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Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Page: 7257

Mr ABBOTT (Employment Services) (8:00 PM) —I would like to thank the member for Bradfield for raising the question of the Ardel land and therefore giving me the opportunity to clear up the government's position on this matter. Ever since becoming a member of parliament, I have been working with the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee to try to protect this land. It is not just me; I know that many other local leaders have been doing likewise—such as my colleague the member for Mackellar, the local state Liberal member, Brad Hazzard, and the Mayor of Warringah, Mr John Caputo.

What happened was that in 1993 what has come to be known as the Ardel land was sold by the Spastic Centre to the developer, Ardel. It seemed like a good idea at the time because the Spastic Centre needed the money to develop facilities in Sydney's west and Warringah Council needed to extend its medium density housing policy.

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, I have a point of order. I am loath to take a point of order on the minister, but the convention is that, if a minister wants to extend the debate, it is to respond to things that were raised in the debate, not for the minister to raise a matter himself.

Mr SPEAKER —I understand that. The Chief Opposition Whip may not be aware but, very early in the adjournment debate, the member for Bradfield raised the issue now being addressed by the Minister for Employment Services.

Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I appreciate the concern of the member for Watson, as a former Speaker, to ensure that these matters are dealt with properly. Believe me, I have no intention of abusing the forms of the House. I simply wish to make the government's position clear on this Ardel land.

The land turned out to be a prime piece of urban remnant bush. It turned out to contain the headwaters of one of the most important creeks leading to the Manly Dam catchment. It turned out to be the home of some locally rare and endangered species. Ardel have acted in good faith at all times. They bought the land in good faith. They have done their best to adhere to all the various planning requirements, so the only way to sort this out now is to buy the land back, and the National Reserve System Program, administered by my friend and colleague the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill, provides the opportunity to do that. As members should know, the requirements for the purchase of private land for addition to the reserve system are that, first, the relevant state National Parks and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the particular land is a high environmental priority and, second, the relevant state government should put up half of the money required for the purchase on a dollar for dollar basis.

Last Friday, Senator Hill wrote to his opposite number in the New South Wales government, Dr Andrew Refshauge, saying:

Given the immediacy of this matter, I seek your urgent advice on your government's assessment of the site's values for addition to the National Reserve System and your government's willingness to commit funds to the acquisition of this land.

That was a very serious invitation. Governments do not lightly write in those terms to fellow governments. I very, very much hope that the New South Wales government will give this serious invitation from the Commonwealth government the most urgent consideration because, as we speak, the bulldozers are ready to move on this land. Just as this government has sought to end broadacre land clearing in urban areas in cooperation with the states, this government is concerned to ensure that in our cities bushland and bulldozers should not mix in the future.

I probably should also declare an interest in this. Last week, on letterhead which noted the fact that I am a minister in the government, I wrote to my brother minister, the minister for the environment, asking him to intervene in this matter. I should point out that I do own a valuable property within five kilometres of this site—namely, the home that I live in—which brings me to the question of the member for Leichhardt.

This issue was raised by the members opposite today. We all know that out there in the electorate, out there in the country, people are only too ready to believe the worst of politicians. People who do not know what this life is like are only too ready to believe that we are ripping off the system, that we are a bunch of self-interested egomaniacs, yet everyone in this House, regardless of their political allegiance, knows that that is not the case. It certainly is not the case with the vast majority of members of this House. (Extension of time granted) One of the worst failings of our age is this near-universal cynicism at least amongst the opinion formers, and I am disappointed that one of the members opposite tonight chose to continue to pander to this.

Let us just recapitulate. The member for Leichhardt did, inadvertently, technically fail to comply with the disclosure guidelines. He admits that. He regrets that. Yes, he has embarrassed the government. Yes, he has embarrassed himself. But, as we found out in this House 10 days ago, he was not the only one who had been guilty of the same failing. At least three members opposite had done much the same thing. Had they done anything wrong? Only in a technical sense. Had they been guilty of any moral or ethical crime? Of course not. They were guilty simply of an inadvertent, technical mistake.

Mr Leo McLeay interjecting

Mr ABBOTT —On the question of the involvement of the member for Leichhardt in the company Cape York Concrete, he exercised no pressure. He exercised no influence.

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House. If he wants to sit down, I will call it off.

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Employment Services will resume his seat. I am just wondering if the member for Watson wants to reflect on whether or not it would be appropriate to take that action at this stage.

Mr Leo McLeay —My point, Mr Speaker, is that if the minister has finished I do not wish to call for a quorum.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Watson understands that I need to recognise him in order for him to be heard, but I think it would be ill-advised to interrupt the House in this way at this stage. I am going to invite the Minister for Employment Services to continue his remarks in a non-provocative way.

Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sorry if I did provoke the member for Watson because I am, I suppose, pleading with members opposite to extend to all members of this House the kind of courtesy, the kind of forbearance and the kind of intelligent understanding that we would expect to be extended to ourselves.

Mr Leo McLeay interjecting

Mr ABBOTT —I simply want to say in conclusion, and I will conclude on this point—

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Employment Services will resume his seat. The member for Watson has the call.

Mr Leo McLeay —I have had enough of this hypocrisy. I will call for a quorum if the minister rises to his feet again.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Watson knows, as the member for Cunningham and I know better than anyone else in the House, that the chair cannot be blackmailed into making particular decisions. The minister has indicated that he is winding up his remarks, and I will invite him to do so.

Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am happy to defend the member for Leichhardt. I will testify to his honesty, to his diligence, to his commitment. The only thing I will not defend about the member for Leichhardt is his taste in neckties, which is abominable.