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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14934

Mr BALDWIN (6:58 PM) —I rise today in this grievance debate to raise the matter of the impending closure of the Raymond Terrace Courthouse in my electorate. This courthouse provides a vital service to the Port Stephens community. The news that it will close from 20 June has sent shockwaves throughout the area. The reason this courthouse is closing is very clear: the New South Wales government has failed to upgrade custodial cells at an estimated cost of around $300,000 at Raymond Terrace Police Station. In fact, the cells were decommissioned four years ago, but they were still being used by the police until recently.

Prison officers have refused to perform duties at Raymond Terrace due to the condition of the cells, and the New South Wales Chief Magistrate has ruled that Friday, 20 June will be the last date for sittings of the local court. It is a scandalous situation and one that will have an enormous impact on the surrounding communities. This courthouse services not only Raymond Terrace but also other communities in Port Stephens, such as Karuah, Medowie, Nelson Bay, Lemon Tree Passage and Tea Gardens. It averages around 600 cases per month and, on top of that, around 40 AVOs each Tuesday.

It was reported in the Newcastle Herald that, as at April, there were 598 criminal matters pending at Raymond Terrace local court. That does not include civil claims or family court matters. And where will these cases go? They will go to Newcastle. Residents in Port Stephens will have to take their cases to Newcastle from 20 June, all because the New South Wales government have failed to upgrade these cells and failed to keep their election promise of upgrading the Raymond Terrace police station.

The impact the closure will have in the local area has sparked concerns from many people—not only from residents who attend the court but also from the local business community. Firstly, it will have a detrimental affect on policing in the area. After 20 June, police officers in Raymond Terrace will have to travel to and from Newcastle. Police officers, who would be better off spending time in the local area addressing local issues, will become a taxi service for the court. They will have less time to focus on local issues, such as crime, and they will be spending a great deal of time on the road outside of Port Stephens. This will divert police services away from the local area, where they are needed, and it will cause a reduction in local manning levels.

Secondly, businesses are concerned about the impact on our local economy. People who attend court in Raymond Terrace generally use services in the town on the same day. Local solicitors will be forced to go to Newcastle and spend time outside of Port Stephens waiting for their case to come up and then travel back to Raymond Terrace to their offices. So it will mean extra costs for people to attend court elsewhere and also for businesses. All in all, it sounds like a great deal of time will be spent by residents, police and the legal industry travelling to and fro to attend court in Newcastle. What a complete and utter waste of time.

If the New South Wales government kept their promise to upgrade the Raymond Terrace police station, we would not even need to discuss these issues. But, due to the fact that they have failed to properly address the problems associated with the prison cells, the Port Stephens community will see the loss of the Raymond Terrace Courthouse and that, in turn, will have a domino affect in the local community through the impact on businesses.

I also want to point out that the New South Wales government made a commitment to build a new Raymond Terrace police station at the last election. In the 1996-97 New South Wales budget approximately $2.6 million was allocated for a major new works program to be completed by 1999. A sum of $101,000 was allocated for planning the new station. But those plans seem to have been dumped by the New South Wales government. The money has amazingly vanished, and there has been no explanation as to where and why this money has gone. It is a real kick in the teeth for the people in Port Stephens who believed that Raymond Terrace police station would be upgraded.

And it is not only Raymond Terrace that has been deceived; it is also the Tilligerry Peninsula. In the election campaign, the member for Port Stephens put out material saying the ALP would build new stations in Raymond Terrace and the Tilligerry Peninsula. An ad in the Port Stephens Examiner on 6 March 2003 highlighted projects which the member for Port Stephens claims have been achieved or will be achieved by his government. One of the points said that there were plans to build a new police station at Raymond Terrace and at Tilligerry Peninsula. It was clear, in black and white, to anyone who saw this ad that the member for Port Stephens had put a commitment on the table to build a police station at Raymond Terrace and at the Tilligerry Peninsula. Another ad in the Port Stephens Examiner, this time dated 20 March 2003, read `in the next 4 years, I will achieve the following' and went on to say `a new police station for the Tilligerry Peninsula'.

We have here a clear election commitment, and that commitment was that the New South Wales state government planned to build a police station at Raymond Terrace and a police station in Tilligerry. But those plans have now been thrown out the window. The New South Wales government will not be building a police station at Raymond Terrace and it will not be building a police station in Tilligerry. Instead, the New South Wales government is calling on the local Port Stephens Council to build the police stations. So, in the end, the ratepayers of Port Stephens may find themselves footing the bill for the construction of these stations. In one swift move, the New South Wales government has handed over the responsibility for constructing these stations to a local council, even though it has responsibility for policing and even though the member for Port Stephens made an election commitment to build these stations.

But why should Port Stephens ratepayers pay for these stations? Did the ratepayers in Port Stephens have to pay $6.5 million for the upgrade of the Mayfield-Warabrook police station? The member for Port Stephens has this project ticked in his 6 March ad in the Port Stephens Examiner as one that was delivered between 1999 and 2003. But why, on one hand, can one police station be built in one suburb in Port Stephens without using ratepayers' money when, on the other hand, two stations that were an election commitment have to be paid for by the ratepayers?

I have spoken before about the New South Wales government forcing local government to pick up the tab for services that are really the responsibility of the state government. Councils and ratepayers should not have to pay for police stations. Ratepayers already pay for police services via their taxes, so why should they be slugged yet again for a service that the New South Wales government has responsibility for providing? It is a double standard of unbelievable proportions and a real kick in the teeth for residents in Port Stephens.

These residents made their views clearly known during the election campaign. They want a bigger police presence in the area and more police on the beat. Crime in areas such as Raymond Terrace, Medowie and Tilligerry has in recent years forced many residents to look at setting up their own patrols to protect household and business property. People are tired of having the windows to their shopfronts smashed or their cars damaged at night. They want, and they were right to expect, the New South Wales government to deliver on its promise to put a bigger police presence in the area.

Just recently, Salamander Toys and Hobbies in Medowie was broken into, with around $6,000 worth of stock stolen. Four nights prior to this, Pirate Point Surf was ram-raided and stock was also stolen. On 19 April, Bi-Lo was broken into. On 18 April, Medowie Cellars was broken into. And, on 17 April, Dowling Real Estate was robbed. What do people have to do to make the New South Wales government listen and take action on this matter? Because the New South Wales government have failed to upgrade the prison cells, the Raymond Terrace Courthouse is now closing. And on top of that we know that the New South Wales government will not be building a new station at Raymond Terrace or Tilligerry. It is as if all the concerns that residents had in the election about crime and law and order have gone completely unnoticed.

Interestingly enough, the federal government announced last week that, as a result of a $4.4 million allocation to the Federal Magistrates Service, Newcastle will get a new federal magistrate. So, on the one hand, the federal government is committing and putting more into legal services in the region and, on the other hand, the state government is effectively taking them away. It is a situation which, I am sure, has many people shaking their heads in disbelief. Many people, including myself, are very concerned about the impact that the closure of the courthouse will have on the area.

Law and order was a huge issue for the state government in the March election. Promises and commitments were made during that election, but now we see those commitments thrown out the window. I urge members on the other side who have connections with our New South Wales state Labor government to ask them to live up to their promises so that people can feel safe in their homes. Not having a court service and having police removed from the local area will further exacerbate the crime problems in the area. Crime is high enough. People do not feel safe in their homes, and it is time that something serious was done. I think that the member for Port Stephens is probably an honest bloke and that his intent is genuine. Let us hope he can convince Bob Carr and his state mates to deliver on the promises and commitments they made. That should mean that the courthouse does not close on 20 June.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. L.R.S. Price)—Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question agreed to.