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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 26405

Senator HUTCHINS (5:55 PM) —I rise, following my colleagues Senator Bolkus and Senator McLucas, to outline Labor's position on these environment bills. As has been reported to the Senate by Senators Bolkus and McLucas, the bare bones of what these bills will do cover four areas. Firstly they will gut the Australian Heritage Commission, which currently operates independently to manage and protect Australian heritage, and replace it with the Australian Heritage Council, which will merely have an advisory role. Secondly they will transfer the power to make decisions relating to the listing of heritage sites away from an independent body of experts like the Heritage Commission and pass it on to the federal environment minister.

The third aspect of the bills is that they will abolish the current Register of National Estate and replace it with a National Heritage List or Commonwealth Heritage List. This will be limited only to properties of national value, relegating responsibility for the protection of all other sites to the states. Finally, this puts a cloud over the future of the 13,000 sites currently on the Register of National Estate. It will be at the discretion of the minister as to which sites will fit into this new Commonwealth Heritage List and which will simply be left off it.

So these bills seek to abolish an independent body of experts such as the current Australian Heritage Commission and replace it with an advisory body; they seek to abolish the Register of National Estate and put in jeopardy those 13,000 sites that are currently on it; and they seek to transfer the naming of that sort of stuff—that is, they will move from being on a Register of National Estate to being on a Commonwealth Heritage List. That signifies to me, and I am sure it signifies to a lot of Australians who are concerned about the preservation of not only our indigenous heritage but also our European heritage, that we are about to allow the vandals to get inside the gate.

As a Tasmanian, Mr Acting Deputy President Sherry, you may recall—and I certainly do, as a New South Welshman—the Askin years in New South Wales between 1965 and 1976 under Sir Robert Askin, Premier Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis. I recall the number of heritage properties that were bulldozed around Sydney in that era—in those 11 years of conservative New South Wales rule—to make way for high-rise apartments. That is what the coalition did when they were in power over that period in New South Wales. It disturbs me that this is the intent of this legislation, particularly for places in New South Wales.

As I said, there are 13,000 sites listed on the Register of National Estate. In just my local area, in the city of Penrith, there are a number of them, which I will refer to shortly. When we have a number of Liberals and National Party people in this place who purport to have some sense of history and some need, as I said, for the continuity of not only indigenous heritage but also European heritage, I cannot understand why they are not more outspoken in their party rooms and are not saying more here in the parliament itself.

There are a number of sites—and I will be Sydney-centric and New South Wales-centric—that are worthy of preservation. At the moment we have 13,000 listed. But, if we accept what the minister and the government are proposing, we could end up with only a handful of sites. The sites that may be deemed to be on the Commonwealth Heritage List may be limited and a number of indigenous and European icons that we wish to preserve may be abolished by an incoming conservative government—whether it is in New South Wales or anywhere else. This is akin to allowing the vandals in the gates. This is akin to allowing them to walk in, take over and threaten these icons that we hold precious and dear.

I recall clearly the tory years in New South Wales, during which a lot of heritage listed buildings were torn down, carted away and not preserved to make way for high-rises around Sydney Harbour. I recall clearly going with one of my uncles, who was a tip truck driver, to Mosman while they carted away the remnants of a number of buildings with beautiful Georgian architecture that had been bulldozed to make way for some sort of high-rise.

I know that you, Mr Acting Deputy President Lightfoot, are probably very concerned about the preservation of icons of European importance, as your own actions in relation to the Fremantle Artillery Barracks demonstrate. So I wonder why the party room of the coalition has allowed the opportunity in this legislation for the preservation of these heritage listed areas to be transferred to the hands of the state governments. I cannot recall the name of the former New South Wales coalition minister who was quite proud of his slogan `tar, seal and beautify', but that was the way he approached any area, whether it was heritage listed buildings or heritage listed bushland. That is what we will see. The bill will transfer the decision making from an independent body of experts to an advisory panel and, in the end, the decision will be made by a minister on political grounds.

