Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) - How the Liberals managed to destroy meaningful reform

It is unfortunate that the debate about principle all but disappeared when the NSW Parliament amended the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, 1988, when parliament, in my view, in a misuse of legislative power, removed The Hon Justice Latham from her position as Commissioner.

It is contrary to principal for parliament to remove an independent statutory officer for no expressed reason. It would be just as improper for the parliament to remove the Solicitor-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a crown prosecutor, or a public defender by legislation, without reason. All the government managed to do was to leave it open to criticism that it was motivated by retribution because the ICAC had dealt with adversely a number of Liberal Party members of parliament.

The debate has been about the Liberal governments motive, with informed commentators like Richard Ackland asserting in an opinon piece published in The Guardian on 24 November 2016:

"The wounds run deep, especially after Barry O’Farrell shot his premiership to death by providing an incorrect answer to the commission in a separate but related matter.
Icac’s parliamentary oversight committee, dominated by politicians from the right of the spectrum, soon got to work. Its job was ably assisted by two other factors: Icac’s inspector, the former judge David Levine; and the commission’s attempted investigation into allegations against senior crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, which ended up being stuck down by the high court."
I am a member of the "ICAC parliamentary oversight committee" and together with my Labor colleagues spent more than 12 months listening to evidence, considering submission, and receiving briefings from the architects of ICAC some 28 years ago. I can assure the public in the words of Bruce McClintock SC who undertook a review of ICAC in 2005, and again with former Chief Justice of the High Court Murray Gleeson in 2015:
"Anyone who thinks that a weaker ICAC will result from these changes and is tempted to use an official position for private gain will be in for an unpleasant surprise."
As Mr McClintock said in an opinion published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 November 2016 entitled "The changes to the ICAC will make it more effective" at 
"Critically, the reform of the ICAC has not come at the expense of any of its powers to investigate, expose and prevent corruption. There is no watering down of the ICAC's extensive powers.

Change is rarely easy, and these reforms are no exception. However, once implemented, they will deliver a more effective and robust ICAC."

All the Liberal government has done, through its own incompetence, through the misuse of legislative power, brought the whole process into disrepute, as well as the very organisation that the community should have confidence in.

I wanted the parliament to debate principle. The video of my contribution to the debate is here: https://youtu.be/pytFHZg9twI

Monday, 5 September 2016

Legal Aid without leadership for 4 months

The NSW Attorney-General left Legal Aid without a board of directors for four months earlier this year, failing one of her basic responsibilities.

Legal Aid, which provides vital legal services to disadvantaged groups, was left without a board from 17th February 2016 to 23rd June 2016 – a third of this year.

The leadership of the Legal Aid Commission is by a board appointed by the Attorney-General which then goes through a Cabinet process.

In February, the terms of all appointed members had expired and the papers for new appointments were reportedly left ‘lying on the Attorney’s desk’.

During Budget Estimates hearings today Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton refused to deny she had the appointments sitting on her desk for months and couldn’t explain why the board was left unable to function.

While Ms Upton admitted these appointments are “important”, she avoided answering the question of why the new appointments had been ignored.

The Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch said that this displays the Government’s complete contempt for the important work done by Legal Aid. He said:

“The Attorney-General literally had years of notice of the board’s members terms expiring but she managed to forget to appoint new members. It’s incomprehensible. This is pretty basic. If you can’t trust a Minister to keep boards appointed, why would you trust them to do anything more serious?”

Friday, 26 August 2016

Auditor General Slams Baird government over ineffective "Red Tape" reduction

In a report embarrassing Mike Baird and his government the NSW Auditor General has exposed the lack of competence of the government in their measures to reduce red tape as ineffective after they increased the regulatory burden by $16.1 million.

The Liberal-National Government, the self proclaimed party of small business has been embarrassed by the report into red tape reduction which found that the regulatory burden faced by small businesses has increased after the Government introduced changes in 2011. The report states:

"Overall, NSW Government initiatives and processes to prevent and reduce red tape were not effective. Reported red tape savings were inaccurate and the regulatory burden of legislation increased."

The report highlighted that the overall net legislative burden increased by $16.1 million after significant legislative reforms were introduced. The Auditor General also reported that many of the regulatory repeals did little to assist businesses facing regulatory burden as they targeted legislation with little to no regulatory burden rather than legislation impeding businesses.

The complexity of legislation also increased during the last five years. The number of pages of legislation – usually used to highlight how complex a piece of legislation is – increased over the life of the policy by 1.4 per cent per year on average. Before the policy was implemented, the previous ten years had a reduction of legislative complexity of 1.1 per cent per year on average.

