the vibration through the earth of this compaction method was, quite frankly, nothing short of extraordinary. So, apart from the damage being caused to these peoples homes, the fact that they were not going mad was nothing short of astonishing.

                            In any event, as I said, this afternoon I was advised through my electorate officer that the government has now agreed to stop the current compaction method. It has also agreed that the contractor will work within the hours stated. They have also agreed to water the site so that dust does not go everywhere. The government has also agreed to appoint an independent assessor to inspect the damage to the properties and prepare a report.

                            So the government has seemingly averted threatened legal action and, of course, that is very encouraging. The unfortunate aspect of this tale of woe - and that is all it can be described as - is that these residents had to come to their local member to alert her to this very destructive construction that was going on across the road. Only by way of press release and through the media did the government respond.

                            Furthermore, only a letter from a legal practitioner jolted the minister into action. The threat of injunctive proceedings finally encouraged the minister to do something. I am very grateful to Ms Nardine Collier for offering her legal services at a meeting with the residents free of charge. However, the fact of the matter is the residents have incurred legal fees and I think it will be to this government’s eternal shame that its action clearly demonstrates that only under pressure brought by the media, and only under the threat of injunctive proceedings, will it do something.

                            Now this is the government that is meant to act for all Territorians, that is meant to be open, accountable and honest. It does not even have a clue about what is going on across the Northern Territory. Also, this is a government that, for reasons that still quite frankly escape me, established an office called the Office of Central Australia in which it has, as I understand it seven employees - seven people devoted to looking after the general area of Alice Springs in the absence - which seems to be increasing - of the Minister for Central Australia. These seven employees had no idea what was happening in a part of Alice Springs, and obviously had no regard whatsoever to the construction works. It did not even occur to them to go around and check what was going on. It certainly did not occur to the Minister for Central Australia and it will be to his eternal shame that this sad and sorry tale occurred at all.

                            Whilst I am reasonably happy with the outcome, albeit under the threat of injunctive proceedings, one question remains, and that is: will the minister provide an undertaking that, subject to the report from the suitably qualified expert that the minister now has agreed to pay for, the minister will accept liability and make good the damage done - extreme as it is - to these people’s homes?

                            Mr VATSKALIS (Casuarina): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I had no intention of speaking today in this adjournment but I think I have to respond to some of the claims made from the other side.

                            I notice that a number of buildings have been built for senior citizens in Alice Springs. Quite rightly, some fill has to come in and that fill has to be compacted. That is normal practice. Of course, we are using a vibrating roller which is totally different from what was used in Albert Park in Melbourne. My understanding is that in Albert Park, they were using a high impact device to compact the sand. That is beside the point.

                            I agree with the member for Araluen that the vibrating roller created problems. The difference is that my department became aware of a complaint very early and immediately contacted the contractor and they decided not to use a vibrating roller. It was well before - well before - they contacted the local member. And quite rightly so; that is the role of the local member, and the member on the other side knows that, I know that and my colleagues know that. We are there to help the public and, of course, I would have done exactly the same.

                            But as the member said, there is an Office of Central Australia. They represent the Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment. The residents did not contact me; they contacted their local member, quite rightly. But our response was immediate. We not only decided to stop the vibrating roller operating …

                            Ms Carney: That is a lie and you know it. It took at least three days.

                            Mr HENDERSON: A point of order, Madam Speaker!

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Araluen, withdraw.

                            Ms CARNEY: It is a mistruth, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker.

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Araluen, withdraw. Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, sit down, please. Member for Araluen, I ask you to stand and withdraw the comment.

                            Ms CARNEY: I withdraw the reference to ‘lie’ and replace it with ‘mistruth’, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, the vibrating roller ceased to operate on 14 June. Not only did we cease operating, we contacted the contractor and made arrangements to stop using the roller. We intend to employ an independent surveyor to inspect all the houses and we have already given a commitment that we are going to rectify any damage that the surveyor decides was done as a result of the vibrating roller, quite rightly.

                            The lawyer contacted my office on Friday afternoon by letter saying: ‘If you do not do something by Monday, we are going to get an injunction’. Great! Nobody works on Sunday in Alice Springs. The contractor does not work. We are not doing anything.

                            Ms Carney: You are the minister; you make the decisions.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: What I am I going to do? Who am I going to call? The Ghost Busters? No! When we got hold of the subcontractor indicating he should stop using the vibrating roller, he stopped vibrating. End of story. No more damage.

                            I give an undertaking to the senior citizens there, that any damage that was done as a result of the vibrator which is confirmed as having been done by the independent surveyor, we are going to fix.

                            Ms Carney: So through your incompetence, it has cost you a fortune. Well, good!

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Member for Araluen.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: I did not vibrate; it was the contractor’s vibrator. Now, as for the incompetent part …

                            Members interjecting.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: I am 1500 km away and even if I vibrate really rapidly, I do not think it would reach Alice Springs.

