Budget Estimates 2017: Premier & Finance Hearing

7 September 2017

Adam Searle’s questions to the Premier & Finance Panel:

  • The Hon. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN, Premier.
  • JOHN SCHMIDT , NSW Electoral Commissioner, NSW Electoral Commission.
  • BLAIR COMLEY , Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet.
  • GRAEME HEAD , Public Service Commissioner, Public Service Commission.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Good afternoon, Premier.


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator, New South Wales faces up to a 46 per cent likelihood of blackouts lasting up to six hours after Liddell closes in 2022. We saw how the State’s power supplies were stretched on 10 February this year and it really was only the curtailment of power to Tomago Aluminium that saved the State from rolling blackouts. What is your plan to avoid blackouts from next summer?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I thank you for the question. I do believe this is one of the biggest issues facing not just the State but the nation in terms of energy security into the future. As we stand, New South Wales is the most resilient State when it comes to sourcing energy. New South Wales, compared to other States, is doing very well in its energy sourcing and also in its transition strategies. That being said, we are not at all complacent about our future energy requirements and we are considering all of the State’s options in relation to securing our energy into the future.

I say that because the main motivation for me is, first, to ensure that, unlike other States, New South Wales does not have those blackouts and what is called load shedding; second, that we keep maintaining downward pressure on power bills, which is so important; and, third, to work with the other States and the Commonwealth for a national strategy. As you and every member of this Committee would be aware, unfortunately there are many issues outside the control of the New South Wales Government when it comes to energy security. We are part of a national grid and when one or more than one State is not as resilient as New South Wales and takes decisions to move to renewables, perhaps before they should have, that puts pressure on our system.

There is no doubt that we will work hard to do what we can within our own control to secure our energy sources but we do also need a national approach to protect New South Wales, given the actions of other States. We saw, for example, what South Australia’s energy situation resulted in, not just for that State but also what it meant for New South Wales, Victoria and others. Fortunately, we were able to withstand those pressures during the last summer and indeed this winter. But we are making sure that we consider all the potential options about securing our energy sources into the future, especially as the State potentially moves to other sources into the future.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, renewable energy is only about 17 per cent of the energy mix in New South Wales but on that hot day, 10 February, our reliance on renewables was up to 27 per cent. Without renewables, we would have run out of power altogether. Can you give a guarantee that New South Wales will not suffer blackouts next summer?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We are certainly working as hard as we can to maintain our position as the most resilient State when it comes to our energy sources. In fact, the Chief Scientist has given the Government very good advice and recommendations on what our State needs to do moving forward. We are continually in contact with her and the task force that is set up under her to make sure that, as a government, we are doing all we can to maintain our resilience. Also, as you foreshadowed in your question, it is important for us to work with the other States and the Commonwealth. We are part of a national grid. We can do what we can to continue the resilience of our State but we cannot control what other States do in this environment. When other States are not as responsible as we are, when other States do not consider the impact of peak periods as much as New South Wales does, unfortunately that does have unintended consequences for New South Wales.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, do I understand from that lengthy answer that you will not give us a guarantee that we will not suffer blackouts next summer?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am confident that we will maintain our resilience. I am confident that the people of New South Wales will not have to worry about that. Absolutely I am confident of that. I am confident that we will manage all of our peak times, especially in the summer. To date, we have managed the winter extremely well, and we will continue to do that. I do not think many people would have foreseen what happened in South Australia, and that put pressure on our system, no doubt about it. The energy Minister and I and all of our colleagues have been working to make sure we have the strongest resilience when it comes to our energy needs.

I have to say, one of the first opportunities I had on taking this position was to be in contact with the Chief Scientist, to make sure that I understood not only her advice at the time but also what we as a government needed to monitor and keep doing to maintain our resilience. I am very confident of our position. Obviously, all of us—when I say “all of us”, all the States and Commonwealth—need to do more in terms of the future energy needs. I do not take a back foot on that. It is important for New South Wales, as the most resilient and largest State, to continue to act in the interests of our citizens with energy security and also to do what we can to put downward pressure on household energy bills.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I have not heard you use the word “guarantee”, so I accept you will not give that guarantee.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: There is nothing for me to be concerned about in relation to our State’s energy requirements. I have not been given any advice to say there is anything which requires that level of concern. Certainly I would never be complacent and we need to work hard on a daily basis to maintain resilience as a State. We need to keep a keen eye on the activities of other States. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, what other States do does impact New South Wales.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Do you intend to give financial assistance or other incentives to the owner of Liddell Power Station to keep it open beyond 2022?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We have not come to any conclusions regarding that. I welcome the Federal Government’s interest in the future of that energy source. We have not made any conclusive decision around that. Obviously we were interested in the Federal Government’s announcements or statements yesterday and we will continue to consider the best options for our citizens moving forward.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Will your Government look at buying a stake in Liddell?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We have not come to any conclusions at this stage.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am not asking about conclusions; I am asking you what options are you looking at in connection with Liddell Power Station?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We are looking at a range of options.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Can you tell us what they are?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Yes. We are looking at options relating to the length of time our existing energy sources will continue. We are looking at what is happening around the world and what are the best options in terms of energy sources. We are also looking at what we can do in relation to providing certainty to the market. That is a very important matter we need to consider in New South Wales. That comes to us working with the other States and the Commonwealth. The more certainty we can give the market the better opportunities we have in terms of knowing what our sources are in the future. I will ask my secretary to comment on this issue, given his interactions. There have also been interagency workings between New South Wales and other States.

