Parents and Citizens Associations Incorporation Amendment Bill 2014

I am pleased to speak in debate on the Parents and Citizens Associations Incorporation Amendment Bill 2014 and thank the Minister for introducing the bill. In early 2012 I first wrote to the Minister about concerns from a constituent in my electorate regarding the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, the peak State body. I am fortunate to have Mrs Mary Lawson as a constituent because she has served on the peak body for more than a decade. Indeed, she has served on parents and citizens committees at the local school level, the district level and the State level for more than 35 years. Mrs Lawson came to see me because she had some serious and significant concerns about the disturbances and disruptions at the State peak body. Unfortunately, all her concerns have come to fruition, and the federation has not managed to wrestle out of that.

At a recent meeting members of the federation—the validity of the vote and motion passed at that meeting is being contested in the Supreme Court at present—sought to get the ship back on course. I fully support and endorse the position of the Labor Party and our shadow Minister on this issue. As I have such an outstanding and long-term member of the local parents and citizens association in my community, I want to add some flavours to the legislation and fatten the fabric of exactly what we are talking about today. Importantly, I start with one issue of concern to me; it does not reflect the position of the Labor Party. After the passing of this bill it will no longer be the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations. The name will remain the same but citizens will no longer be able to participate on the peak State body; only parents can participate. I hark back to the example of Mrs Lawson in my electorate who has been there for some time, and I think about the members in this Chamber in that regard.

Indeed, I think about the Assistant-Speaker, the member for Coffs Harbour, and the new member for Northern Tablelands, who was given guidance and instruction by the Assistant-Speaker. At some stage the Assistant-Speaker may wander off to a greener pasture and hand over the reins to the young fellow. On our side of the Chamber we have the father of the House, the member for Mount Druitt. Whenever he speaks or takes a point of order the reverence that he is shown in the Chamber is wonderful. We all look to him for guidance. On a serious note, sometimes there is capacity to have wisdom and knowledge, including corporate knowledge, in the room while we are making decisions. To that end, I roll into that conversation the concept of the life stages that we go through.

For example, I think about my family situation and that of many families where one parent is working or both parents are working, potentially if one is still lucky enough to have both parents at home. The federation played a significant role in the implementation of that policy in New South Wales schools. I acknowledge the work that historically was undertaken. Parents are time poor and it is difficult for them to make contributions to their local parents and citizens associations. Mrs Lawson could not make a contribution at the Hunter and State level until her children were old enough to be in high school. I am concerned that this legislation will restrict her from participating in parents and citizens associations at the highest level. In future parents and citizens associations in New South Wales might be able to hold on to such corporate knowledge.

I am aware from conversations I have had that the State body includes about 2,000 registered parents and citizens associations. As the Minister pointed out, each group is entitled to send three delegates to the State conference, so in theory there could be 6,000 participants. I am informed that at the most recent annual general meeting there might have been close to 100 or 200 people in attendance. Six of the 10 delegates on the current Hunter council no longer have children at school, so only three delegates would be sent to the conference. By default three of the four delegates who have children at the school would have to attend the conference. Which parents will put up their hands to participate at that conference? All four delegates who have children at school will have to attend the conference. I certainly hope that does not discourage them from participating.

Currently as many as 75 per cent of delegates on the peak State body no longer have students at school but they continue to serve as councillors in their communities. I strongly refute the suggestion that they attend the conference to benefit from a free lunch. Mrs Lawson visits all the parents and citizens associations in my area, puts out small grassfires, gives guidance and leadership and is very active. On those occasions that she comes to the city for work she does not claim for meals because she believes she has to eat somewhere anyway and the federation does not have to reimburse her. I understand that members of the council and the executive have continued to come to Sydney to hold meetings during this period of uncertainty. They have not had access to grant-in-aid funding to be reimbursed for their travel, accommodation and meals but because of their dedication to the parents and citizens movement they have continued to meet.

I am not casting aspersions as I understand why the Minister is withholding grant-in-aid funding at this time. I want only to indicate that those in the parents and citizens movement pay their own expenses. New part 3A deals with the cost of future elections that are to be borne by the federation. It is possible that the Electoral Commission also will be involved in the election process. Money is tight but we know that $358,000 in grant-in-aid funding is available to be used by the federation. Will the federation’s budget be increased to meet the cost of conducting those elections? Earlier the shadow Minister flagged a potential increase in insurance costs which rightly will be increased from $2 million to $20 million. It will fall to the federation to find that money either from its existing budget or from grant-in-aid funding, or will it need to be allocated additional funding?

I would hate money that is allocated for cricket pitches, tennis courts, textbooks, pencils, textas and laptops for schools to be used to pay for an election process simply because that is provided for in this bill. I welcome the bill and hope that the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations is back on its feet by term four as the Minister said, although the bill provides for as long as 12 months. I join the shadow Minister in stating that I hope it is on its feet within 90 days as it would be fantastic to hand over to parents a body that represents all the students in our great State.