                            Let me assure you this is not a laughing matter. I accept your argument that it is a very serious matter; it involves senior citizens. I believe that these people are entitled to compensation should the independent surveyor decide that the damage to their homes was caused by the vibrator.

                            My department will take it up with the contractor. My department will compensate these people should the independent surveyor decide that the damage to their homes was done as a result of the vibrating roller. The vibrating roller is not going to continue.

                            Ms Carney: Did you give the undertaking to the lawyers?

                            Madam ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER: Members, can you try not to talk across the Chamber?

                            Mr VATSKALIS: I do not have to take an oath on the Bible. I state this publicly in parliament and my word stands. They will be compensated. So, if the if the surveyor comes back and says: ‘You caused the problem,’ we are going to fix it.

                            Ms Carney: Thank you.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: But the thing I say is: you have a problem. The first point of contact is the people who caused the problem: Lands, Planning and Environment. Contact the Central Australian office. Talk to us! I will respond. 8901 4132 is my office number. I do not recall you as their local member calling me.

                            Ms Carney: Why would I call you, you dill? I wrote to you.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: I got a letter from a lawyer.

                            Members interjecting.

                            Mr VATSKALIS: Richard, you can call me, too. I do not mind. If you have a problem and you think that you cannot get across the bureaucracy, ring the local member, ring the minister.

                            Ms Carney: I write a letter and expect you to read it. What is wrong with that?

                            Mr VATSKALIS: I am an approachable person. I go to the supermarket and people stop me and tell me their problems. You can ring me here and talk to me. My wife hates me going to the supermarket - it takes me one-and-a-half hours to pick up a bottle of milk because people talk to me.

                            Now, I agree with you. It is a serious problem. These people should not be put through this adventure. It is going to be rectified. End of story.

                            Ms CARTER (Port Darwin): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I rise tonight to provide a bit more detail on the issue of the plant growth on the beach at Cullen Bay. Since I became the local member three years ago, this problem has continued to occur. Each Wet Season the creeper grows and grows and grows. Each Dry Season the local community says: ‘We want to use the beach; it is disappearing’. Until this year, I have been reasonably successful in getting the department to cull the creeper - I am not allowed to use the term ‘weed’, as much as I would like to. So I have been reasonably successful getting the department to cull it. What we have been able to do is get permission for the creeper to be culled back to 15 m from the rock wall. Prisoners from Correctional Services come along and do the job and they have done a good job over the years.

                            This year the creeper has grown much more than it has in the past. At high water mark, there is virtually no soft sand available. Last year, I was living in a unit that was near that beach, and I was able to see the number of people in the Dry Season, particularly backpackers I would argue, utilising the beach during the day. Now, I can go down there at high tide and there is nobody at all on the beach in the middle of the day which is very, very unfortunate. Obviously, the residents miss the beaches, the visitors do not use it because they do not know how good it used to be, and the people with shops and businesses in Cullen Bay are very disappointed with the situation at the moment.

                            A few weeks ago, through the minister’s department, we were able to organise for, I would argue, a trimming of the grasses as opposed to the creeper. When I went down there last week and had a look at the beach, it is my estimation that instead of the creeper being culled back to 15 m, it is in excess of 30 m. So there has been a significant increase in what has been allowed of that creeper to be left on the beach. We have lost what I believe is to be Darwin’s best beach. It is a beautiful inner city beach and it has disappeared.

                            The people of Cullen Bay recognise that there is a value to having some plant growth along the borders of the beach. Each Wet Season, the plant grows. I would argue that each Dry Season it should be culled back to allow for people to actually use the beach. Otherwise, it really becomes: ‘Well, what is the point?’ If you cannot actually utilise the beach, there seems little point in having it there. We do not disagree with the fact that there is some value, particularly with regard to the environmental, of having some form of plant growth anchoring the sand to the foreshore. However, it has gone to excess now. There is a whole lot of litter stuck in the creeper: plastic bottles, bits of paper, all enmeshed in this huge carpet of creeper. It is a sad loss to the Darwin area, the loss of the use of Cullen Bay beach.

                            The problem that I see is caused by the jurisdictional aspects of this issue. Over the years, I have been completely frustrated with what I consider to be buck passing between two jurisdictions.

                            Cullen Bay was built by Thiess contracting seven years ago. As part of the development, their contract with the Northern Territory government, Thiess had to take out a bank guarantee - and I do not know the amount of money that was involved - to guarantee the integrity of the beach wall. The period of this seven year guarantee expires at the end of June this year.

                            Thiess are now expected to provide the government a report on a survey they must do to establish that the wall is in good order. Once accepted by the government, Thiess can be released from their need to hold a guarantee and exit from the project. Once Thiess is released from its obligations, the Northern Territory government is going to hand Cullen Bay beach over to Darwin City Council for management. That is the situation.