Mr COMLEY: I would add one thing to the Premier’s answer. The Finkel review was released and the Federal Government endorsed 49 of those 50 recommendations. One recommendation which was endorsed but has received less public attention than it might have is a recommendation to introduce a generator reliability obligation, which essentially is providing an obligation for backup power to support renewables. The Commonwealth has not finalised the design detail of that. Any response that you would consider in energy security will need to take into account the design details of that. We engage with the Commonwealth through formal Council of Australian Governments [COAG] processes and through other official processes on the design of those schemes because they are important to the overall landscape.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: What conversations have you or any person in your Government had with the Prime Minister or any part of the Commonwealth Government about the Commonwealth’s announcements in relation to Liddell?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I engage with the Prime Minister and our State colleagues frequently. It was discussed at the last Council of Australian Governments meeting. This issue was discussed by the Premiers and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister kindly let me know that he was making the statements yesterday and I was pleased for that conversation.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: When did the Prime Minister let you know of that?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am not going to get into the details of when and how long I spoke to him. Suffice to say that all the Premiers and the Prime Minister appreciate that we need to move forward together on this issue in some parts. New South Wales is extremely resilient when it comes to our energy sources, far more resilient than the other States. However, we are part of a national grid and it is important for me as the Premier of New South Wales to maintain dialogue not just with the Prime Minister but with my other State colleagues and to work towards national solutions which strengthen the energy sources into that grid and take pressure off New South Wales, which is the most resilient State.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, do you agree that increasing investment in new power generation sources and creating a stable framework for investors are required to give us that certainty and security, not trying to keep old coal-fired power stations on life support beyond their lifespan?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We need to look at a multiple range of options. The mistake that some other State governments have made is to move to renewables too quickly. That is clearly the case of South Australia. They moved to renewables and when their system suffered stress during peak the renewable sources were not able to cope, and that was the given.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: When coal-fired power stations close you need new power generation sources to replace them. It is not the fault of renewables if the private owner of the coal-fired power station in South Australia decided to close.


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: When Liddell closes, what is going to replace the power lost to New South Wales?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: That is the point I am making. What I am suggesting is governments do get advance warning of what may or may not happen in their State.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Not always.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The comments I have made about South Australia are that I believe their government—and their load shedding requirements last summer proved this when they had to plan blackouts—moved too quickly towards relying on renewable sources of energy. The peak was beyond their expectations during a heatwave on the entire eastern seaboard and South Australia at the same time. There were a multitude of difficult circumstances. Having said that, I believe that State moved too quickly towards renewables and did not do enough to plan ahead for its more traditional sources of energy. I and my Government want to ensure that New South Wales is not in that situation. We are considering options before us in relation to existing sources of generation and other opportunities we might have in discussion with our State and Federal colleagues.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Liddell Power Station was built to last 30 years; it is now 47 years old. At some point your Government will have to face reality, that we need new electricity generation projects. Will you invest in new renewable projects in New South Wales to ensure that we have enough supply being developed to meet the shortfalls that will occur when stations such as Liddell actually close?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We have significant investment in renewable energy in New South Wales.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Not by your Government.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We do. The Government provides the regulatory environment for that investment and provides support through various funds, grants and opportunities. That is not what is at the heart of the issue.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Supply is pretty important.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: It is. What is at the heart of the issue is how reliable those sources are. Currently, we know that unfortunately you can not rely on those alternative sources during times of peak usage.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: If you do not have them at all, you run out of power.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: South Australia has demonstrated that you cannot solely rely on those sources with the current technology we have because it does jeopardise the opportunity for citizens to use those sources of energy during the peak times when the system is under pressure. It is not a question of the amount available, as you and the members present know. The challenge with those technologies is storage. Technology is currently limited in allowing you to use those sources of energy when you need them. That is the critical thing that State governments have to consider. You have to assume unexpected situations will arise. You have to assume that various States could be under pressure from the national grid at the same time.

If that is the case, you cannot move too quickly to other sources of energy, which are far less reliable, do not support during a peak, and compromise the availability of power for citizens to use electricity freely. That is central to the issue. It is not just the amount of investment going on, it is the reliability and the storage capacity, which unfortunately is still wanting in many of the alternative sources. We appreciate the public sentiment, which is to invest in more alternative energy sources. We appreciate that members of the public feel that and we appreciate that some members of the public are asking government to look at a high energy low emission coal-fired power station.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Will you fund one?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am not going to rule it out. I will not rule out anything and compromise the future energy needs of New South Wales. My job as the Premier is to ensure that the citizens do not need to worry about what happens when they flick on a switch. It is my job to make sure we keep energy prices as low as possible. That is why I appreciate there are short- and medium-term impacts on energy prices, which is why on the weekend I announced a range of reforms to support the most vulnerable of our households and small businesses during what is likely to be an unfortunate period of upward pressure on prices.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: There is talk about the Commonwealth Government buying the New South Wales share of the Snowy Hydro scheme. Can you tell us where those discussions are up to and will you use those proceeds to build new electricity generation projects in regional New South Wales?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The New South Wales Government is undertaking its due diligence on evaluating our share. I know the Victorian Government is doing the same. Both the Victorian Government and the New South Wales Government are working to make sure we appropriately value what our share is worth. The Federal Government has given both Victoria and ourselves every indication that it intends to proceed with that transaction. You can rest assured that we are a government that will ensure that every dollar of those proceeds goes to where it is needed most. We are looking forward to the process continuing in the coming months.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: You mentioned the package you announced on Sunday. What is the total value of that package?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: It is in the hundreds of millions. Some parts of it are able to be accessed through the Climate Change Fund because some aspects of the proposals—for example, those relating to small businesses being able to have up to 50 per cent upgrade of their appliances or households being able to get discounts on their appliances when they upgrade—can be attributed to the Climate Change Fund. Other parts of the package cannot be. For example, the 20 per cent increase in rebates per annum that we are providing to vulnerable households, including low-income working households or welfare recipients, seniors and anybody on the current rebates, the additional cost of those is, I believe, around $55 million, which is from outside the Climate Change Fund. My secretary might have more details on the total package in relation to parts of it coming out of the Climate Change Fund.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Perhaps I can assist, is it the $257 million in Budget Paper No. 3, page 8-18?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No, this is new.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Totally new?