People might say that we are lucky to have a conservative conservationist type minister in the position at the moment, but I do not believe that, and I think that will be proven in time. I do not believe that this should be subject to political pressure, because we are dealing with a number of sites in a number of areas that, if they were `tarred, sealed and beautified', would probably attract a lot of money. I do not believe it is fair on any federal government minister to be put into a political predicament where, for example, there is some bushland around Sydney Harbour and they are approached and told, `If you can sell this bushland off you might get a few hundred million dollars,' even though this bushland might have some indigenous attraction or might have some attraction for descendants of European settlers. I do not believe that the minister should be put into that position. That is why, under Labor's legislation, the independent body of experts made that decision. What was wrong with that? The body is made up of people who have an interest in heritage listing, architecture, the environment and the ecology. Why would we—or anybody listening to this broadcast—give this government a blank cheque to go and destroy our indigenous and European heritage? There are no guarantees in this legislation that that would not occur—none at all. It all goes back to the minister. It all goes back to the possibility that the minister would be subject to pressure from his political cronies.

I saw what Sir Robert Askin did in New South Wales during his government's years in power. I saw what Tom Lewis did. I saw what Sir Eric Willis did when a high-rise building got in the way of some European or indigenous heritage. They were subject to political pressure—or they applied it themselves. They tore down these buildings and they tore away a lot of Sydney's heritage. That was done because of the kind of political pressure the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill, will be putting himself under if this bill is passed. We are going to oppose these bills and I hope that the Democrats oppose these bills. We believe that the current legislation is quite adequate. We feel that the legislation should be altered so as to progress the ability of the Commonwealth to protect and manage Australian heritage sites, not to strip them back, as this legislation allows to occur.

Senator Hill —The current legislation offers no protection at all!

Senator HUTCHINS —Understand this, Minister: you are going to be put under political pressure if this bill is passed. It will all come back to you. The white shoe brigade will come and say to you, `Please, let's rip this away, let's put some nice high-rises here, let's put a freeway through here—let's do something like that.' You will be subject to it. It is foolish of anybody to think that that will not occur. It is absolutely foolish of the government to put their minister in a position where that might occur.

I want to talk about my local area, as I have done before. Currently, of the 22 sites in my local area— the city of Penrith—21 are in the electorate of Lindsay, which is held by Mrs Kelly.

Senator Hill —She is a very good member, too. She is an excellent local representative.

Senator HUTCHINS —I would not say that. I want to talk about a number of the sites that will be in jeopardy if this bill is carried. I know what the Liberals think about Western Sydney. They think we do not exist. Like a lot of Liberals, they think that Sydney stops at Strathfield and starts again at Leura. Except for probably Mrs Kelly and, say, Mr Kerry Bartlett, there are no Liberals past Parramatta. Of course, you understand why. Senator Payne has an office at Parramatta, but she drives out there every day from some trendy inner city suburb. I am not sure where Senator Coonan lives, but I am sure that it is nowhere near where I live in St Marys, which is out in the west of Sydney.

Let us look at what the Liberals think about people who live in Western Sydney and why I say we are in jeopardy if this legislation is passed. I refer to a report by David Penberthy in the Daily Telegraph of 6 August. Mr Acting Deputy President, being a Western Australian, you might not be aware that there is to be a by-election in Auburn in Western Sydney in a few weeks time. The Liberals are running a candidate. I do not know why, but I suppose it is to beef up Mrs Chikarovski's leadership chances. Let me tell you what the advice was for the Liberals when they went out and campaigned in Auburn. What frontbencher Brad Hazzard said to his colleagues—I do not know Mr Hazzard but I understand he represents the North Shore seat of Wakehurst in Sydney—was that when male MPs go out to the west and campaign in Auburn they should keep a tracksuit top in their car because in the past residents have responded better when he wore a tracksuit instead of a shirt and tie.