                            So we are waiting for Thiess to provide this engineering report to demonstrate that the rock wall that forms the basis of Cullen Bay beach is sound. I have written to the minister about this, and have been told that there are some delays on the issue. What I dearly would like to have an indication of is when this matter is going to be finalised. The management of Cullen Bay itself want to grass the top part of the beach, and you can do that by putting in protective walling, topsoiling and grassing so that people, as they used to be able to do when it was sand, can come down, set their chairs up in the night time and have their pizzas or whatever they might want to do. Now you cannot do that. A year ago, you used to be able to go down there in the evening and sit on the beach, but now that has disappeared. So what the Cullen Bay people want to do is to grass up the area.

                            From my impressions of talking to people, Darwin City Council is amenable to this concept, but they cannot give the nod yet because they do not have the jurisdiction for the beach; it is still with the Northern Territory government. So we have now lost a Dry Season - high season for the beach and for the visitors and residents of Cullen Bay - because the beach is covered by metres and metres of this creeper.

                            We want to put some grassed areas in, we want to turn it back into a fabulous beach and we are really calling on the minister and his department to do everything that is possible to get this process - this movement of jurisdiction from the government to Darwin City Council - done so that we do not face the same problem again next year.

                            Mr AH KIT (Arnhem): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, this morning in my ministerial report on the Community Justice Strategy, I was about three-quarters of the way through it and I would like to move to have it incorporated in Hansard, if that is possible, as an adjournment and I seek leave.

                            Leave granted.
                              We also visited the council offices, school and clinic. We were able to begin the process after a meeting
                              with some councillors to reinstate CDEP to Lajamanu and I compliment Minister Ruddock and his staff
                              for being able to take such prompt action on that matter.

                              At the community barbecue that night many residents spoke to us about local issues and I spoke about the
                              importance of partnerships and of listening to the community.

                              Minister Ruddock was very impressed with what he saw and I think that he gained a real insight into the
                              benefit of listening to what the community wants.

                              In the morning we flew to Ali Curung and, following a community meeting, we were given a presentation
                              through a series of dot paintings of how the community resolves violence issues.

                              Again, this has been part of the community justice strategy where local people have been allowed to come
                              up with their own way of solving community problems.

                              I would like to pay particular tribute here to Peter Ryan and Jackie Antoun of my department – they have
                              worked tirelessly on this project and, together with the Kurduju Committee, Yuendumu and Lajamanu
                              communities, are building real solutions.

                              I intend to report more fully on this visit at a later stage, but I again want to thank Minister Ruddock
                              for his attentiveness and real involvement in this trip.

                              I am also pleased to announce that with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Justice, and the Chief
                              Minister’s Department, I am looking at how to provide more resources to the community justice strategy
                              to enable much safer community living environments. There is no doubt that if we are able to make real
                              inroads, we as a government will benefit greatly.

                            Mr HENDERSON (Wanguri): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate a constituent of mine, Mr Yogan Sathianathan, for receiving an Order of Australia Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Yogan received his OAM for service to the multicultural community in the Northern Territory and this is a highly deserved reward for many years of service to the community here in the Northern Territory, particularly the multicultural community.

                            In any honour system, it is difficult to avoid a pecking order, a kind of grading of distinctions, but most of us probably feel that the most deserving of all were the little known Australians who, for no reward and no expectation of special recognition, have gone out of their way to make this country a better place. That really does describe Yogan; he is a deserving recipient of the OAM.

                            Originally from Sri Lanka, Yogan settled in Australia in the 1970s. Before migrating to Australia, he spent some time in a refugee camp in Sri Lanka. He has been an active member of our community from the moment of his arrival. Yogan’s interests have been directed by his experiences as a migrant and he has volunteered many hours to helping migrants and refugees, quietly without any broader recognition in our community. His tireless work in helping these people adjust and settle in Darwin has allowed their transition to life in Australia to be as smooth as possible. He is held in very high regard and has touched the lives of many hundreds of people in our community.

                            His volunteering resume is impressive, and I take this opportunity to list some of the work that he has done. He has been a volunteer on the committee of the Migrant Resource Centre in Darwin; he contributes to both the Sri Lankan and Tamil Societies in Darwin; he is a life member of the Sri Lankan Australian Friendship Association; he served as President and Treasurer of the Multicultural Society; he is the current Treasurer of the Torture and Trauma Survivors Service; he is the current Treasurer of the Multilingual Broadcasting Council of the Northern Territory; and he established the Migrant Resource Centre in Alice Springs.