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Apart from the $55 million you say is coming from the Climate Change Fund—

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No, the $55 million is the part that is not from the Climate Change Fund, because you cannot have rebates from the Climate Change Fund. You need to use the Climate Change Fund for purposes which support better use of energy.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Can you please provide us with the total figure and where the money comes from?


Mr COMLEY: I do not have the total figure in front of me.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: You can take it on notice.

Mr COMLEY: The non $55 million is out of the Climate Change Fund, which is already in the budget papers.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: The Climate Change Fund is referred to in passing in the budget papers but the actual amounts that you are talking about are not itemised in the budget papers.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: They are still—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: A passing reference on one page is not an itemised list of where the money is coming from.


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: What I am asking for is where are the dollars and cents coming from and where is that list of expenditure found, either in the budget papers or in some other document?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Just to be clear before I hand back to the Secretary, so the Committee is aware, there is still a portion of Climate Change Fund which the Government has the ability to allocate every year. Part of that allocation has gone towards upgrading these appliances. We have not yet allocated the total amount of the fund. I will ask the Secretary to add to that.

Mr COMLEY: That is right. Essentially, the Climate Change Fund becomes an envelope which comes from the levy.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: The levy paid by customers, not by the Government.

Mr COMLEY: That is right, for climate change related purposes.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In this year’s budget you provide $257 million otherwise for helping vulnerable customers.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No, it is actually much more than that.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In your budget, page 8-18, it is $275 million to assist up to 900,000 households, which is less than the $259 million in the previous year’s budget. Why is your budget paper less generous to vulnerable customers than in the previous year’s budget?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We have actually now extended the criteria, not limited them. It depends on how many people are eligible to apply for the fund.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I understand it is a protected item, but the amount of money you are estimating to spend this year is $2 million less than in the year before. So why are you planning on reducing the help you give to vulnerable customers?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The total amount we dedicate to providing subsidies to the most vulnerable customers in total far exceeds the amount you have raised.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am just looking at your budget papers.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: Point of order—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: If you are happy to refer me to other pages.

The CHAIR: Your time has elapsed, Mr Searle.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We also have an estimation on how many people we think will take up our offer. I do not think anything can give you a stronger indication of our Government having a big heart than with increasing the rebates by 20 per cent. We have assumed that, for some people, the next bill they get could be a shock to them, including the most vulnerable of our families and individuals. I did not want anyone to feel that unnecessary stress, because we are in a strong financial position. For that reason, we have increased the rebates across the board.

You can quite happily add the $55 million to that $257 million if you want to be so specific but, having said that, that is only part of the overall amount of concessions we give to vulnerable families. Even if I took your argument to be correct—which I do not—you could add $55 million onto that. Compared to last year, there will be an extra $53 million going to the most vulnerable of our families.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In 2015 your predecessor Mike Baird visited people in the local community at Williamtown suffering from contamination. He promised $4 million so all those living inside the red zone would be connected to town water. Two years on, there are still many properties not connected to town water and many of those people have elevated levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS] chemicals in their blood. As a matter of urgency, will you call in Hunter Water to ensure that all those who should be connected to town water are? Will you also tell the Committee how much of the $4 million has been spent and why two years on this process has not been completed?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I remember former Premier Baird spoke to his colleagues about his visit and how much he was impacted by it. Our Government took proactive action at the time. I do not know how much of that money has been expended to date. I will refer to my secretary if he has any such information. I am happy to take that on notice. I do not have the information in front of me.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Moving back to new sources of energy, the company Dial A Dump is proposing a large waste incinerator to generate energy in Western Sydney at Eastern Creek. There is a lot of concern in the community and there has been trenchant criticism of the proposal by the Environment Protection Agency [EPA]. Will your Government take steps to ensure that that project does not go ahead and pollute local communities?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Mr Searle, I have heard those concerns. As a layperson, not as the Premier of this State, I appreciate why the community would be concerned about that proposal. There is a Planning Assessment Commission [PAC] process for that proposal. I will await the outcome of that process before I make any public statements. I have met with people who are concerned about that proposal. I have listened to their concerns. I have listened to my colleagues who have raised many concerns on their behalf. I appreciate their reasons for raising those concerns, but there is a proper process going ahead. We will consider our options depending on the outcome of that process. We have to let that process takes its course.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Just to be clear, you are not going to take steps to make sure that the project does not go ahead? You are just going to let the process take its course?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No, if you listen to my answer, we need to make sure that the current process comes to a conclusion and what we will do will depend on that outcome. The process might determine that the proposal should not go ahead, in which case no further action is required. If the process suggests that the proposal should go ahead, the Government can consider its options at that stage. But we will await that outcome. I am not sure of the timing of that outcome. I am not sure if my secretary has any extra advice on when that might be.

Mr COMLEY: No, I do not.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: In fact, it would be inappropriate for government to interfere in a process that is currently going on. I have listened to people who have raised those concerns and I place on record how vigilant my colleagues have been in raising those concerns with me and in highlighting the concerns of their communities. We will have something to say about that once the formal process has concluded, depending on the outcome of that process.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In relation to energy and electricity in particular you would agree that less supply will usually mean higher prices?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I will wait until the next part of your question before I proceed to answer that one.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It is a pretty straightforward proposition.

