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CITY OF FREMANTLE AND TOWN OF EAST FREMANTLE TRUST FUNDS (AMENDMENT AND EXPIRY) BILL 2013
Hon Dr Sally Talbot; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Helen Morton; Hon Sue Ellery; Deputy President
Resumed from 25 June.
HON SALLY TALBOT (South West) [8.07 pm]: I am reminded of the old days when new members to this place did not have the accommodation that they have now with the arrangement that they can make their inaugural speeches during the Governor’s Address-in-Reply debate, which gives them free rein to talk about things that matter to them. They used to have to tailor their introductory remarks to whatever bill happened to be before the chamber when they got the call. The famous story is the poor chap who had to make his inaugural speech in the context of the onion bill. I am told that he found that particularly challenging. This bill that we are now considering, the City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle Trust Funds (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2013, probably comes into that category of bills with a pretty narrow focus. It would be a challenge to give one’s inaugural speech in the context of this bill.
I was unaware of the standing order that states that we should not refer to debates in the other place and I am not, of course, about to do that, but when I did my homework in preparation for dealing with this bill, I was somewhat disconcerted when I had a quick look at what was said in the other place; I found that there were about 60 pages of debate. The bill had been declared an urgent bill in the other place, so clearly there was a certain imperative, at least on the government’s part, to get the bill through in a timely fashion.
This bill is not without controversy. The actual substance of the bill is fairly straightforward, but I noticed that this bill was dealt with in the other place before the government made its announcements about the proposed forced amalgamations of local councils. If the government gets its way, we will no longer have a City of Fremantle and a Town of East Fremantle from which to take the trust funds, which is what this bill does. We will have something called the “Greater Fremantle Port Council” or something like that, which will include, of course, the massive City of Melville. Honourable members know very well that very few people are happy with that outcome. It occurred to me that that is why the government wanted the bill to be declared urgent in the other place. However, it has made no attempt to do the same thing in this place. It is all quite mysterious. The reason given in the other place for making it urgent was that it had to go through by 30 June because of all these streamlined financial processes; the good burghers of the City of Fremantle and the Town of East Fremantle were going to wipe the sweat from their brow about not having to fulfil the onerous duties of reporting under these existing arrangements.
That all seems to have become irrelevant now that we are dealing with the matter in this place, so I will confine my remarks to the substance of this City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle Trust Funds (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2013. But I thought it was worth making the point that we are dealing with two entities that, if the government gets its way, will not exist in the foreseeable future.
I was also a little amused by the comment at the end of the second reading speech given by Hon Helen Morton, representing the Minister for Local Government in this place, when she said —
This bill represents yet another step in this government’s strategy to improve legislation for local governments.
I thought that there was a rich irony in that. I can imagine that no member of the government will want to go anywhere near a local government forum and utter a sentence like that at this stage because, frankly, they would be laughed off the platform with very hollow laughter because local government is hurting very much over what the government is planning to do with its forced amalgamations. However, I must concede they are not particularly upset about this bill. Indeed, I understand from advice provided to me that, after 52 years, the City of Fremantle and the Town of East Fremantle have warmly welcomed the move to wind up an arrangement that has been redundant now for the greater part of that time. We are dealing with three key dates in this bill, the first of which is from the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Act 1903, which is the original act. That act took in a couple of other acts, which, believe it or not, were to do with the provision of tramways and electric lighting—it is nice when the title of a bill reflects what the bill will do. That act was changed in 1961. At that stage the Fremantle and East Fremantle trust funds were set up as bodies corporate and the assets that were relevant to the provision of those services were vested in the two respective local government authorities. Fifty-two years later, the third key date of 2013, the government’s conclusion, and one with which we entirely agree, is that the functions of the Local Government Act 1995 can now well and truly pick up those provisions. It therefore removes, not a particularly onerous level of reporting, nonetheless, a level of reporting from local government.
The Labor Party supports the bill on the basis that it effectively eliminates a layer of duplication of compliance provisions. I do not intend to ask that we deal with the bill in the Committee of the Whole. At this point I will leave my remarks.
HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [8.13 pm]: The Greens (WA) support the City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle Trust Funds (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2013. It is time that the Fremantle fund was wrapped up and that any funds that have been accumulated in the fund due to the investments of the Town of East Fremantle and the City of Fremantle be returned to those local government jurisdictions for expenditure. I suppose the government could have done other things with the funds, but I think it is appropriate they be returned to those local jurisdictions, which had the foresight to set up the Fremantle fund for the purposes of trams and electric lighting way back then in the local jurisdictions in my South Metropolitan Region. The Mayor of Fremantle has expressed his extreme delight that this will finally be achieved. I am sure, Mr Deputy President (Hon Simon O’Brien), that if you had the opportunity to comment, knowing your passion and commitment to the Fremantle community, you too would support this bill, perhaps more eloquently even than I am.