                            I am sure all honourable members would agree that that is a very impressive list of contributions to our community. There would be very few people in the community who could touch the breadth of contribution that Yogan has made and is continuing to make. Many different Australians have been awarded Queen’s Birthday Honours, but they all have one great commonality: their dedicated service to those around them, and to their community. I would like to congratulate Yogan and his fellow awardees on an award that has been very richly deserved and really does pay tribute to the work that he has done over many years - work which I am sure he will continue to do.

                            Dr LIM (Greatorex): Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I join the minister in congratulating Yogan. I was fortunate to be at the function two weeks ago Friday when the announcement was made that he was going to receive the award. I was able to personally congratulate him on that. He, indeed, is one of the very worthy Sri Lankan people who have come here to contribute significantly to the Northern Territory.

                            There is a Sri Lankan couple, husband and wife, in Alice Springs I want to speak about tonight. He is Dr Kendasamy Vijayakumer - we all know him in Alice Springs as Dr Kumer. I have worked with him since 1981 when I first went to work in the anaesthetics unit at the Alice Springs Hospital. Dr Kumer came to Alice Springs in 1977 as a medical officer, working initially in the wards and the emergency department. He was qualified with his MBBS in 1971 from the University of Ceylon and, following that, received his ECFMG, which is a medical certificate for passing an examination from the United States, after which he then did his PhD.

                            Since coming to Australia he has obtained other qualifications including membership of the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators, Fellow of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and now he is also accepted as a senior specialist consultant anaesthetist in Australia.

                            Back in 1997, I was very privileged to write for Kumer a letter of reference to encourage him to take on the position of senior specialist. In that letter I wrote:
                              This letter is to advise that I have known Dr Vijayakumer since 1981 when I first arrived in Alice Springs to
                              work as a private general medical practitioner. In 1981 he was then a registrar at the anaesthetic department
                              of the Alice Springs Hospital. Over the last 16 years …

                            I remind you that this letter was written in 1997:
                              … I have developed a close professional relationship with him. From a professional perspective I know
                              that Dr Vijayakumer arrived in Alice Springs from Sri Lanka as a resident medical officer at the Alice
                              Springs Hospital. He eventually rose to the position of registrar of anaesthetic unit and is now a consultant.
                              My association with him started in the anaesthetic department of the hospital while I was conducting
                              private anaesthetic sessions. For the next 13 years I increased my involvement with the anaesthetic
                              department through working regular public sessions. Throughout that time I had a close association with
                              him, receiving invaluable clinical teaching and assistance from him from time to time. He was always ready
                              to assist when asked.

                            I have always found his clinical ability to be exemplary. The good doctor was very professional in his approach
                            and delivery of his skills both to his many patients and the staff members who work with him. His calm approach
                            to any situation has made him one of the easiest anaesthetists to work with. Many staff members vie to work
                            with him precisely for that reason. His unselfish service to the Alice Springs Hospital was such that at times
                            Dr Vijayakumer was the only anaesthetist on duty at the hospital for long periods of time. I personally
                            experienced several periods when I was the only other part-time assistant he had to work with to
                            provide anaesthetic services to Central Australia.

                            For the past 10 years or so, Dr Vijayakumer has more than satisfactorily conducted the role of the Deputy
                            Director of the Anaesthetic Unit at the Alice Springs Hospital. I am also aware that from time to time he had
                            been the acting director of the unit. During these times the good management of the anaesthetic unit was never
                            in question. In 1991, Dr Vijayakumer joined me as an associate in my general practice when I was in
                            full-time medical practice myself and I was able to observe his general practice work at close hand. I found
                            his approach to general practice to be similarly cautious and professional as his approach to his anaesthetics,
                            and he has continued to work part-time in general practice to the delight and satisfaction of his many patients.

                            Dr Kumer is probably the only Sri Lankan-trained medical acupuncturist who is currently practicing in Alice Springs and he continues to do that, providing pain relief for many of his patients in the town.

                            Dr Vijayakumer’s professionalism carries through to his personal life. He is a quietly spoken family person, aware of his social position in Alice Springs yet never exploiting or flaunting it. He has a high standing in our community.

                            His spouse is very well known to many people in Alice Springs also. She is also a doctor, similarly qualified in Sri Lanka and, after working for quite some time at the Alice Springs Hospital, she was transferred to work at the Community Health Centre in Flynn Drive. Her named Chitra Devi Vijayakumer. She also graduated with her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree in Ceylon in 1971. She also received her ECFMG and then went on to do other post graduate qualifications including venerealogy and also received a Fellowship of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.

                            Chitra now runs the Diabetic Clinic at the Flynn Drive Medical Centre. Prior to that she had done other work including aged care, renal medicine, women’s health, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV medicine, maternal, infant and child health, school health, immunisation, communicable diseases and for some time practiced general medicine through her Flynn Drive connection.

                            Both Kumer and Chitra are moving to Melbourne where both their children are. Their children are now studying at universities and the Vijayakumers feel that it is time that they are with the children to provide them with the support that they need while going through university.