Mr COMLEY: Can I comment on that?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: My secretary wants to make a comment.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: My question was to you, Premier. When the Government of which you were a part sold the Wallerawang Power Station you did not provide any mechanism to stop the new private owner closing that power station, and that cost New South Wales 1,000 megawatts of energy. Your actions in allowing that to happen cost New South Wales precious electricity supply, did it not?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: If you want to start that line of questioning I could go back to your time in government with the Solar Bonus Scheme that costs billions of dollars to New South Wales taxpayers.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am talking about constraining power supply to New South Wales so please attend to the question. The Government of which you were a part sold a power station and allowed its new owner to close it, costing New South Wales 1,000 megawatts of energy. You did not do anything to make sure they had to replace that energy, did you?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: There are a number of things I will go through in answering your question. Before I do, I know my secretary was keen to place something on the record. I will ask him to do that before I proceed with my answer.

Mr COMLEY: In electricity markets, as the Premier said before, simply thinking about aggregate supply and aggregate demand does not get to pricing because pricing is fundamentally about what is dispatched at a particular point in time at a particular demand. I am sure you are aware that the price in the National Electricity Market [NEM] varies from $14,000 a megawatt hour down to minus—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Sure, but supply has an impact on price.

Mr COMLEY: That is because you really have to think of when it is dispatched. The thing we have not talked much about in this Committee is that the architecture of the National Electricity Market is the primary thing driving both dispatch decisions and investment decisions. That has been a conscious policy choice over more than 20 years now where the market participants are responding to the incentives given by the market. The general approach of participants in the market making decisions unrelated to those drivers from the overall NEM that I think you are suggesting would have very profound consequences for all investment incentives through the market, including for anyone who wants to be a new entrant and any existing participants. They get enormous comfort in their investment decisions by knowing what the various players are likely to do in that regulatory framework.

The distinction between the Government setting the regulatory framework to get the desired outcomes and allowing market participants to act within that market has been a very fundamental part of the NEM for at least 20 years and it has been very important. That regulatory framework in trying to bring together energy and climate has been fundamentally the NEM rules plus the renewable energy target. As I mentioned earlier, the Finkel report is saying that the architecture was a reasonable architecture in a world in which we had legacy assets that had been around for a long time and demand at the level it was. In a world in which we have a greater penetration of renewables we have to think about augmenting those rules, those regulatory structures. Finkel particularly focused on the generator reliability obligation, which is new and is a particularly new concept because it is a regionally based mechanism. It is not one that just goes NEM wide. Second is the idea that you may need to enhance markets for auxiliary services frequency, which was a direct response to the learnings that came out of South Australia.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: But if you do not have the power supply in the first place you cannot dispatch it. The actions of the Government in allowing 1,000 megawatts of energy to exit the system cost New South Wales pretty dearly on 10 February, including running the risk that the power would go out and also paying a very high price for the power that was available. You have cost us supply through your actions.

Mr COMLEY: The actions of governments both at Commonwealth and State level have set the incentives for whether people will maintain power stations and whether they will invest in new ones. The thing that is worth coming back to—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Can you name one new coal-fired power station that anyone is considering building?

Mr COMLEY: The answer I would put to that is—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Yes or no?

Mr COMLEY: No, because earlier you made a comment about how old a coal-fired power station is. In a sense, at coal-fired power stations incremental investment decisions are being made all the time. It is probably not right to think about just whether there is a new power station. It is also a question of asking do you do maintenance activity. Do you augment? The phrase often used in this industry is that it is the grandfather’s axe. It has been there for 50 years but almost no part of that power station is the same. Every market participant is making ongoing decisions about incremental investments, which effectively are whether they will refurbish, increase capacity or maintain capacity, on a continual basis. The general policy approach has been that you want those market participants who have genuine skin in the game to be taking into account that regulatory structure that is trying to achieve the right overall policy outcomes.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, another action taken by the Government of which you were a part that increased the cost of power for consumers was deregulating retail electricity prices. Within 12 months of deregulation in 2014 retailers had marked up their prices by up to 15 per cent. Since then they have increased in double digits, including by up to 20 per cent from 1 July this year. You now have the Australian Energy Market Operator chief executive and the Federal energy Minister saying that if power prices keep going up like this there will have to be new government regulation to bring it under control. Will you consider re-regulating electricity prices in New South Wales in line with those observations?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The short answer to that question is no, because in fact the evidence is to the contrary. The key thing in competition in the retail network is to make sure that households and individuals are aware of their rights and made aware that if they shop around they will get a better deal. In fact, if I am not mistaken there was an Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] report towards the end of last year that talked about downward pressure being placed on prices when there was more competition, not less, in that market.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It said that people could save; not that people were saving. The CHAIR: Let the Premier answer the question.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: That report indicated that greater competition did result in lower prices. In fact, another report, which I do not have in front of me, also vindicated the Government’s position. Unfortunately, not everybody knows their rights to be able to shop around and get a better deal. Part of the package that we announced on the weekend involves saying to the retailers, “Do not charge people for switching accounts. Do not charge people for wanting to pay their bills over the counter. Do not charge people for getting a better deal.” Part of the package we announced was actually to incentivise our citizens in New South Wales to try to get a better deal. We are looking at ways in which we can raise awareness of that.

We are making sure that we have as much public information as possible because if people shop around they will find that in all likelihood they can get a better deal. Unfortunately, what your party and your leader is advocating takes us backwards and puts upward pressures on prices. That is the last thing you want to do. What we want in the retail sector is downward pressure on prices. That is why the ability of people to shop around and get a better deal is absolutely critical. This competition really causes all those retailers to look at what they are offering because of people’s ability to switch.

I am very proud of the fact that last weekend we acknowledged there are opportunities for people who want to get a better deal. We are going to enforce penalties on those retailers that are not allowing people to switch without fees or those that are still charging fees—some elderly people still want to pay through Australia Post, they want to pay over the counter and they want to get their bills in paper form. We want to make sure they are not penalised for those things. I refute your opening statement about downward pressure on prices in the retail market. It has been demonstrated that competition puts downward pressure on prices.

