During a busy sitting week, including sitting past midnight on Wednesday, the Council passed a total of five government bills and introduced another eight bills, including two from private members.
Tuesday was notable for the passage of two bills: the first relating to the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall for flood mitigation and the second updating key emergency services legislation.
The bill relating to Warragamba Dam had been referred to the State Development Committee for inquiry in September (See Hansard for earlier debate). The committee completed its inquiry within two weeks and recommended that the Council proceed with debate on the bill. This debate was concluded on Tuesday and a Greens amendment to refer the bill for another, more comprehensive, inquiry was defeated on division. The bill passed without amendment following lengthy deliberation in the committee stage.
Wednesday began with the Greens seeking to bring on debate for a matter of public importance regarding the ‘undue influence of the racing and gambling industries on New South Wales politics’. However they were unsuccessful in convincing most other parties that this debate was more important than the scheduled government legislation.
This was followed by consideration of amendments to two government bills: to provide protections for renters and to create new national parks. A total of 56 amendments were proposed to these bills, with only a single amendment from the Opposition being agreed to. Both bills passed following lengthy debates which included nine divisions.
The residential tenancies bill provides greater protections to tenants including for victims of domestic violence. It introduces minimum standards for properties and makes it easier for tenants to obtain repairs. The bill also restricts rent increases for periodic leases to once every 12 months, includes set fees for breaking a fixed-term lease and introduces more robust dispute resolution processes.
The national parks bill transfers 4,505 hectares of unproductive State forest lands to the national park estate in five separate transfers, effective from 1 January 2019. The areas include: Willi Willi National Park, Budderoo National Park, Curracabundi State Conservation Area, Yango State Conservation Area, and the Muldiva State Forest. The intention is to further conserve biodiversity and protect habitat for threatened species and significant cultural heritage.
Also on Wednesday there was unanimous support for a bill to implement civil litigation recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The bill widens the definition of an ’employee’ in order to extend vicarious liability to include child abuse perpetrated by non-employees whose relationship with an organisation is akin to employment. It also implements the intent of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to impose a duty on certain institutions and importantly removes the Ellis defence which previously prevents survivors from being able to sue many religious organisations. The Ellis defence has been the subject of scrutiny in the Council for many years.
Thursday’s private members’ business day saw two bills introduced and three motions debated. The first bill was from the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party which sought to authorise tree thinning operations in the Murray Valley and Pilliga national parks, including the removal and sale of the timber obtained from these operations.
The second bill was introduced by the Christian Democratic Party which aims to discourage all forms of gambling by prohibiting promotion and advertising of gambling, and requiring studies to be undertaken to demonstrate the impact of existing legislation relating to gambling on families and the community.
On Friday the Clerk received a report from the Auditor-General on State finances. The report included an important legal opinion received by the Auditor-General on the powers of Legislative Council Committees. This advice and its background will be the subject of a blog post in the coming weeks.
There are now only nine sitting days to go before the NSW Election in March next year. The Council sits again tomorrow.