                            These two very prominent doctors from Alice Springs have spent well over 35 years in Alice Springs, and it is appropriate that this government and the minister recognise their contribution to health services in Central Australia. I hope the minister will take it on board to write to them, to congratulate them personally. It is important to recognise that people who have contributed such a significant slice of their lives that they are now part of the institution, the establishment, and now they are going to leave.

                            I feel very sorry to see both Chitra and Kumer leave town. They have had so many patients through their combined hands. Kumer has saved many people who have survived tremendous trauma through his anaesthetic skills and Chitra has assisted through her diabetic clinic. Many people in Alice Springs will be very sorry to see them leave. I know for sure that patients who attend the diabetic clinic at the Flynn Drive Medical Centre will be devastated when they hear that the couple are leaving town.

                            Two Saturdays ago, I held a community barbecue in one of the parks in the new east side of Alice Springs near where Chitra and Kumer used to have their home. They have since sold that house. They have lived there since the early 1970s. The neighbourhood turned out in large numbers to wish them farewell and offer them gifts and cards to remind them of their connection to Alice Springs.

                            The day started very well in that we all gathered at the park at about 11.30 am. Unfortunately, the barbecue trailer that we had organised to be there at about that same time did not front. After about an hour of sitting around, talking and passing the time of day and exchanging stories from the last 30 to 35 years, we all decided that we would shift to the Telegraph Station where there were barbecues for us to then have our barbecue. We had to leave a big sign on one of the trees at the playground to ensure that others coming later would find their way to the Telegraph Station.

                            In all, some 30 people turned up at the Telegraph Station. We had a long barbecue there and at that time Kumer bade farewell to many of his friends. We hope that they will have a good life in Melbourne. I am sure that Kumer will be back in Alice Springs to do locum work whenever he is needed. His soul is in Alice Springs and I am sure he would be loath to cut himself off completely from our town. I wish Kumer and Chitra well in the future and I look forward to meeting up with both of them in the years to come during their semi-retired or retired lives in Victoria.

                            Dr BURNS (Johnston): Madam Speaker, at a recent function at the senior citizens at Casuarina Square Community Room, Mrs Valma McDonald bought to my attention the achievements of the NT Blind Bowlers team at the recent national championships. As this House will soon be informed, the NT team did us proud and I was glad to facilitate some publicity through Charlie King and the ABC sports radio program to inform the wider community about the activities of the NT Blind Bowlers Association, and the NT team at the recent championships.

                            The Northern Territory Blind Bowlers Association is dedicated to offering the blind and vision impaired a sporting alternative and social outlet. Four NT bowlers and their helpers did the Territory proud at Chermside Bowls Club in Brisbane in April this year. From the eight events entered, the team came home with two gold medals and three silver medals, which I think is a fantastic achievement. This tally surpassed any previous achievement by touring NT teams since the incorporation of the NTBBA in 1992.

                            Medal winners were: gold - Dennis Wormald, B2 men’s singles. The B2 competition is for bowlers with less than 5% vision, so congratulations to Dennis on a great achievement. Peter Alexander won gold in the B3 men’s singles, and the B3 is for bowlers with between 5% and 10% vision. Congratulations also to Peter. Silver medals: Dennis Wormald again, and Val McDonald as a team for the B2 mixed pairs. Val was a debutante at these titles and was the most senior team member, so a special tribute to Val because she achieved a lot as a debutante. Dave Byars won medals in the men’s singles. Peter Alexander and Dave Byars won in the B3 men’s pairs. Additional awards were: Bowler of the Championships, Peter Alexander, and incentive award for ladies, Val McDonald again.

                            The bowlers were well served by their helpers, Margaret Wormald, Adie Bruce, Laurie Reed and Ron Mitchell. Beryl Hellwig was team manager. As some people here might know, Beryl was a stalwart of Hansard in the department for many, many years and left the Territory just last month. So all in all, I would like to extend my congratulations and, I am sure, the congratulations of all members and staff of this House, to the wonderful effort of the Northern Territory Blind Bowlers Association. I am sure they will do even better next year.

                            Mr KIELY (Sanderson): Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on a couple of events that occurred in my electoral office at Sanderson. The first one is a morning tea that I hosted for the Cancer Council of the Northern Territory - that was Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea. The Cancer Council, as you know, is part of state and territory organisations with a joint commitment to prevent and control cancer, and to provide support to people affected by cancer.

                            In my office in the electorate of Sanderson, we hosted a morning tea for the Cancer Council on 24 May. It was a fun day, enjoyed by everyone. All sorts of people attended; a lot of people brought along a plate and it was a really good community event.

