Thursday, 13 February 2014 08:42
Hansard 12 February 2013
Dr FLEGG (Moggill—LNP) (3.49 pm): It is with pleasure that I rise to speak to the Public Service and Other Legislation (Civil Liability) Amendment Bill. I say to members to not be fooled into thinking that this is dry, uninteresting legislation. In fact, this is very important legislation because, in the litigious day and age that we live in, the civil liability of the people who work for the state of Queensland is a very big issue for them. One of my favourite phrases is when people act in `good faith’. As people go about their work, good faith is a very critical concept. As someone who has worked in public sector hospitals and who has known many other doctors and nurses and for our teachers and our police force, I can say that the existing system simply is not good enough. There are seven different jurisdictions for different parts of the public sector. We also have something that I do not think is acceptable at all and that is uncertainty.
Many of these staff members are young. They may be a police recruit, a newly graduated resident doctor or a young teacher and they can be confronted with a lawsuit relating to something that has arisen in the course of their employment. I see the Minister for Education is in the House. This legislation applies to the dentists who work in the public sector as well. Even though these people have acted in good faith, they have uncertainty as to whether the existing provisions will give them indemnity. Under some of these jurisdictions, they have to prove that they have acted in good faith before they have confirmation that they will be covered. I do not think that that system has been good enough. It has meant that many of the state’s employees have had to go to the AMA or the teachers union or a number of other agencies to take out further cover because they cannot be sure that they are covered.
As the member for Capalaba pointed out in his address, there are two aspects to this bill. One aspect is that you cannot take away personal responsibility. You cannot hide from the fact that, as an agent or employee, if you do not act in good faith, if you do not act honestly or, even worse, if you act criminally, there must be some comeback to you and that is provided for in the bill. So it would be a mistake to think that if a Dr Patel situation or some other set of circumstances arose there would be no responsibility on those individuals.
Once the legislation is enacted, public servants will automatically be eligible for financial assistance to defend civil actions brought against them because of events that occurred while carrying out their official functions. If it is determined at a later point that the employee acted without due care and with gross negligence, then the state may seek to recover any costs incurred as a result of the action. I think everyone here would want to join with me in saying that the overwhelming majority of our police, our doctors, our nurses, our public officials, our emergency services personnel and our dentists act in good faith while carrying out their duty and that, therefore, this amendment would not be necessary. They simply find that the level of certainty about their protection was much greater. If in that rare case someone has done the wrong thing or perhaps even acted illegally, the CEO of that person’s agency will decide if an action to recover costs is appropriate. If the employee disagrees with the decision of the CEO, then the validity of that decision will be tested through the independent civil court process.
The broad range of government employees being covered is one of the key strengths and important features of this legislation—doctors, nurses, teachers, ambulance and fire officers, public servants working on the front desk of a consumer service centre. For police, the legislation covers officers, recruits and volunteers. The protection of volunteers in the SES is covered separately under the Civil Liability Act. Employees will be provided with protection for conduct performed or decisions made as part of a person’s official role. So the legislation will not apply to what they are doing on the weekend or what they are doing in other aspects of their life. For their official role they will have this protection.
Some examples of where this protection may apply would be in the case of a police officer executing a search warrant who may inadvertently break some property in the process of undertaking that search or even possibly, if he was acting in good faith, perhaps executing a search warrant at the wrong premises owing to some wrong information. Another example would be where an ambulance officer breaks the rib of a patient while doing CPR. Most of us in the medical area who have performed CPR have done that from time to time, because it goes with the territory. Another example would be where an administrative officer is accused of discrimination when applying government policy in the granting of a liquor licence or where an employee provides advice about obligations under legislation but the advice is incorrect and the recipient of the advice suffers some loss. Employees will not be covered by the provisions of the legislation where their conduct is outside of their official duties. Importantly, this legislation does not excuse or justify action that is criminal.
The legislation provides security to staff that they will be supported by the state provided they have acted within the scope of their official role. Recovery against an employee can occur only where there has been a lack of good faith and gross negligence. Instead of focusing on the small number of employees who do not meet the standards expected of them, this legislation recognises that the majority of employees do the right thing—trying to ensure the best outcomes for Queenslanders—and this legislation supports them in so doing.
That high level of support is warranted to support a change from a risk-averse culture to one where employees are empowered to make sensible decisions and put their ideas into action. The clear and high expectations of government employees continues. For example, as set out in the code of conduct, it is important to note also that there are other avenues to address poor performance or conduct, including discipline and potential termination of employment in the rare instances where that may be applicable. Where an employee is found not to have acted in good faith and—an important `and’—has acted with gross negligence, the state may decide to recover the costs of any action against the employee. Individual agency CEOs will be involved in that decision.
Finally, I would like to offer my congratulations to our committee chair, Mr Steve Davies, and thank the wonderful staff of the committee for the work that they have put into the examination of this bill.
Thursday, 21 November 2013 09:48
Hansard 20 November 2013
North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Bill
Dr FLEGG (Moggill—LNP) (12.22 am): I rise to speak to the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Bill. At the outset, I declare an interest on Stradbroke Island. In fact, I have substantial property holdings on Stradbroke Island and I happen to love the place. I have been going there for 30 years. Some of my closest friends have spent their entire life there and have gone to primary school at Dunwich State School. I have had the privilege to join with local families at their family events. This is a terrific island and a terrific community, but listening to what I have heard from the other side I really wonder whether some of these speakers have ever been there, because it does not appear that they have.