One of the interesting things about this bill is that it will return to the City of Fremantle the old firehouse and the reserve upon which it sits. It was one of the investments of this fund. Most of the funds will go to the City of Fremantle and a portion will go to the Town of East Fremantle. Similar to Hon Sally Talbot, I note the timing of this legislation and the announcement about the forced amalgamations. I know they are the subject of some considerable debate in our region. This wrapping up of funds, however, does not relate to that. I am sure both jurisdictions, in whatever form they survive post this most recent local government reform exercise the current state government is undertaking, will be delighted to have the funds set aside in the Fremantle fund in their own coffers to face the future and perhaps put in a light rail system. Who can say?
The Greens support this legislation and thank the government for bringing it on. The local governments are very happy to have those funds and to close the act.
HON HELEN MORTON (East Metropolitan — Minister for Mental Health) [8.16 pm] — in reply: I thank members for their support for the City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle Trust Funds (Amendment and Expiry) Bill 2013. I think everyone has recognised that this bill is very timely in reducing red tape and unnecessary administration in this area.
I would like to comment on the reference Hon Sally Talbot made about forced amalgamations. I do not know whether she was here when we debated this issue last week, but I would like to reiterate that forced amalgamations could not take place without a bill passing through both houses of Parliament. That is not contemplated at this stage, so there will be no forced amalgamations. I know it is convenient for members opposite to talk about forced amalgamations but no forced amalgamations are taking place. I am letting members know again that while the work is continuing with the local governments undertaking their roles and the work they are putting into this, forced amalgamations cannot happen without legislation, and that legislation is not being contemplated.
Hon Sally Talbot: That doesn’t make local government feel any better.
Hon HELEN MORTON: They know the act better than we do, so consequently I think they should refer to it and make their submissions appropriately to the government.
Hon Sally Talbot: I will pass that message on to them.
Hon HELEN MORTON: Thank you; I really appreciate that, but I think they already know it and talk frequently, individually and personally about the amalgamations in the way that I am talking about them. However, I know that they make public statements from time to time.
Getting back to the subject of this bill, as has been said, this is about repealing an obsolete act and reducing red tape. I, too, think it is rather interesting to think about the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Act 1903, which had a board and which was responsible for the electricity, the tramways and the passenger transport services in and around Fremantle and East Fremantle. The Fremantle tramway network linked the central business district of Fremantle with the nearby suburbs. It was small but comprehensive, and operated between 1905 and 1952.
It was interesting to look a little more at some of the history. The Fremantle municipal tramway began operations in 1905. The network expanded into North Fremantle in 1908 and into Melville in 1915. The North Fremantle line closed in 1938 and was replaced by diesel buses. I have never been on a tram so I do not know what it is like.
Hon Peter Katsambanis: I have been on more than a few!
Hon HELEN MORTON: Yes!
The remainder of the network reached its peak use during World War II. After World War II, the trams operated quite profitably for the councils. However, the decision of the Western Australian state government in the early 1950s to nationalise the south west electricity system from private and council ownership to the newly formed State Electricity Commission meant that the supply and cost of the power to the trams increased markedly.
Point of Order
Hon SUE ELLERY: Mr Deputy President, this is very interesting, but the purpose of a second reading reply speech is to address the issues that have been raised in the second reading debate. Although I share the minister’s fascination with the history of this matter, none of those matters was raised during the course of the second reading debate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Hon Simon O’Brien): I have been listening with interest to the remarks of the honourable minister in reply. I think that thus far the minister is referring to some matters that were not raised in the second reading debate. But I do not think the minister has strayed far outside the context of the bill at this stage. The Chair always gives some latitude for members, whether they are speaking to a substantive motion or speaking in reply, to progress the debate by referring to matters related to the central subject, always aware, of course, that they do so only for the purposes as provided in the debate. I am sure the minister is not going to digress and will confine the substance of her reply to the bill itself. So I rule that there is no point of order at this stage.
Hon HELEN MORTON: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President.
I would add that Hon Sally Talbot raised the whole history and talked about the three dates of interest to her, which were 1903 and through to 1961, and then the date of the current bill. In that process, I am responding to some of the history that occurred during those three dates. I am absolutely certain that there are many people in this place who are intrigued by this information. Consequently, given that Hon Sally Talbot raised those three dates, it is beholden on me to provide some information around them, and that is what I intend to do.
As I was saying, as a result, and without any fanfare at all, the whole system was closed after the last tram ran into the car barn in Queen Victoria Street on a Sunday night in November 1952.
The City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle Trust Funds Act was passed in 1961 to allow each of the two councils to establish a trust fund to manage the investment of the funds that the councils received for the sale of the power generation to the State Electricity Commission. As members have indicated, time has moved on, and the separate accounting for these funds is no longer necessary and serves only to contribute to red tape. This bill will enable each of the councils to take direct control of the assets and liabilities in their respective trust funds and to manage these funds according to the provisions of the Local Government Act 1995.
I am looking to see whether any other points were raised that are of interest. Hon Lynn MacLaren raised the issue of a heritage building, the old Fremantle fire station, which is now a commercial building. I have not seen that building, but I understand it is quite an iconic building in the City of Fremantle.
Hon Lynn MacLaren: Yes; it is a beautiful building.
Hon HELEN MORTON: With those comments, I commend the bill to the house and move that the bill be read a second time.
Question put and passed.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed forthwith to third reading.
Bill read a third time, on motion by Hon Helen Morton (Minister for Mental Health), and passed.