                            I give special thanks to Barbara Baggley and Teng Murray, who jointly coordinated the event, together with my electorate officer Therla Fowlestone, for helping to make this event very successful. My thanks also go to the people who attended the morning tea, for their generous donations towards the Cancer Council. Barbara Baggley, as I said, who is Vice-President of the NT Cancer Council, was present, as was Serafina Fernandes, a local constituent; lovely woman. We have given her a bit of assistance with her body corporate. The body corporate has been putting up their rates and she is having a little trouble meeting them, and we have been assisting her in working out a good compromise there. There was Tony Brangan. Tony is the pharmacist next door; he has not been in the Territory long. He is a dedicated hard worker, serving the community and we have a good rapport with Tony, being neighbours. He will duck in for a cuppa as well, and he was happy to come along.

                            Tanuli Tinai-Chan is a member of the Samoan Community Group. Once again, this is another constituent who I have had cause to represent. Tanuli is a lovely woman. She has a lovely family, a great daughter, and it is a pleasure to do some work with her. Tanuli’s friend, Emma Sullivan, is the President of the Asia Pacific Group; a very solid hardworking community member. They popped in.

                            Martin Boots was another person who attended. Martin lives at the Malak Caravan Park. He is a great fellow. He had an issue with the grass at the back of the caravan park which is growing pretty hard. The grass is on Defence land and he had trouble trying to find the right owner of that to get it cut down because he was worried about the Dry Season and the fire hazard it presented. My office worked hard and found out who the owners were and we successfully got that grass cut. It was a pleasure to help Martin there.

                            Jim McGuire is the president of the New Zealand Association of the NT. Jim and his expats come and use the office; they have regular meetings there. Jim is keen to have me come along and I am keen to get down to one of these meetings to talk to these people. They have a few good things on the boil and it will be a pleasure working with them in the future.

                            John Lear is the Anula Neighbourhood Watch coordinator; he came along. John is a tireless worker for Neighbourhood Watch; a very thorough man. He is actually a volunteer lecturer over at - I think it might be Nightcliff High School. He works with kids. He has great community spirit. He has now taken up the leadership role with Neighbourhood Watch in the area of Anula and is looking to actually combine the Anula, Wulagi, Northlakes Neighbourhood Watch into one greater Sanderson area. I commend him for his efforts and I wish him all the luck in getting that done.

                            As I said Teng was there. She is a great little cook. She cooked up all these beautiful samosas that everyone got into. I tell you what: you could not hold them back from the food. Teng worked from the start to the end. Teng never asked for any thanks, but look, I give her all the thanks in the world. She is just fabulous and at times her help is invaluable.

                            Victoria Pollifrone - this is the sort of network that our electorate officers have. Victoria is actually Kon Vatskalis’ electorate officer. She popped over. I thought that was rather good of her to come in, have a cuppa, sit down. She is another tireless worker for the community, and that she can find the time to get over and have a morning tea with us and support the Cancer Council was wonderful. I think that speaks volumes for the whole of this government’s electorate office network.

                            Dawn Lawrence is another tireless community worker in the electorate who came. Dawn is very much into the country and western music scene and also very community minded. Dawn helped a lot. She was making cups of tea and she was getting around and looking after people and actually took on an informal host role, and I am very thankful for her assistance.

                            Then there is my old mate Joe Smith. Well, I worked with Joe for years and years. He is another one of these poor victims of labour. He is 55. He has actually reached his peak of Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme. This is what we are seeing a lot of in the NT Public Sector, as a matter of fact. You talk about corporate loss, and I know that the opposition has ground on a bit about these CEOs going. Let me say that that is not the half of the battles that our NT Public Sector is facing. We are losing a great swathe of corporate knowledge and understanding for all these long-termers who have come over from the Commonwealth Public Service in the days of self-government, and they are all getting up to 55. They were a pretty cunning lot, this old mob, and they kept hold of their super schemes. But what we are seeing now is them all starting to exit the service because of the nature of the scheme. They have to get out just before they turn 55. We would love to keep them, but the schemes are set up in such a way that it is to their own benefit to get out. That is where we are losing so much of our corporate knowledge. These are the people on the deck who make this place tick over. I wish Joe all the luck in his retirement, and his wife who thought she was going to get six months retirement before him, but he could not stand the thought of his wife being home without him. I wish them all the luck in their retirement.

                            There was Terry Newman. I met Terry with the NT junior cricket squad. He took the junior cricket squad down to the Bundaberg Cup and the lads performed wonderfully well. They got a big write-up. I get behind the NT junior cricket squad; I think it is a fabulous crowd. Terry is in there; he is the coach of the junior Pints cricket team. He came over for the morning tea. This is the sort of community spirit that we have in the Sanderson electorate. My good wife, Marie Kirkwood, turned up and she had a cuppa and put in her gold coin donation. I was very happy to see her there; that she could find time out of her busy day.