What is at stake, and is a matter of concern, are the power generation sources. But there is no doubt that more competition puts downward pressure on prices; what you are proposing puts upward pressure on them. Interestingly, in 2012 a Federal Labor Government inquiry found gold plating in New South Wales when Labor was in government, and that was the key reason for electricity price hikes during that time. That was the Duffy- Parry report.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: If it had not been for your intervention and the Australian Energy Regulator [AER] proceedings, prices in New South Wales would have gone done by $6 billion. Your Government has kept prices artificially higher than they should have been.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Not at all, because you made those same approaches to AER. We wanted to make sure that there was not a cliff whereby hundreds of employees lost their jobs. On the one hand, you were telling us that no-one could lose a job and, on the other hand, you were saying, “Do not appeal the AER determination.” That would have caused hundreds of people—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, you are dodging the question.


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Your actions have kept network prices higher than they should have been.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: You are wrong because network prices are legislated to come down in—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I said higher than they should have been under the original AER determination.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: You said network prices. I am happy to talk about network prices—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I said they are higher than they should have been.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Because of Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile’s amendment we legislated to make sure that network prices—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I was there.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: —are lower in 2019 than they were in 2014.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: But they would have been lower still under the original AER determination.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No. I would ask you to refer—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Then why did you spend all of that money going to court to stop the AER determination going ahead?

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: Point of order: The Premier is trying to understand the question but the Hon. Adam Searle is not allowing her to.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: If only she would.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: She is. You just do not like the answer.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: She is not being responsive.

The CHAIR: The Premier will be allowed to answer the question.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I think the Committee is in agreement that it was legislated that in 2019 network prices will be lower than they were in 2014. The Duffy-Parry report found that a series of Labor Government decisions led to a $3 billion blowout in power company spending and revenue raising in New South Wales, which meant when Labor was in government it took New South Wales from having the lowest electricity bills in the nation to higher than the national average. Your track record is not one to look at when it comes to downward pressure.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: You and your party went to the last election in New South Wales promising lower electricity prices after privatisation. Has your electricity bill gone down? Has anyone’s electricity bill gone down?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We were very clear—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Prices have kept going up, have they not?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Please stop misleading the public with your question. We were very clear to say that network prices will be less in 2019—

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: That is not the basis upon which you have put the argument.

The CHAIR: Order! The Premier will be allowed to answer the question.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We said that network prices would be less in 2019 than they were in 2014. We promised to legislate that, which we did. I thank Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and his colleague for making sure that amendment was successful, that it is in black-and-white legislation. I am very proud of that fact because we had made a commitment to the community and we stuck by that commitment. I also want to highlight the hypocrisy of the line of questions when it comes to electricity prices because under your regime, regrettably, New South Wales did have some of the highest prices in the nation compared with other States. In New South Wales we acknowledge that there are factors within our control, and we are addressing them, but there are some factors outside of our control.

The good news for households, especially those most vulnerable, is that we are taking care of them during this time, when energy prices are likely to go up, by increasing rebates, by providing discounts for those people who are either in small business or individuals upgrading their appliances. We are also taking a heavy- handed approach to retailers that do not allow people to switch and get a better deal without incurring penalty. I think the types of fees that people have to pay are annoying. We also have to acknowledge that some customers, including seniors, prefer to pay over the counter or to get a paper bill. In those circumstances, we do not feel they should be penalised. We are not only taking every measure we can to put downward pressure on households but we are also taking the carrot-and-stick approach to retailers and saying, “You must get rid of all those fees, which add to the cost—and every dollar counts—otherwise you will have to answer to us.”

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: The respected Grattan Institute found that the lack of information in the hands of customers—

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: The left-wing Grattan Institute.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It is not actually.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: Yes, it is.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Mr Farlow seeks out some information.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It found that the lack of information in the hands of customers meant that they could not easily compare offers made by different electricity companies, and retailers in particular. It also found that competition could be driving pricing up because such a small percentage of the market actually engaged in switching. What is your Government doing to address those issues?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: We have discussed this issue at some length. We are looking at better ways in which we can promote the rights of individuals to get a better deal. There is no doubt that not everybody has as much information as they should when it comes to knowing their rights. The whole point of having more competition in the retail market is to put downward pressure on prices. I am pleased when people tell me that they have shopped around and got a better deal but not everybody knows they have the capacity to do that. We do feel a responsibility to try and increase the information flow to customers, and if there is more we can do in that regard then we will. Clearly, there are various ways in which government touches households where we can provide that information. We will also consider other opportunities such as inserting a message on bills and other things to make sure that people know their rights. That is something that we feel strongly about.

As you allude to in your question, governments can do more. Certainly I agree there is more we can do to make sure everyone is aware of their rights. We are considering, in view of the package we announced, how customers can be encouraged to be advised of their rights and how better information can be directly provided to them to make sure they shop around. Because there are not only deals to be had but also vulnerable families, including families on low incomes, should know that the Government has increased rebates, which are effective immediately. Any family that is on a family tax benefit, any senior who is on a benefit or any person who is currently receiving a rebate will see that amount increased.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, you would be aware that in the 2007 Federal election in the seat of Lindsay and the 2015 State election in the seat of East Hills the election was marred by the distribution of illegal and unauthorised anti-Labor electoral material. Are you aware of unauthorised anti-Labor and homophobic materials being distributed this week ahead of local government elections in different areas across Sydney? I have some examples that I am happy to provide to the Committee and the Electoral Commissioner.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I have not been following the material distributed by anybody, to be honest. I will ask the Electoral Commissioner to respond as to how the Electoral Commission independently deals with this and if there is any role government has to play in ensuring that offensive material is not distributed. I was the subject of offensive material during the North Shore by-elections and I would hope that none of your colleagues had anything to do with that.


Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I know what it is like to be the subject of offensive material and it is not pleasant. I will ask the Electoral Commissioner to comment further.

Mr SCHMIDT: The Labor Party has brought that matter directly to my attention and it is being examined by my investigatory unit.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: In each of the examples of Lindsay and East Hills the Liberal Party were the beneficiaries of that unauthorised material. In the case of East Hills, a member of the Liberal Party was charged but found not guilty in connection with that matter. Premier, do you take seriously the creation and distribution of unauthorised and defamatory materials such as this?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Any normal human being would. I have not seen what you have in front of you. There is a reason why the Electoral Commission is there: to maintain integrity of the process and that includes distribution of material. I am heartened by the fact that it is now very difficult to do what was done in the past when unauthorised material was present on election day. Now you have to submit to the Electoral Commission what you want to distribute on the day.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: You need to have it registered.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: That was not the case previously when you would turn up on election day and be surprised and shocked by what was at the polling booths. It sounded like that was a leading question and there is a follow-up question.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: There is.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I will make the general statement, without having seen what you have in front of you, that all of us want to make sure that when people go to vote you respect the integrity of the system and have confidence that people are not swayed by offensive material. The Electoral Commission is there to protect the public and those individuals who put themselves up for election. Is there anything further you wish to comment upon, Commissioner?

Mr SCHMIDT: I would like to make a technical comment. I am not sure if members of the Committee are aware of the distinction between the Electoral Commissioner and the Electoral Commission. I, as the Electoral Commissioner, am responsible for the conduct of the election. When it comes to the investigation of complaints, including in relation to electoral material, that is in fact the function of the Electoral Commission of which I am a member but not the chair. The Hon. Keith Mason is the chair. I note in passing that the commission’s role in relation to local government elections, its power to investigate and prosecute electoral offences, was conferred upon it on 18 August this year following passage of legislation earlier in August. This is a new function for the organisation as well.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, the current maximum penalty for distributing unauthorised electoral material is six months imprisonment. In the new draft electoral bill that the Department of Premier and Cabinet [DPC] has put out for public consultation the imprisonment penalty has been removed from that offence and other like offences. I note the money penalties have been increased but the deterrent of jail has been dropped altogether. Can you explain why is that? Is it so that no members of your party who might be charged in the future are running the risk of a jail penalty?

The Hon. BEN FRANKLIN: That is a bit of a stretch.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am happy to answer the question. You correctly refer to it as a draft for consultation. The briefing that I received is that my department did consult with a number of different entities, including the Electoral Commission and the commissioner. I will refer the question to the commissioner.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Can you indicate who we should thank for the drafting of the document? Is it the commissioner or the DPC?

Mr COMLEY: The drafting of the bill is by Parliamentary Counsel but the instructing officers are DPC.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It is your fault.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I ask the commissioner to indicate his level of engagement in the process.

Mr SCHMIDT: This bill has been drafted for some years. It certainly precedes my taking up the role, but I have taken an active interest in its drafting since then. As the Premier has pointed out, it is a consultation draft and my officers have had input into the draft as it stands now. There are further matters which I am considering which I intend raising as part of that consultation process. As far as I am concerned, that is a living process which I am happy to engage in.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Mr Searle, I would also like to add to that that you are more than free to put in your own submission which recommends the reintroduction of those jail terms. You and any member of the public can make that submission and we will consider that.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I think you can be safe in assuming there will be a number of submissions. The printing, publishing and distributing of electoral material in contravention of the requirements, which was in section 151A, is now section 183 of the draft bill and imprisonment has been taken out; the requirement to authorise advertisements on electronic billboards, digital road signs, imprisonment taken out; and distribution of electoral material unregistered on election days, jail penalty taken out. The jail penalty for the offence of bribery has been reduced from three years to two years and the old harassment charge—now called, somewhat grandly, interference with political liberty—has also had the maximum jail penalty reduced from three years to two years.

What is the policy thinking behind the abandonment of jail penalties in these important provisions and the downgrading of the jail penalties in those others, because it seems to me that these provisions are important for the integrity of the process and they are being seriously devalued in this draft bill. I would like to know where these ideas came from.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Certainly NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet was responsible for coordinating all the feedback we had on the various consultations, so I will ask both the secretary and the commissioner if they have any comments. I cannot answer that question because I do not know whose suggestions they were.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: They are not your suggestions, is that what you are saying?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: They are personally not my suggestions, no.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: I do not think the Premier was working on that.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I had to ask.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I would even go so far as to say I understand that government essentially allowed the experts to indicate their views and to put forward what they believed was the best way forward. To be absolutely frank, I was extremely comforted by the fact that this is a draft consultation and if there is anything which has widespread concern, the Government will respond to that. That is the point of putting out a consultation paper first. It is obviously a very topical issue. I cannot tell you when the process started, but I do know it has been around for some years. It is not as if we put this draft document out overnight; it has actually been the subject of consultation for a significant number of years. I will ask both my secretary and the commissioner to add anything that I may not be aware of.

Mr COMLEY: The only thing I would add is my advice is the review is largely in line with the response to the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which followed both the 2011 and 2015 committees. What I am happy to take on notice is the extent to which those penalty provisions are consistent with the recommendations that were made by that Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

Mr SCHMIDT: For the sake of completeness, I am not aware of the history of those provisions but I will make my own inquiries for my own illumination in the office.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: And if you can produce any documentation relevant to that that would very useful. I refer to the old section 151 of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act, which is the new section 210, Interference with political liberty. The old provision was quite definitive about the behaviour or misbehaviour to be captured and punished, whereas the new provision is quite broad. In relation to section 210 (1) which says:

A person must not hinder or interfere with the free exercise or performance, by any other person, of any political right or duty relevant to an election under this Act.

