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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1890


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (12:37): Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that this is first day that we have sat in this chamber now that it has been called the Federation Chamber. Secondly, and most importantly, I would like to acknowledge the fine work that has been done by Dr Mal Washer in trying to make the hours of this House more reasonable, rational and sane. His voice has been the one voice out there all the time arguing that human beings cannot function effectively without sleep. We work really long hours in this place. A member may get in at eight o'clock and leave at 11 o'clock. Not too many people in the community work those sorts of hours. As members of parliament, we are role models for the community. If we cannot have reasonable hours and demonstrate to the rest of the community that reasonable hours are the way to go, how can we expect reasonable hours to be the norm for the community as a whole?

I am not sure that the wording and the points in the motion are exactly the way I would like to go, but the sentiments that have been expressed are the ones that should be adopted by this parliament. We need to introduce some rational hours into this place. Dr Washer—and I emphasise 'Dr' Washer—is a man of science, a man who has researched this issue fully. When he puts to the parliament the impact the lack of sleep has on an individual and he recites his sources and the research that has taken place, it demonstrates that this is a fact. In a former life, I actually worked with people as a rehabilitation councillor. I worked with people who were injured at work. One of the factors that often caused injury at work was the fact that the person had worked very long hours, was over tired and had made that mistake. A mistake in some environments can cause serious injury or loss of life. In our work environment, I think that poor decision making can impact on a lot of people's lives, not just on the lives of people in this parliament but also on the lives of the Australian public as a whole. It is an obligation of our office to ensure that we consider legislation and issues before the parliament in a rational, sound way.

The research that I have read also demonstrates the impact that these long hours have on individuals. It is well known that people who do shift work and rotating shift work have severe problems with sleep, and that also tends to manifest itself with physical and mental disabilities. There has been a lot of research done in the area of rotating shift work and the underlying effect of people not having standard sleep patterns. They are not able to work, rest, recover and then come to work the next day and make sound, rational decisions. You need to be able to have a balance in your life.

As I mentioned, the impact of sleep deprivation is well researched. Dr Washer quoted research that indicates that 17 hours without sleep equates to 0.65 alcohol content in your blood. My daughter-in-law works as a nurse at one of the hospitals in the Hunter. She does night shifts all the time. Sometimes, her husband has to go and pick her up because she does not feel that she can safely drive home from work. She is unable to drive her children to school and to day care after she has worked a night shift. It really does impact on a person's life and impacts in a number of ways. It does lead to long-term psychological problems.

It is well researched that constant lack of sleep leads to depression and other forms of mental illness and anxiety. People are much more likely to have a stress response to a situation. In this parliament, we work in a very combative environment and late at night I have noticed that people tend to have a much shorter fuse. Communications is a vital part of our job in this parliament. If you are tired, if you lack sleep and if you are stressed then you are not going to be able to communicate effectively. Dr Washer made the point about sleep disorders and the impact of the lack of sleep on a person's life is very well documented in all the research. The other issue I would like to touch on is one that not only affects us, as members of parliament, but also affects the staff of each and every one of us. I know that when my staff have been here into the early hours of the morning and hop into a car to drive home they are quite concerned about their safety as they drive home. I can remember a six o'clock or seven o'clock morning here, and I would not have trusted myself behind the wheel of a car. Isn't it an obligation on us, as members of parliament, to ensure the safety not only of our staff but of all those staff who work here in Parliament House—the people who look after us in the chamber, the people who come here early in the morning and then maybe go home the next day at 10 o'clock.

There are rules in place about how long a person must have off before they can return to the workplace. You cannot do an overtime shift in which you work from nine to five, then do overtime and then turn up the next day. There are laws that regulate the amount of time you need to have off work. In this parliament we do not look at the impact that continuous sittings and work have on all those involved in this place.

I know that Dr Washer has had a long-term concern about this issue. He has highlighted the psychological impacts, the physical impacts and the short-term and long-term physical impacts of sleep deprivation. He is a man who cares for the interests of this House, the members and all the staff who work here at the heart of this nation. It gives me great pleasure to support him and his efforts to try to bring some rationality to the way this parliament sits.