The Council wraps up business for the year and the 56th parliament with a surprising twist in the fate of the last government bill dealt with by the House. Another departing member bids farewell while a former member is fondly remembered and seasonal felicitations are conveyed to all.
House of Origin: Legislative Assembly
The Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment (Firefighters) Bill 2018 introduces a presumptive right in the workers compensation scheme for firefighters diagnosed with one of 12 prescribed cancers to make a claim for workers compensation. It also reverses the onus of proof by requiring the workers compensation insurer to prove that a firefighter’s diagnosis was not work related. The proposed legislation was announced by the Government on 27 September 2018 and the provisions of the bill would apply from that date.
The bill was received from the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday and declared an urgent bill. Mr Clarke introduced the bill on Thursday morning on behalf of Minister Harwin. During the second reading debate the issue of retrospectivity for firefighters to make a workers compensation claim was a focus of discussion (see Hansard for a transcript of the debate). Ms Voltz indicated the Opposition’s support for the bill but foreshadowed that the Opposition would move amendments to provide some retrospectivity and allow a six month amnesty period for firefighters to make claims under the legislation. Ms Voltz argued that this would ensure firefighters who contracted one of the 12 forms of prescribed cancers before 27 September 2018 would have an opportunity to lodge a claim. Mr Shoebridge also indicated The Greens’ support for the bill but that they would seek to amend the bill to make the bill retrospective for any cancer developed from 4 July 2011, and for the Law and Justice Committee to review the legislation after 12 months to consider the actual cost to the State of the compensation claims.
The second reading of the bill was agreed to on the voices.
In committee, the Government advised it would not support the Opposition’s retrospectivity amendments as they would cost more than $350 million, and the bill already provided limited retrospectivity to firefighters who had already made a claim and had that claim denied. The Opposition’s retrospectivity amendments and The Greens amendment for a Law and Justice Committee inquiry were agreed to on division (18:17 in both instances), with the Animal Justice Party, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and the Christian Democratic Party all voting for the amendments. The CDP was initially disinclined to support the amendments, concerned that by doing so it might stall the progress of the bill, but were eventually swayed by the debate to support the amendments.
The third reading was agreed to on the voices and the bill was returned to the Assembly with three amendments.
Later in the evening the Council received a message from the Assembly advising that the Assembly disagreed with the Council’s amendments to the bill. The message stated that Treasury figures had costed the effect of the Opposition amendments as being around $1 billion and that the Government had committed to conduct an inquiry next year into the full cost of retrospectivity, with the inquiry chaired by Reverend Nile.
The message from the Assembly was immediately considered by the Council in committee-of-the-whole. The Government moved that the Council not insist on its amendments to the bill that it had made earlier in the day. This was strongly opposed by the Opposition, The Greens and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Crucially, however, the CDP voted in support of the minister’s motion – having been assured that a full costing on retrospectivity would be undertaken.
Following a number of divisions, a message was sent back to the Assembly advising that the Council did not insist on the amendments.
Valedictory speech – the Honourable Ernest Wong MLC
On Thursday afternoon an impeccably dressed Honourable Ernest Wong MLC gave his valedictory speech in the House. Mr Wong has served as a member of the Council since 2013.
Mr Wong stated that he was proud to be Chinese Australian and noted that it had been a great privilege to serve in this House and be a strong advocate for his community. Mr Wong spoke about matters close to his heart such as the importance of multiculturalism and shining a light on the growing problem of homelessness. He ended his speech by thanking his staff, members and officers of the Parliament.
Condolence motion – Ms Elizabeth Ann Symonds AM, Former Member of the Legislative Council
Following Question Time, Ms Penny Sharpe (Australian Labor Party) moved on a motion of condolence to recognise the life and contribution of Elizabeth Ann Symonds AM who was a Labour member of the Legislative Council from 1982 to 1998.
Members from all sides of the Chamber spoke of their fondness for Ms Symonds, with some members passing on messages of condolence from other former members who had worked closely with Ms Symonds over the years. In particular, members remembered Ms Symonds passion, courage and humour and noted her important work as Chair of the Standing Committee on Social Issues and on drug law reform. Vale Ann Symonds.
Vote of thanks – seasonal felicitations
As is tradition on the final sitting day, a motion of thanks was moved by the Leader of the Government in the Council (Minister Harwin). Members joined in thanking each other, the President and Deputy President and officers of the Parliament and wishing everyone a merry and restful Christmas.
The following members spoke to the adjournment debate:
- Mr Field – Wellbeing Indicators
- Mr Mallard – Brent Kelly Foundation
- Ms Voltz – Mental Health and Women Issues
- Mr Brown – National Parks and Wildlife Legislation Amendment (Riverina) Bill 2018
- Mr Secord – Northern Beaches Hospital
- Mrs Maclaren-Jones – Western Sydney Infrastructure
- Dr Phelps – Liberal Party Preselection
See Hansard for details of the debate.