Is it the intention in the drafting to actually reach back into and interfere in the internal workings of political parties or is it meant to only relate to the formal electoral process, because the drafting is unclear and quite broad?

Mr COMLEY: Unless the commissioner wants to comment, I would have to take that on notice because I am not as close to that draft.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: At least I would like to hear from the commissioner.

Mr SCHMIDT: My response is this is an excellent example where the public consultation is vital to eliminate issues like this. I would welcome any feedback on that point.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: As would I. Last year I asked the former Premier some questions about correspondence between the Hon. Lynda Voltz and the Electoral Commission relating to complaints about the conduct of the election in the seat of East Hills. As a result of that, Mr Schmidt, you wrote to the Hon. Lynda Voltz on 10 October. The Hon. Lynda Voltz had been informed previously that her complaint was being investigated by the commission and she would be informed at some future point of the outcome. That point was confirmed in your letter. You said, “I can confirm this matter is ongoing and you will be advised when it has been finalised.” It is now a year later, can you update the Committee as to where that investigation is up to?

Mr SCHMIDT: I would have to take that on notice.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, in relation to the Community Building Partnership grants, what actions has your department taken to recover the $10,000 grant paid to the Australian Multicultural Christian Society, and when were these actions undertaken?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: As the DPC manages those grants, I will ask my secretary to respond to that. But I think it is also appropriate to say that from time to time members of Parliament from any political party or Independents do make formal requests to the DPC about extensions or changing proposals, which the DPC considers on a case-by-case basis. I do not have the details about that, but I know my secretary is going through the list, so he will be able to give you some information about that. I did want to make the Committee aware that in general terms sometimes I receive correspondence, as Premier, from members of Parliament commenting on various organisations that for whatever reason are seeking extensions and on those occasions I refer them to the DPC, who manages the process.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Perhaps I can assist further—

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The secretary has something.

Mr COMLEY: I have. Is this the multipurpose food van project?

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Yes, this was a purchase to fit out a catering van to feed the homeless at Lambeth Reserve. In relation to what the Premier said about members sometimes asking for an extension, did the member for East Hills, Glen Brookes, write and ask you for an extension of the repayment?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I do not have recollection of that.

Mr COMLEY: I am not aware of that, but I can advise—

The CHAIR: You will have to take that question on notice.

Mr COMLEY: —in terms of the process, Family and Community Services [FACS] administers the Community Building Partnerships [CBP] program on our behalf and it determined that they had not made the funding conditions. As part of the process to legally terminate the grant and pursue repayment, letters were sent to the organisation on 23 January, 16 March, and again on 19 May.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Is that this year?

Mr COMLEY: This is 2017. We are currently considering court action. We have not commenced court action yet, but we have been in correspondence with that organisation.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, are you aware that Liberal Party identity and convicted drug money launderer Carl Trad is the responsible officer of this organisation with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am not aware of that, no. To be honest I am not aware of any of those details.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Given that Carl Trad is a member of the Liberal Party and is a close political ally of the member for East Hill, Glen Brookes, why do you not contact Glen Brookes and ask him to have the money repaid?

The Hon. BEN FRANKLIN: Point of order: The member is making a number of insinuations that may or may not be based on fact. I do not think it is fair to ask the Premier things that may or may not be true.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Can I also say in generic terms that it would be inappropriate for me to deal with a matter that, clearly, the Department of Premier and Cabinet [DPC] already has in hand.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am happy for the DPC to handle the matter but it sounds like the money was due. Nothing has happened all year. It is September now and letters were written—

The CHAIR: Order! The member should not use budget estimates to make serious allegations against individuals and businesses.

Mr COMLEY: On the question of whether nothing has happened, we have been in correspondence and we have taken legal advice. One of the challenges with a program like CPB is that these are relatively small grants to organisations. We do need to balance the amount of overhead of administration we have because the vast majority of these grants go to community groups with relatively low resources which very successfully achieve the outcomes of the program. We are conscious of not having a disproportionate administrative burden. That might include background checking everyone in an organisation for a $10,000 grant, but if we did that we would spend more on grants administration than we would on the actual grants themselves. In this case, we are now at the point of considering court action. Of course, we do have to weigh the costs of pursuing court action against the prospect of the amount of recovery. We also have to balance what that may do as a signal to other participants who might try to receive grants that do not make the requirements. Those are the sorts of considerations we have to make, which are commonplace in grants in other programs’ administration when they have to consider how to recover these monies.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: These monies were given out over three years ago. When was the last time correspondence was exchanged in relation to this matter?

Mr COMLEY: As I said, 19 May was the last time we exchanged correspondence, which was the third letter that was provided to that organisation this year.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: It is now September. What have you done since the last exchange?

Mr COMLEY: That is what I am saying. We are considering whether we are going to take court action.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: You are considering your position. Have you considered referring the matter to the police?

Mr COMLEY: I am not aware whether we have considered referring it to the police.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Could I ask you to do so and to take it on notice?

Mr COMLEY: We will take it on notice.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, would you agree that protecting New South Wales’s reputation for integrity and probity is important?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: What is the next question? If nothing else, you are very predictable, Mr Searle.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am disappointed by that. Feel free to advance the contrary proposition.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I advance this proposition to you: I am very keen to hear part B of your question and then I will proceed to answer both.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Are you aware of the big contradiction between the evidence given by your resources Minister at budget estimates last Friday over whether or not there was an agreement between your Government and Shenhua for the partial extension of the exploration licence? The Minister and his officials say they are still considering the matter; Shenhua told the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that a deal had been reached with your Government. I ask you as Premier and head of the Government, have you looked into this matter and who is telling the truth: the Government or Shenhua?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I am not aware of any of those details and I was not aware that that issue was raised. I am happy to take that on notice. I do not have anything to add to that because I do not know.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am happy for you to take this on notice as well, but if you look into the matter and form the view that your Government is telling the truth and that what Shenhua told the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is untrue or inaccurate, would you take the matter up with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and other regulatory authorities?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Given my response to the previous answer, I think it is best that I take both questions on notice. I am not aware of the details of what was said on the public record or otherwise. I will take that on notice.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Your Minister has also not responded to invitations from local community groups—

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Which Minister are you referring to? The same Minister?