Senator Hill —I rise on a point of order. Mr Acting Deputy President, this might be interesting to some—although I doubt it—but it is certainly not relevant to the bill before the chamber. If the honourable senator wants to have a chat about domestic political issues near his place of residence, perhaps he should do so on the adjournment.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—I remind you, Senator Hutchins, that your remarks should be addressed to the bills before the Senate. However, if you are developing an argument in the next few seconds with respect to what you were saying, please proceed; otherwise, revert back to the bill.

Senator HUTCHINS —What I am getting to, as I said, is the fact that in the City of Penrith, where I am a resident, we currently have 22 estates on the national register. I believe they are in jeopardy if this legislation is carried. I believe they are in jeopardy because, as I said earlier, most Liberals think Sydney stops at Strathfield and starts again at Leura.

Senator Hill —Are they on the state list?

Senator HUTCHINS —No, they are your Liberals too.

Senator Hill —No. Heritage items—are they on the state list?

Senator HUTCHINS —Let me explain to Senator Hill, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that Senator Marise Payne, one of his colleagues, has an office in Parramatta, but she drives out to Parramatta from the inner city every day, I assume, when she goes to her office. I understand that the office of Senator Coonan, another Liberal senator, is in Phillip Street. I am not sure that Senator Coonan gets out to the west at all. Senator Heffernan is a Liberal from Wagga Wagga. I do not know that Senator Heffernan has an office in Sydney at all. What I was developing—

Senator Hill —I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I submit to you that it is a reflection upon Senator Coonan to suggest that she does not travel to the west of Sydney. She represents the whole of New South Wales, and I am confident she represents it well, including the west of Sydney.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I do not think that was a point of order, but—

Senator HUTCHINS —I withdraw that reflection on Senator Coonan because I know, from talking to her the other day, that she was out in Blacktown. She had to get a lift from a tow truck driver, as I understand it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator, please proceed to address the bills currently before the chair. If there were fewer interjections, I am sure Senator Hutchins would find it much more appropriate to address the bill, rather than answering interjections.

Senator HUTCHINS —We believe that our locally registered sites will be in jeopardy.

Senator Hill —How?

Senator HUTCHINS —I have already explained it to you. If you have not worked it out by now, you are not going to. What do the Liberals in Sydney think? As I have said, Brad Hazzard has advised his colleagues campaigning in Auburn that they should wear a tracksuit top and tracksuit pants. There is one Liberal state member of parliament in Western Sydney, Liz Kernohan—she is not a bad person—who has apparently advised that when the women MPs run around Auburn trying to—

Senator Coonan —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise the point of order that was made a little earlier. What Liberals may or may not have said about what people should wear seems to have almost no relevance to how these sites could conceivably be endangered.

Senator Forshaw —On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, I have been listening to Senator Hutchins's excellent speech. Senator Hutchins has been drawing attention to the cultural significance of Western Sydney, and he believes it would be endangered as a result of this legislation. I think it is entirely appropriate, in developing that argument, for Senator Hutchins to reflect upon the cultural heritage, if you like—the cultural attitudes—of the representatives of the Liberal Party with respect to—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order, Senator Forshaw.

Senator Forshaw —I am not making a point of order: I am speaking on the point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —You are out of order.

Senator Forshaw —I was responding to the argument that the point by Senator Hutchins about the cultural views of Liberals in Sydney is not relevant to this debate. I would suggest that it is very relevant because it is relevant to the approach that this government and the political party would take to cultural heritage in Western Sydney.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I am sure the Senate will take on board what you have said, Senator Forshaw. I invite Senator Hutchins to proceed with the bills currently before the Senate.

Senator HUTCHINS —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I refer to what Ms Kernohan said. She advised—

Senator Coonan —Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Hutchins is reverting—

Senator Forshaw —He hasn't even quoted her yet. She's a member for Western Sydney.

Senator Coonan —He has. He said that when she was speaking to women Liberal members—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Do you have a point of order, Senator Coonan?