                            Because the office was open at that time, Rolf Wolpers, a constituent who lives at Northlakes, popped through. He actually had a bit of an issue that he wanted to raise with us about the quality of the water that goes onto the golf course. So, I had a bit of a chat to Rolf and I told him that we had finally got the water filtration plant right there - the one that pumps up the waste water from the Leanyer sewage ponds, and it is treated. The Darwin Golf Club has done a really good deal with government on the water rates. I was happy to reassure Rolf Wolpers that the water was being treated, that the new plant had come on line finally, that they were testing it for three months before announcing the commissioning of it, but that those smells associated with the water should be a thing of the past. I told him that should the sprinklers come on while he was having a barbecue in future, should the smell come back, please get onto me.

                            Rolf came in. He saw the door open, he had a bit of a chat about that and then he donated $10 straight out of his own kick into the Cancer Council’s morning tea and I thought that was wonderful. Willie Winkie, another chap from down in Carnoustie Circuit, popped in for a cuppa. He is another Northlakes golfer. There are a lot of them around there; they wile away their time on the course, just lonely old pensioner types. No, not really, Willie’s one of the most active blokes I have ever run across. He is an old public servant and I think he has taken off, once again because of the 55 rule - another loss of corporate knowledge and understanding to the NTPS. However, these blokes and women, they all stick in the Territory too. That is another important thing about these people; they are still contributing.

                            That was the morning tea and we raised over $200 for the Cancer Council. That was a fabulous effort, I thought. It was pleasurable. It was the best $200 that I had ever seen gathered and it all happened within the confines of the office, and everyone had a good scone or two.

                            But also, the morning teas over at the Sanderson office are becoming a bit of a tradition because we had the Minister for Employment, Education and Training on his rounds of the schools that he is doing. Let me say the Minister for Education, Employment, and Training is a tireless worker. He is getting out to every school that he possibly can. He has been out to the communities, he has been to two schools in my electorate. I know he has been to schools in the Karama electorate, he has been over the schools in Johnston electorate and I am pretty sure he would have been over into Nightcliff. If he has not been, he is going to be getting there. His office makes the point of contacting the local member and we all go out with them and have a walk around. He is really paying attention to what goes on in our school system. I have accompanied him to the Anula school, I have been on a tour with him of Wulagi. He is very well received. The kids love him coming in and he is very interested. At the Wulagi school they had the boys choir sing for him; it was quite good.

                            On 5 June, we hosted a morning tea between 10.30 am and 11.30 am. It was more like a brunch, I guess you could say. We had this marvellous morning tea and the thing about the morning tea was we sent out some invitations to members of the community and we had a marvellous response. We had a lot of residents of Sanderson come in to meet the minister. It was an informal, very neighbourly morning tea that we had. It was successful mainly because we had people and community leaders there who wanted to pop in and have a chat to the minister. From the schools we had Elizabeth Gammon, who is the Principal of Anula School. She has been principal there for quite some time. She is doing a marvellous job - any principal these days is worth their weight in gold - working with the kids: great curriculum and great community spirit.

                            Ms Lawrie: She was my Grade 2 teacher.

                            Mr KIELY: She was your - there you go! So she has been in the Territory for what, 45 years now? She has shown her dedication and she has been the member for Karama’s Grade 2 teacher.

                            There was Jan Perrin, Principal of Wulagi School who came over and Denise Wilkowski. I made a point of instituting meetings which I hold with my local principals to talk about school issues and what we can do to get our schools and our kids humming along. These three principals turned up and had an informal chat to their minister. We had Judy Williamson, who is the owner of the Northlakes Newsagency straight across the mall in the shopping centre that I work in. Judy popped in and said g’day and she had a cuppa. I am not sure if she got a chat with Syd or not, but she came over. There was John Allan, who is a school teacher and a local constituent. John is very much involved in country music.

                            Ms Lawrie: Tamworth nominee.

                            Mr KIELY: Tamworth nominee, so I am informed. I can believe that; I have seen John perform. I remember seeing John perform years and years ago down at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club. Very popular around town and he likes working with the kids and teaching music to them. His heart is right in music and he sees a lot of value in music and the community and works tirelessly to bring his theme through. His wife, Dawn, came along as well; that was great.

                            Barbara worked hard on Australia’s Biggest Cup of Tea morning. Mrs Baggley popped in to say g’day and to say hello to the minister. She was running a little late, but she made an effort to get there. Then there was Arthur and Nancy Cox. Arthur and Nancy are old time Anula residents. Arthur was very active in Neighbourhood Watch and he handed over the reins to John Lear, actually. Arthur was a presenter on Community Radio TOP FM and I actually think he was doing the slot that Daryl Manzie, my predecessor in Sanderson, is doing. Arthur was doing that radio slot for a while and he is a great mate of Daryl’s. I would also like to say that Arthur and Nancy are great mates of the community. They work tirelessly in the community. Arthur is an old artillery bloke - Royal Australian Artillery. He is an old digger; he is a wiry, nuggety bloke, and I do not think he would mind …

                            Madam SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired. We do not have extensions on adjournment.