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: The resources Minister—to visit the Liverpool Plains and the affected communities, farmers, and traditional owners before he makes a final decision on whether or not to renew the remaining half of the exploration licence not bought back by your Government. At budget estimates last week he said he would try to do so but he did not make a commitment. Given that your predecessor Mike Baird has been out there and has met with the community and that the former Deputy Premier Troy Grant has also had the decency to do that, will you make a commitment to go to the Liverpool Plains and meet with the affected community before your Government makes a final decision on this matter?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: You have made an assumption that I am not aware or that I have not already spoken to people in that regard. I believe that it is important for governments to consider all stakeholders in all options when they are dealing with very sensitive matters. I will take all of those questions on notice.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: The People Matter Employee Survey is open to all staff across the New South Wales public sector, is it not?

Mr HEAD: Yes.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: And employees in statutory authorities and State owned corporations [SOCs] have participated?

Mr HEAD: They have, although SOCs are not compelled to be a part of the survey whereas the rest of the government sector participates.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: No, but they can and they have.

Mr HEAD: They can and some do.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Can you explain why employees in TAFE and Landcom, which is known as UrbanGrowth, were prevented this year from participating? Does it relate to the fact that they are both engaged in traumatic restructuring processes and you do not want to hear from the staff?

Mr HEAD: No, we have always encouraged every part of the public sector to participate in the People Matter Employee Survey but we are also mindful of the fact that in some parts of the sector other major surveys are being conducted by agency management. In respect to TAFE, certainly the position put to me was that a survey was in train and it would be duplicating that effort. That is in fact what I understand has happened. With all SOCs, it is always a matter of whether or not they wish to participate. With TAFE, it was really about a unique set of circumstances.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: When you say “whether they wish to participate”, you mean whether their management wishes to allow their staff to participate?

Mr HEAD: With state-owned corporations we offer the use of this survey. In fact, many state-owned corporations have a history of surveying their staff routinely on things like employee engagement and a wide range of climate surveys. In my experience, running a water utility was probably the first evidence I saw of very regular staff surveys. The Act is quite clear that I cannot compel state-owned corporations in respect of any of my functions but we make the service available to SOCs. Some participate and some do not.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Again, it is a matter for a SOC’s management?

Mr HEAD: It is.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I will put some further questions on notice. Premier, last week the NSW Liberal Party suspended five candidates for Newcastle City Council because their statutory declaration nomination forms had defects. Documents obtained from your party’s executive say that the director felt he had no choice but to drop them due to the seriousness of any potential breach of the Oaths Act and the legal consequences. For example, knowingly making a false declaration carries a penalty of up to five years in jail. How is the situation of those Liberal Party candidates for council different from that of your North Sydney member of Parliament Felicity Wilson? In the wake of this development will you now reconsider Ms Wilson’s position?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: As you would know, those matters are dealt with by the party organisations—just as your party would have processes for vetting candidates and for dealing with anyone who breached what they had told the party they had previously signed up to.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Ms Wilson has breached what she told the party in her statutory declarations.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: The matters you raise are for the party.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Come on, Premier. You are the elected leader of the party and you are the Premier. Like your predecessor, are you going to wash your hands of responsibility for your party’s administration.

The Hon. BEN FRANKLIN: Point of order: The Premier was in the middle of a sentence.

The CHAIR: Order! The Premier is seeking to answer the question.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I was going to say that in all of my public life and particularly since I have been Premier I am someone who deals with the facts. Unless there are any facts placed before the party organisation or, in fact, me as the leader which prove that any wrongdoing has occurred there is no issue. At the end of the day, they are matters for the party organisation and for the State director. I respect his decisions. My understanding is that you or your party leader do not go through candidate selection processes, do you?

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: No, but we take responsibility for the outcomes when they are matters of public controversy.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: Does that include Ian Macdonald, Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi?

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: We have taken action against all of those people. They have been expelled from our party. The original police investigation turned on a wrong date and the heading on the form of Ms Wilson’s statutory declaration but legal experts have said that any defect in the heading would not affect whether the substance and content of the declaration would constitute an offence. Given that, will you now refer her matter to the police to be re-examined and if not, why not?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I understand the matter was raised with police and it is up to the police as to whether they choose to investigate it or not. That was their decision. I am not going to interfere in what the police choose to do.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am not suggesting you should interfere.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: I think you are.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am suggesting you should refer the matter to them so they can have another look.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: It is not for me. The police already considered the matter and, I understand, chose not to proceed. That is a matter for them. I am not going to tell any authority what to do or what not to do. Similarly, when there are matters raised before me and questions are asked about the Electoral Commission and what I will do, that is a matter for the commission to come forward to me or to anybody else to say there is something wrong that has happened here. Until that occurs, there is no case.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Given that the reason for standing down your Newcastle City Council candidates is the same defect as Ms Wilson committed in her statutory declaration nomination, why will you not take action?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: That is an assumption you are making.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Will you at least look into the matter?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN: No, because it is not for me to look into.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Premier, there was a report about due diligence for all major regional land approvals. It was about a new process to go through before mining exploration licences are issued. I think the report was written by Simon Draper and Liz Livingstone from your department. Apparently that report was given to former Premier Baird in 2016. Are you willing to furnish the Committee with a copy of that report?

Mr COMLEY: I will take that on notice.