Senator Coonan —My point of order is that Senator Hutchins is reverting to form and proceeding to speak about what Liz Kernohan, the member for Camden, said to some other Liberal women members. That cannot be relevant, culturally or in any other way, to the protection of heritage sites.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Forshaw, I do not mean to disturb your conversation with Senator Coonan—and I apologise for having to do it—but you are out of order. Senator Hutchins, you may proceed with the information that you can give the Senate that is relevant to the bills.

Senator HUTCHINS —I would argue that what I am about to say in relation to what Dr Kernohan said—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —That is what I am inviting you to do. If it is relevant, Senator Hutchins, you may do it.

Senator HUTCHINS —I believe it is. It says what the attitude of Sydney Liberals to people who live in the western suburbs of Sydney does in terms of jeopardising the sites that are on the Register of the National Estate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I do not think you can generalise, Senator Hutchins.

Senator HUTCHINS —Let me proceed, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I am inviting you to proceed, but please restrict your comments to those that pertain to the bills before the chamber.

Senator HUTCHINS —I will. When Sydney was first settled in 1788, the early part of the settlement was on Sydney Harbour but the major part of the settlement for almost 30-odd years was on the fringes of Sydney. In fact, they call places such as Liverpool, Penrith, Windsor and Parramatta `Macquarie towns'. At the time, they were far more relevant to the governing and the economic wellbeing of the colony. In my area, there are a number of sites of historic value that I believe will be jeopardised if this bill proceeds. One of the sites that I believe is in danger is called Mamre House, which is not far from where I live. It was originally the property of Samuel Marsden, the `flogging parson'. I believe its continuity on the Register of the National Estate could be well and truly jeopardised if this bill proceeds. As in the good old days of Robert Askin, this building, being on valuable property, could be bulldozed.

I also want to refer to Werrington House. In terms of the history of the country, Werrington House, which is in the city of Penrith, was where Sir Henry and Lady Parkes once resided. They resided there from 1860 to 1872. I believe that this place may be jeopardised if it is put into a political environment where a minister has to make a decision, even though independent experts have determined this place is of historical relevance. There is also Victoria Bridge, across from Emu Plains to Penrith, which is one of two bridges constructed between 1864 and 1867. The only other bridge that is still standing that was constructed in that period is at Menangle. Also in Penrith is a place called Thornton Hall. This was the home of the Smith family—I do not mean the Smith Family charity group—of Thomas Smith and then his son Sydney. Sydney Smith was the first member for Macquarie in the federal parliament and the first Post Master General. These sites are of immense value, and the minister may agree. I do not believe that such decisions should be taken away from independent experts whose opinion is that these buildings belong on the estate and given to some sort of advisory body that may or may not agree with that opinion.

It is clearly the intention of this legislation to reduce the number of places on the Register of National Estate from 13,000 to a few hundred. This is where I come back to my point about the Liberals and their attitude to Western Sydney. I have already said that they think that we just wear tracksuit tops and pants out there, that that is how sartorially elegant we are. Dr Kernohan said that Liberal MP women were best not to wear make-up or dress too well because women may be embarrassed to answer the door—

Senator Hill —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order, which goes to relevance. The bill has nothing to do with women wearing make-up. The honourable senator was doing well for a while. He was referring to listed properties within Western Sydney and was seeking to make—

Senator Forshaw —You are just wasting his time. You have made the same point of order all the way through. It is you that is irrelevant.

Senator Hill —Thank you very much. We do not talk about whether women should wear make-up during question time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Hill, what is your point of order.

Senator Hill —The point of order is that Senator Hutchins, having got back onto the bills for a short while, has now drifted off again into a discussion of whether women should wear make-up. That is clearly not at all relevant to these bills and I invite you to bring him back to what is before the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Hill, I am sure that Senator Hutchins, in the 30 seconds that are left to him, will come back and speak of something that is relevant to the bills currently before the Senate.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr Acting Deputy President, I have made my point about what the Liberals think of people in Western Sydney. Irrespective of the minister's rhetoric, you would be mad to put yourself in this position where you will come under political pressure. (Time expired)