With regard to the matters raised by the Premier, there was an overwhelming vote by the community on Stradbroke Island in support of Mark Robinson and the continuation of sandmining on that island. It was unequivocal. It was not muddied by some other issue. They voted to save the economy of their island and their jobs. Similarly, even in seats that traditionally have a high green vote like Mount Coot-tha, Ashgrove, Indooroopilly or Moggill, people voted for the LNP on a clear platform of saving jobs and the industry over there.
In looking at some of the claims that have been made, we hear all the time that the environmental ecolodge will sustain the economy. It is bunkum. It is absolute rubbish. Go down and have a look at what is left of Tasmania, because all the people who promised if there was no pulp mill, no dam, no forestry they would have this enormous tourism industry have died and withered on the vine, and people leave the state in droves.
The tourist industry, which I have been involved in heavily on Stradbroke Island, is a seasonal industry. It does not have jobs all year round. In fact, outside of Christmas and Easter it does not even have jobs midweek on Stradbroke Island. It is characterised by very low pay and part-time work. It has always been so. In many cases those industries on Stradbroke Island are marginal. I know of at least one case in the hospitality industry where the owner recently turned the key to the front door, got on the bus, hopped on the ferry and never came back because in a place that is so isolated they are difficult industries to survive in.
I have previously spent a bit of time on Moreton Island and on a number of other places. Let me tell you: without the mining that takes place on Stradbroke Island, every aspect of the infrastructure would suffer. Social infrastructure, child-care facilities, health facilities, a medical centre—
Ms Trad: Rubbish.
Dr FLEGG: I hear the member for South Brisbane saying ‘rubbish’. Go to towns like Moranbah up north. Because the miners do not live in the town, they tell you that the town will die. It has been plastered over our current affairs and television.
Ms Trad interjected.
Mr Berry interjected.
Ms Bates interjected.
Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Miss Barton): Order! Members! The member for Moggill has the call.
Dr FLEGG: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Even infrastructure such as roads. What put the roads in place that support the tourism industry we have on Stradbroke Island? Mining did. That is why Moreton Island does not have any roads. We are not talking about a mainland community. What about retail? If you want to go to a cafe or buy a loaf of bread that is baked fresh, it is the economy that puts those things in place. It is the same if you want some entertainment or to go to a bowls club or any of those sorts of things that Stradbroke Island enjoys.
One thing that is overwhelming—and one of my colleagues to the right raised it—is this is an island that is desperately dependent on ferry transport and the ferry transport is dependent on mining.
When you come to the off-season with the overheads of a ferry, if you do not have the mining business and the materials that have to go back and forward and the associated building, construction, road maintenance and everything else that goes on with that island, you do not have business there.
The member for South Brisbane would like to think of herself as some sort of champion of people who are on social security, who are poor or who are retired. There are a lot of those people. They will be paying $200 to go to Cleveland to buy a basket of groceries because there is absolutely no question about the reliance of the ferry service on the economic base of the island—
Ms Trad interjected.
Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for South Brisbane, I asked you earlier in the debate to not have conversations across the chamber. I am perfectly capable of making directions from the chair if I choose to do so. I do not need you to make orders across the chamber to other members. The member for Moggill has the call.
Dr FLEGG: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I feel very strongly about this issue. The lifeblood of Stradbroke Island is that ferry service. It will be cripplingly expensive and it will lose services. If you want to see what will happen, have a look at some of the problems that have confronted other Moreton Bay islands that do not have that economic activity. They are serious problems.
I do understand the connection of the Indigenous people to Stradbroke Island. In my time in this place I have been privileged to be housing minister and to be the shadow minister for Indigenous affairs. I have been to places like Palm Island, where Indigenous communities struggle with massive social problems—almost insoluble social problems—because they do not have an economic base.
Believe it or not, I sat and listened on the closed circuit television system in this House to the public hearings conducted by the committee. I heard an Indigenous person from North Stradbroke Island opposing mining but then admitting that both he and several of his relatives had worked in the mine. Where on earth do people come from that they cannot learn the lessons of places like Cape York as to what happens to the social fabric of Indigenous communities if they do not have an economic base and regular full-time jobs for people to perform?
Mr Rickuss: Labor will stick them on welfare.
Dr FLEGG: Welfare would probably become the biggest industry on North Stradbroke Island if those full-time jobs were taken away. The casual and seasonal workforce needed for tourism does not exist on North Stradbroke Island. It is too expensive for them to pay $200 to come across on a barge, which is what it would cost. What does happen there is that full-time jobs in the mine are filled by people who have families. So the spouse of the person working in the mine can be the local hairdresser or work in the local bakery—all the things that they cannot get people to do in Moranbah because they do not have that sort of community. Having full-time, decent paying jobs with decent housing that allows for other family members to assist with part-time or seasonal work is a very important part of the fabric of that island. Frequently, the spouse of somebody working for the mine will be the teacher aide in the school—that is if the school manages to stay open if there is no economic base for the island.
Honourable members do not have to look very far to see what would be lost on Stradbroke if we listened to the bizarre voodoo social policy and social economics of those opposite. This is not a wilderness like Fraser Island or Moreton Island or parts of Cape York; this is a place with thousands of people living there. I do not know of anywhere in Australia where the industry is shut down. Have a look at what happened in Maryborough and in other places where the industry has been taken away.
Labor just has not learnt a thing. Here we have a small community that has made its will crystal clear—there is absolutely no doubt, not muddied by anything—and yet Labor was happy to stamp on their neck and rub their face in the dirt. That community does not matter when Labor thinks there are some green preferences. It will sacrifice a small community because it thinks it has some political gain. I say that is rubbish.
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