Sessional order to separate cognate bills

Wednesday began with debate on a proposed sessional order from The Greens member Mr David Shoebridge, that once cognate bills have been read a first time and printed any member may move that the bills, or any one of the bills, proceed separately. Cognate bills usually relate to a single legislative scheme and Legislative Council rules allow such bills to proceed together in a similar manner as if they were single bills.

At the time of moving this motion there were four sets of cognate bills on the Notice Paper. Mr Shoebridge argued that these cognate bills were not related and that the Government was introducing bills as cognates merely to pass legislation quickly. He stated that putting these bills together greatly reduces the ability of the House to scrutinise complex and disparate pieces of legislation. In addition, due to time limits for debate, the second reading speeches of most members are limited to 20 minutes, meaning that members are limited to short contributions on each bill when three or four bills are dealt with together. The Opposition spoke in support of Mr Shoebridge’s motion.

The Government opposed the motion with the Minister (Mr Harwin) rejecting the assertions made by Mr Shoebridge regarding the government’s intentions. Mr Harwin noted that current procedures already allow members to request that bills proceed separately when they are introduced as cognates.

The proposed sessional order was negatived on division (16:20). The Opposition, The Greens and the Animal Justice Party voted in favour of the motion, while the Government and Christian Democratic Party opposed it.

Valedictory speech – the Honourable Rick Colless MLC

On Wednesday evening, the Government member, the Honourable Rick Colless MLC gave his valedictory speech in the House. Mr Colless has served as a member of the Council since 2000.

Mr Colless reminisced about his time in the Council, including paying tribute to many of his colleagues, past and present. In particular Mr Colless discussed the Council’s vibrant committee system, noting that much of members’ time is spent working on committee inquiries which assists in fostering a collaborative work ethic between members of different parties.

Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment Bill

National Disability Insurance Scheme (Worker Checks) Bill

House of Origin: Legislative Council

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment Bill amends the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 and the Adoption Act 2000. The bill implements changes to the State’s child protection system proposed in the 2017 Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) discussion paper ‘Shaping a Better Child Protection System’. The bill includes several provisions aimed at facilitating family preservation and restoration, including a strengthened obligation on FACS to offer alternative dispute resolution processes to families to prevent matters from escalating to the Children’s Court. The bill incorporates changes to court processes, including to allow parties to consent to a care plan outlining care arrangements for a child or young person. The bill also allows for the Supreme Court to dispense with the requirement for the consent of a person to a child’s adoption if the application for adoption is made by the child’s guardian.

The cognate National Disability Insurance Scheme (Worker Checks) Bill establishes screening arrangements for workers who are engaged in or associated with services provided under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to people with disability. Checks for NDIS workers will prevent workers that pose a risk of harm from working in certain roles with NDIS participants. NSW has worked with other Australian jurisdictions to develop a nationally consistent approach to the screening of NDIS workers.

Of the two cognate bills the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment Bill was the main focus when debate continued on Wednesday (see Hansard for a transcript of the debate), as all parties supported the NDIS Bill. The Opposition opposed the Children and Young Persons Bill, with Mr Searle raising a number of concerns, including that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities had not had time to consider the proposed reforms. Mr Searle argued that measures in the bill ‘run the risk of creating an instrument by which we would create the potential for another stolen generation of children to be removed from their families’.

The Greens also strongly opposed the Children and Young Persons Bill, with Mr Shoebridge arguing that the state’s Aboriginal community was against the proposed legislation, and that the proposed two year maximum time limit for the restoration of a child to their family was of concern. The Christian Democratic Party supported the bill, with Reverend Nile stating that the children of the state would benefit from the legislation.

During the debate Mr Searle had moved that the bill be forwarded to the Social Issues Committee for an inquiry and report into the bill’s consequences, particularly for children and families with complex needs. This was negatived on division (14:19) despite the support of The Greens and the Animal Justice Party, with the Government and the Christian Democratic Party voting against. The second reading on the Children and Young Persons Bill was then agreed on division (19:14), and the second reading of the cognate National Disability Insurance Scheme (Worker Checks) Bill was agreed on the voices.

A total of 31 amendments were moved in committee by the Opposition and The Greens to the Children and Young Persons Bill. The amendments of both parties were almost identical, and covered a number of issues, including Aboriginal child placement principles, family restoration time limits applying to Aboriginal children, and the provision of guardianship orders by consent. While the Opposition, The Greens and the Animal Justice Party supported the amendments in the nine divisions which occurred in committee, none were successful. The same three parties opposed the third reading of the bill, which was agreed on division (17:13) with the support of the Government and the Christian Democratic Party. No amendments were proposed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (Worker Checks) Bill, which passed on the voices, and late on Wednesday evening the bills were forwarded to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.

Government Sector Finance Legislation (Repeal and Amendment) Bill 2018

House of origin: Legislative Assembly

This bill was previously passed by the Council in June 2018 with amendments (see the following House in Review blog entry for information about the legislation). These amendments sought to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee – which is currently a committee of the Legislative Assembly – as a joint committee, comprising four members from each House. Members who supported the amendments did so on the grounds that the Legislative Council, as a House of Review, should be represented on the Public Accounts Committee, to participate in its important oversight work.

These amendments proved highly controversial and were not considered by the Assembly until this Wednesday. When they were finally considered, the Assembly voted to disagree with the amendments, making the following arguments to the Council in a message returning the bill:

  1. It was persuaded by the views of Professor Anne Twomey, that the Assembly has constitutional primacy in relation to financial matters and has scrutinised the public accounts of the State through its Public Accounts Committee since 1902.
  2. The proposed amendments could not achieve the intended objective of an effective Joint Committee, as the existing Public Accounts Committee’s statutory functions are retained under the proposed amendments.
  3. The amendments are outside the scope of the Bill.

The Council proceeded to consider the Assembly’s message disagreeing with the amendments, whereby the Minster (Mr Harwin) moved that the Council not insist on the amendments and reiterated the arguments made in the message. The Opposition supported the motion of the Minister.

The Greens member, Mr Justin Field, then moved an amendment to the Minister’s motion to instead pass new amendments to the bill in order to allay concerns raised in the second point of the Assembly’s message regarding the effective constitution of the committee as a joint committee. Mr Field also argued that it does not make sense to suggest that Legislative Council members should not examine the Government’s use of resources and the financial operations of agencies.

A Government member, Mr Mason-Cox, who initially voted in favour of the amendments in June 2018, agreed to the Minister’s motion not to insist on the amendments. However, in doing so he incorporated advice he had sought from the Clerk of the Parliaments addressing the question of whether there was any procedural, legal or constitutional impediment to the Public Accounts Committee being reconstituted as a joint committee. The Clerk’s advice also notes the opinion of Bret Walker SC. Mr Mason-Cox noted that the House has since established into own Public Accountability Committee and suggested that the decision regarding the statutory committee is perhaps best left to the next Parliament.

The amendment of Mr Field was lost on division (5:27), with only the Animal Justice Party voting with The Greens. The Government, Opposition and Christian Democratic Party all opposed the amendment. The motion of the Minister was then agreed to on the voices. The bill was then returned to the Assembly without amendment.

Adjournment debate

The following members spoke to the adjournment debate:

  • Mr Primrose – Local Government Financing
  • Revd Mr Nile – Western Civilisation
  • Mrs Ward – Heathcote Electorate
  • Ms Voltz – Western Civilisation
  • Mr Pearson – Select Committee on Landowner Protection from Unauthorised Filming or Surveillance
  • Mr Amato – State Economy

See Hansard for details of the debate.