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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2150

Mr HARTSUYKER (10:19 AM) —The purpose of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (Public Health and Safety) Amendment Bill 2010 is to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to afford some relief to the residents of Maclean in my electorate of Cowper from the presence of a large colony of flying foxes. My amendment would, simply, deem the minister to have given consent to the licence application by the New South Wales state government for the relocation of the Maclean colony. It would not apply to any other colony or to any other licence application.

With the introduction of this bill imminent, consent was in fact given after months and months of delay and further suffering by the residents of Maclean. While I welcome this development, I wish to proceed with my bill for reasons which I will now explain. Over the past year we have seen an explosion in the number of flying foxes in a colony which inhabits the vegetation surrounding Maclean High School, the nearby TAFE and the surrounding residential area. There has been an invasion of thousands upon thousands of bats around the high school, which has some 1,100 students. These flying foxes defecate over the school, its students and its teachers. The smell is revolting and the colony can be extremely noisy. They pose a risk of hendra virus and lyssavirus, a risk which extends to the staff and students of the nearby TAFE and the surrounding residents. The school has been forced to take drastic measures to protect the safety of the students and teachers. Bubblers and seats have been covered to avoid contamination. Classrooms have windows permanently closed and air conditioning has been installed in some rooms because the windows cannot be opened. Car parks, walkways and disabled accesses are all going to be covered because of flying fox faeces. And let us not forget the residents living close by. Their homes have become virtually uninhabitable because of the stench and the problems these flying foxes cause and of course a similar situation is occurring at the nearby TAFE.

Until very recently, governments, both state and federal, had failed to disperse the bats. That is an absolute disgrace. Last year, federal and state bureaucrats established the Maclean Flying Fox Working Group, but it was designed to do nothing more than conduct paper shuffling. This was Yes Minister at its worst. A push by the community to draft a licence application to disperse the bats was knocked on the head last November when the bureaucrats made it clear to the school P&C that such an application would not be supported by government departments. This working group had no intention to act—it just pursued a process of endless delay in the hope that the community got sick of the issue. When the school commenced their Christmas holidays last December, we had the ludicrous situation of the bureaucrats having ensured that no licence application had been drafted and the federal environment minister being able to say that he would not approve an application because no application had been lodged. That is why I drafted this bill.

I wish now to continue to press the bill to ensure that action can be taken on behalf of the people of Maclean. I do so against a background of previous comments by the environment department that no consent would be issued and that coexistence between the school and the bat colony was the only option. I wish to ensure against the possibility of further delays and further conditions being placed on the licence in the years to come. As I said, I wish to ensure that action is taken to provide relief to the residents of Maclean and, in particular, the students and staff of Maclean High School and the nearby TAFE.

I welcome the great support that I have received from the community. I received a petition with some 4,300 signatures calling for support for Maclean High School on the urgent issue of the dispersal of the bats. It is a vital matter of health and safety that the colony be dispersed permanently from the grounds of the school. The health of the students and the staff is at stake. The health of the students and staff of the TAFE and of nearby residents is also at stake. No-one wants to see these bats harmed or destroyed, but the residents of Maclean do wish to see evidence that their elected representatives and their public servants will finally put the interests of the residents ahead of those of the bats.

This issue shows the very best and the very worst of our parliamentary and bureaucratic system, because bureaucrats were intending to use delay as a tool to circumvent a proper outcome—that proper outcome being to achieve a safe educational environment for our children. Bureaucratic processes were used to frustrate what the community wanted. Endless delay was used as a tool to attempt to cool community concerns, but unfortunately for the bureaucrats, both state and federal, it did not work. The community would not cop it, because they did not want their kids working at school in a substandard educational environment that was a risk to their health. It was absolutely outrageous.

Then we had this miraculous solution—two weeks before this bill was to be introduced into this House, all of a sudden the impossible became possible. I would like to view it as a happy coincidence that this occurred just a couple of weeks before the bill’s introduction. I would like to think that it was, but unfortunately I think the public are entitled to be cynical. I think the public are entitled to believe that, with the pressure of this bill imminent, the federal government bureaucrats finally saw their way clear to giving an approval which they had said time and time again was not possible. Up until then, we had been given the fairy story that the only solution was coexistence between the high school and the bat colony—a coexistence which, from a practical point of view, was surely not possible. Everyone in the community and at the school knew that, so why did the bureaucrats take this position? Why were they prepared to subject the students of Maclean High School to a health risk when a solution could have been found relatively quickly? Sir Humphrey Appleby would have been proud of the procrastination that these bureaucrats achieved—one year of delay and inaction while the staff, students and surrounding residents suffered.

It has been an absolutely outrageous display which I am pleased to see has finally come to an end, to a degree, with the giving of this approval which will last for five years. However, that five-year period then raises the concern of what happens if this approval were to lapse or what happens when this approval reaches its finality in five years time. Will we have to go through the whole process? Will we have to go through this all again—another year of delay with thousands of bats inhabiting the school? It is absolutely outrageous and that is why I have put this bill forward: to protect the community, to get an outcome on a permanent basis for the students and staff of Maclean High School and the surrounding residents and to get an outcome that is of a common-sense nature. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 41(c), the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.