Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 5180

Mr ABBOTT (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs)(11.38 a.m.) —I am delighted to have this chance to endorse the 1996 Commonwealth budget and I congratulate the Howard-Costello-Fischer government for tackling the very serious economic problems that we faced. Australia could not live on bankcard forever. I am disappointed that some members opposite have taken the occasion of this budget to try to reopen the class war—a class war which ended in Australia some time in the 1960s when all of us decided that we belong to the middle class.

Earlier this week in my electorate corporate rights and environmental concerns came into head-on collision. Optus commenced its cable rollout in the municipality of Manly and many of my constituents feel that they are now threatened with a form of technological home invasion. The reason for this is the former government's telecommunications regime, which put telecommunications carriers in effect above the law. You and I cannot put a flagpole in our backyard without getting council permission first, yet these carriers can do virtually what they like. They can put a 30-metre-high phone tower virtually wherever they want.

In November 1994, the coalition tried to disallow the previous government's telecommunications national code in the Senate. We wanted a veto over some of these forms of infrastructure within a certain distance of residential homes and we wanted councils to have more power over the carriers. That is what we tried to do, but unfortunately the then government struck a compromise deal with the Democrats, a compromise which turned out to be just window-dressing.

I want to stress that I am not here to blame Optus for what is happening; I am here to blame the previous government's system of rules. I commend the new Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, for his draft telecommunications national code, which gives councils significantly more say over infrastructure. It enables local councils to implement locality planning—guidelines to permit or to prohibit this kind of infrastructure within their council areas. It also provides for appeals to Austel in the event of disagreement between councils and carriers.

This is a very important step in the right direction and the Local Government Association is quite wrong to say that the draft code tabled by Senator Alston is going backwards. It is a very significant step in the right direction.   Unfortunately, it may now be too late to stop the Optus rollout. Perhaps we are in a situation a little bit like the words of Macbeth: `I am in blood steeped so far that returning were as tedious as to go o'er.' Nevertheless, it is vitally important that we have better regulation of the rollout so we ensure that cables cannot be rolled out in areas of extreme environmental sensitivity. It is very important that we have a national plan to ensure that, sooner or later, all the overhead infrastructure goes underground. If that does not happen, we will find the garden suburbs of the beautiful cities of our country looking like Chicago in the 19th century. The information superhighway will become a dead end of poles and wires, as Optus is followed by Telstra and various other entrants into the telecommunications market in stringing ever greater numbers of cables on poles that are already groaning under the weight.

It is my understanding that the minister is looking into the possibility of a national burial fund for overhead infrastructure and that he is considering bringing the various parties to this issue together to see whether a sensible compromise can be hammered out. I strongly support those efforts and they cannot happen a moment too soon for the people in my electorate.

Turning now to the North Head ocean outfall, many improvements have been made to this over the years. The Greiner government, with the support of the then member for Manly, David Hay, extended the outfall. It is now a deep ocean outfall. The Fahey government, with the support and indeed the encouragement of the now member for Manly, Peter Macdonald, ended incineration at the North Head site. Now all the treatment takes place in a sealed chamber. These are very signifi cant improvements to the treatment of waste matter at North Head, but it is not enough.

The Fairlight survey group has been monitoring atmospheric pollution from the North Head plant for many years. I want to congratulate Maureen Young, Sammy Newman and Patricia Harris for their work on behalf of the local community. They have detected high levels of breathing disorders and skin complaints, particularly when the prevailing winds take the pollution over land in the near vicinity of the plant.

Epidemiological studies do not altogether bear out the work of the Fairlight survey group. Nevertheless, they cannot be dismissed as scaremongering because leading local doctors believe that pollution from the plant is causing serious health problems. I quote Dr Mark Donohoe concerning a patient:

. . . my conclusion that his breathing difficulties and related symptoms were most likely the result of an airborne chemical irritant.

I quote Dr John Saunders on one of his patients:

It must be inferred that these symptoms have a local, environment cause with the North Head Treatment Works at the top of the list of likely offenders.

Dr Peter Macdonald, who is also the state MP, talks about a patient's various medical problems:

. . . associated with an environmental toxic product, probably emanating from North Head.

In the medium term, the solution is to upgrade these treatment works and to reduce their throughput. In the long term, we have to end the policy of ocean outfalls altogether. For that reason, I very much welcomed the statement in January 1995 of the then shadow minister for the environment, Ian McLachlan, and I very much welcome the clean seas budget initiative, part of the Natural Heritage Trust package of the government.

It is very important that we reduce health costs to the general community. I cite that old adage that prevention is better than cure. I refer the House to what is called the Pulser program which is a program of medically supervised exercise for cardiac patients being carried out at Royal North Shore Hospital and many other hospitals in New South Wales. It is supervised by a doctor and it is run by paramedical staff but, unfortunately, participants are now paying up to $360 a year to join in.

I would like to congratulate my constitute Ron Wylie for drawing attention to Pulser's plight. Private funds, I understand, sometimes will even reimburse gym fees, yet no-one reimburses people their expenses for medically supervised exercise under the Pulser program, even though millions and millions of dollars are being saved as a result of the better health of people who would otherwise be chronically ill. I call on the health funds to consider including the Pulser program in their list of benefits.

Ron Wylie has collected a petition which has been signed by over 700 people in and around my electorate. Some pages of this petition will be presented to the House next Monday; some pages, unfortunately, are irregular. I will read the petition:

We, the Citizens of Australia, draw to the attention of the House, the anomaly existing where we sufferers of cardiovascular, respiratory and arthritic diseases who participate under medical supervision, in the cardiac rehabilitation services offered by the Cardiovascular Education Centre at the Royal North Shore Hospital, and all others who receive such services from other institutions, receive NO reimbursement in relation to claims made to Medicare, Veterans Affairs or Private Funds.

Your petitioners, therefore, pray that the House considers the undersigned petitioners appeal and that those eligible be compensated under the Health Care Act for the fees paid in connection with such services.

I table this petition.

Finally, I would like to draw the House's attention to the predicament of perhaps my most distinguished institutional constituent: Ken Arthurson, the Chairman of the Australian Rugby League—a former player, coach and boss of the Manly-Warringah Rugby League Football Club. Ken's delight at the success of Manly-Warringah in winning the Optus Cup just a couple of weeks ago turned to dismay last week when the Federal Court brought down its decision on Super League.

I want to say to the House that Ken Arthurson and John Quayle have acted with great dignity throughout the Super League controversy. I very much hope that some arrangement can be made which ensures the great game of rugby league remains united and is administered for the benefit of players, spectators and district clubs rather than simply for media magnates—notwithstanding all the valuable contributions that they have made to the game.