Earlier this year the Government attempted to claim that it’s Learning Management Business Reform (LMBR) program would save the community $11,384,605 through red tape reductions despite the program running $95 million over budget, three years late, rolled out to only in one in ten schools and plagued with a host of problems.

I have made the point repeatedly. This government is just not competent. Just being a "nice guy" is not the political leadership that this state requires. Mike Baird is just another one of those politicians who actions just do not match his rhetoric, and we will all be the losers because of it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Baird NSW government stands condemned for dropping a rule requiring registered nurses in aged care

The NSW Labor has Opposition has rightly criticised the Baird Government for dropping a rule requiring registered nurses in aged care to be on duty 24-7 – saying it will affect the safety of nursing home residents and will clog the State’s over-stretched emergency departments.

On late-Friday afternoon (April 29), the Baird Government – in response to a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the requirement that nursing homes in NSW must have a registered nurse on duty around the clock – confirmed that it was dropping the rule.

This was despite the parliamentary inquiry recommending the Baird Government retain the regulation.  Doctors, nurses, the Labor Opposition and various medical bodies as well as groups representing seniors and nursing home residents all demanded the regulation remain.

Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said the Baird Government had put the commercial interests of nursing home operators ahead of patient safety.

Mr Secord said the Baird Government decision was “deplorable” and called on the Premier Mike Baird to reverse the decision by the NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner – which was confirmed on late Friday afternoon, and I agree with him.

Registered nurses are able to provide higher levels of pain relief and can dispense some medications and undertake certain procedures that other aged care workers are not allowed to; this prevents residents being sent to hospital prematurely.

Mr Secord said the parliamentary committee heard evidence that aged care facilities were taking nursing home residents to emergency departments when they did not have registered nurses on staff.

Mr Secord added that without the regulation, nursing home residents would have to wait hours or days for pain relief or wait to be transferred to hospital. He said:

"NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner owes it to older Australians to protect them by resisting commercial for-profit aged care providers who want to reduce oversight and protections like requiring registered nurses.”

"Sadly, the evidence of the parliamentary committee lined up in two disparate groups - those who wanted to protect nursing residents and those who wanted to protect the rivers of profit flowing into the pockets of commercial aged care providers."

“I am very disappointed the Baird Government has sided with commercial aged care providers over nursing home residents.”

“Having a registered nurse on duty also gives other nurses extra support, back-up and experience when it comes to making decisions involving the welfare of aged care residents.”

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

NSW Liberal Government’s WestConnex Fails Own Conditions of Approval

The State Government’s flawed WestConnex road project cannot meet the State Government’s own conditions of approval, and local Councils should commence legal action to prevent construction from proceeding.

What the State Government has done calls into question whether this project, mired in controversy since its inception, can continue in the face of a potentially devastating legal challenge.

I want all the local Councils in my electorate, that oppose this multi-billion dollar project to launch a legal challenge based on the State Government’s own imposed conditions of approval.

We can have all the high profile public protests, civil disobedience and street marches we want, but the way to actually stop this project is in the Land & Environment Court.”

The conditions laid out in the project approval by the Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes, on 20 April 2016 contained one condition, B.43, which, in effect, casts doubt on the future of the project.

I don’t know why the Minister imposed this condition but he did, and by putting his signature on the approval, he brings the entire project into question.

Condition B.43 requires that the project, on balance, be designed to improve traffic by:
"not adversely impacting on:
a) the performance of the road network for all road users, including but not limited to vehicles, freight, public transport and active transport and
b) existing access arrangements and services for all road users, including consideration of speed and reliability of public transport services.”

Given the scope and impact on local streets and roads by WestConnex, this condition will not, and cannot, be met. As the condition states that WestConnex should not adversely impact on the existing road network and on all road users, then the Government is suggesting, by its own conditions of approval, that there will be no impact.

A visit to Rabbi Dovid Slavin and Family

As Jews have been celebrating the 8 day festival of #‎Passover‬, I hope you had a wonderful Seder. The ‪#‎Seder‬ is a ritual performed by Jews who gather all generations of families and friends who retell of the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Just before Passover I visited inspirational Rabbi Dovid Slavin, from Our Big Kitchen  and his family at his home to see the magnificence of the decorations of his Seder table which I am sure was decorated by his charming wife Laya and his family. Thank you Rabbi Slavin for the gift of Shmurah Matzah for my Seder table

Mascot Central - a shining example on how to increase residential density adjacent to railway stations

I recently opened Meriton’s landmark development called Mascot Central. Mascot Central - Apartments & Shopping Mall nearing completion adjoins Mascot Train Station. Higher densities adjacent to railway stations that provide for quality residential amenity for families is one way to address the chronic housing shortage. The speech I gave at the opening is here: https://youtu.be/f6maVOdtosw