                            Ms LAWRIE (Karama): Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to congratulate the hard and tireless work of Fele Mann. Fele Mann put on a fantastic Annual Super Gala Night and Beauty Pageant recently. Fele Mann runs the Filipino Club of Darwin. She is a tireless worker. I was attending the evening for the second year in a row. It is a long evening; it does not finish until after midnight, but it is well worth the effort. We had the honour and privilege of judging the Miss Philippines Australia NT, Mr Macho Man and Mrs Philippines NT. The pressure is always on because the Filipino community, as we all know, has a great deal of talent.

                            Fele Mann did not disappoint us this year. The talent was quite spectacular. The entertainment, as usual, from the lovely Lillian De Los Reyes and the magnificent Rod Dingle got the crowd singing, dancing, clapping and, indeed, one member of parliament was seen to stand and cheer. I will not be mentioning any names but I guess the enthusiasm of the member of parliament summed up the feeling amongst all of us that Lillian De Los Reyes is a great talent.

                            I won’t mention the names of everyone; however, I do want to congratulate some of the contestants because I think for the people who step up and perform in front of their own community, it takes a great deal of bravery. I make special mention of first of all the Mrs Philippines contestant category, Vilma Dapon, Medy Milsom, Christy Van Den Berg, Linda Plungeon, Christina Naughton, Arsenia Woodcock, Esperanza Reid, Merly Masterson and Natasha Hudson. They did their country proud. They are magnificent women. They had dignity and grace, beautiful smiles on their faces. They came out in each of the categories. We had the swimwear category which, of course, excited the crowd no end. We had evening wear; these women gave new meaning to the word elegance. We also had a question and answer session, which really went to the personality test; and some of the answers were truly unbelievable, fantastic.

                            Mr Kiely: Moving moments.

                            Ms LAWRIE: Mr Macho Man: the guys were not shy, retiring wallflowers. They stepped up and they were all ages, Mr Macho Man, from the teenagers through to the elder gents in our society. I want to congratulate Michael Mendoza, Alan Pianto, Joshua Lim, Mark Taopo, Russell Dady, Robert Welfare, Michael Dale, Ricky Borg and Greg Pearson.

                            Some of those names I just mentioned there sound a bit Anglo; that is because they were Anglo by background. I really congratulate, obviously the husbands of the Filipino women in our community, for stepping up and showing a great deal of support for their wives by entering the Mr Macho Man 2002.

                            The Miss Philippines is always the highlight of the evening, because the young women who step up to contest Miss Philippines really are quite spectacular. They give us all a great deal of encouragement as future leaders of the community. I congratulate Vanessa Vose, Hazel Callera, Jeannette Sheridan, Maan Odquin, Josie Riches, Jacinta McElroy, Karla Anderson, Julie Anne Krushse and Amanda Groves. They were beautiful in their swim and sportswear, the brief talent portion was indeed very impressive and the formal wear and questions left some of us speechless.

                            It is a really beautiful evening, hosted annually by the Filipino club. The evening is designed to create fundraising to go back to the Philippines and help people in need. That certainly is very much to the core of the work done by Fele Mann and her husband, Count Roman Damski. They have spent tireless years working for the Filipino community here, helping anyone in need in Darwin, and I congratulate them both for their years of hard work.

                            My thoughts and best wishes go to Fele at the moment. She let us all know on Super Gala night that she has her own battle at the moment with cancer. I know the community is praying for Fele. Fele has a great and strong belief in God and I know that she, of anyone, has earned the prayers of her community.

                            I also add my congratulations on the Queen’s Birthday Honour bestowed upon Mr Yogan Sathianathan. He received the Order of Australia Medal on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Yogan is a past president of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory. I add my sentiments to the comments made by the Minister for Business, Industry and Resource Development, of his constituent Yogan. I have had the honour of knowing Yogan for some years know. I know my mother, Dawn Lawrie, has worked very closely with him for many years in their tireless work for the community. I know too, that she has sent her congratulations in writing to Yogan. He is a very highly deserving recipient of this honour.

                            We extend our hearty congratulations to Yogan and his family, because the honour is shared, I believe, by the family, who often give up their loved one for the greater benefit of the community, and that is seldom recognised by people. So, to Yogan and his family, my strongest congratulations. I look forward to seeing Yogan again at the many community functions at which we run into each other. I hear a whisper that Yogan is likely to be the next president of the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory, and with his track record, what a fine president he would be, certainly worthy to continue on the very good work of the current president, Beryl Mulder.

                            Motion agreed to; the Assembly adjourned.
                          Last updated: 04 Aug 2016