The Council began the final sitting week of 2019 by sitting past midnight in order to pass two bills and consider the Assembly’s amendments to the RMS Dissolution Bill. The Council also began debate on the Design and Building Practitioners Bill which will likely be further considered in 2020.

Amendments to the 2020 sitting calendar

(Motion of Mr Searle, Leader of the Opposition)

At the start of the day the Council agreed to amend the sitting calendar for 2020 so the House could return a week earlier from the Summer break. The House now returns on Tuesday 25 February 2020, instead of sitting during the first week in March. In a sneak previous of tomorrow’s blog, the House has now agreed to move budget estimates hearings from February to early March.

In addition, Mr Latham (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party) successfully moved an amendment for the House to also sit on Friday 19 June to increase the amount of time available to properly consider the appropriation bills.

Tabling of privileged documents – Disclosures of Minister Sidoti under the Ministerial Code of Conduct

(Motion of Mr Searle, Leader of the Opposition)

The House agreed to suspend its consideration of government business to debate whether privileged government documents returned in response to an order of the House should be made public. This motion followed the publishing of a report by the Independent Legal Arbiter, the Hon Joseph Campbell, QC, in which Mr Campbell did not uphold the government’s claim of privilege for certain documents (See this blog post for an explanation of the process for disputing privilege).

Mr Searle stated that the tradition in the Council is for the House to accept the recommendations of the Independent Legal Arbiter. Mr Searle considered that there ought to be maximum transparency on this matter and called on members to support the motion.

The Government opposed the motion, with Minister Harwin arguing that the public dissemination of the documents is not ‘reasonably necessary’ for the proper exercise of the functions of the House. He noted Mr Campbell’s comment that the recommendation of an Independent Legal Arbiter that a document is not privileged, does not automatically mean it should be published and available for all purposes. Instead, it is ultimately for the House to decide this for itself.

All other parties supported the motion for publication and it was subsequently agreed to on division (23 votes to 14). The Clerk later tabled the documents.

Transport Administration Amendment (RMS Dissolution) Bill 2019

The bill seeks to dissolve Roads and Maritime Services and transfer its functions to Transport for NSW (more details in this blog post). In October the House passed the bill with five amendments. The Assembly considered these amendments, agreeing to one, disagreeing to the other four, and proposing alternative amendments in their place and provided reasons for its decision (You can read the message here).

On Tuesday the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) moved that the Council not insist on the four amendments and agree to the Assembly’s amendments instead. Mr Farlow argued that the Council’s amendments were either too broad, would create uncertainty or were contrary to the Transport Administration Act 1988. Instead the new amendments target no forced redundancies for non-executive employees, put beyond doubt that, following the dissolution of RMS, its work must not be privatised for four years and that any former non-executive RMS employee materially disadvantaged by the dissolution has the right to apply to the Industrial Relations Commission to have the matter dealt with.

While members of the Opposition and The Greens noted that the were not wholly content with some of the Assembly’s amendments, they recognised that the Government had proposed a compromise between the original provisions in the bill and the amendments as agreed to by the Council. The House subsequently agreed to Mr Farlow’s motion and returned the bill to the Assembly.

Better Regulation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

This omnibus bill, which was introduced in the House in late October, makes a number of miscellaneous amendments to Acts across the Better Regulation and Innovation portfolio.

The second reading debate resumed and was quickly concluded as members indicated their general support for the majority of the bill. At the start of the committee stage the Government removed from the bill its proposed amendments to the Retail Trading Act relating to the roles and responsibilities of inspectors. The Government indicated that it had decided to undertake further consultation with key stakeholders before moving forward with the proposed amendments.

Animal Justice Party and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party amendments both sought to overturn the proposal to increase the term of office of appointed members of Harness Racing New South Wales. While supported by The Greens, these amendments were defeated.

The Greens and the Opposition both proposed broader definitions of a ‘competent person’ for inclusion in the Residential Tenancies Act. Under that Act, a competent person is authorised to make a declaration that a person or persons are victims of domestic violence, with the victims being able to use that declaration to help them quickly exit a tenancy without the cost of breaking the lease. The Government preferred the option proposed by the Opposition, and after being amended to commence on proclamation rather than on assent, the Opposition definition was agreed to. The amended bill was read a third time and forwarded to the Legislative Assembly.

Justice Legislation Amendment Bill (No 2) 2019

This compendium bill, which was introduced in the House in late October, amends a range of Acts in order to address developments in case law and to support procedural improvements in relation to domestic violence, criminal investigations, surveillance procedures and court processes. Members of the Opposition, The Greens and the Christian Democratic Party spoke in support of the bill. Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) noted that while the bill largely involves a series of non-controversial amendments, he was concerned that the bill would enable police to place spyware on electronic devices without the owners’ knowledge and would expand search powers of Corrections officers.

In committee, the Government successfully moved to omit changes to the bestiality offence, noting that the Animal Justice Party had been opposed to this section of the bill. The proposed changes would have allowed prosecutions for bestiality to be dealt with summarily, unless the prosecutor or person charged elected for the offence to be dealt with on indictment. The amended bill was read a third time and forwarded to the Legislative Assembly.

Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019

The legislation requires design and building practitioners to provide declarations of compliance with the Building Code of Australia. The bill also establishes a duty of care owed by construction workers to property owners in an attempt to prevent economic loss caused by building defects. Practitioners would need to participate in a new registration scheme and obtain specific insurance.

The Minister (Mr Tudehope) stated that the bill introduces a number of obligations on design and building practitioners to ensure that all construction in New South Wales is well documented and compliant. According to the Minister, the legislation is in response to a report authored by Professor Peter Shergold AC and Ms Bronwyn Weir, as a demonstration of commitment to reforming the industry.

Mr Searle stated that the Opposition would support the bill, however said that it does not go far enough to address the serious issues raised in the Legislative Council’s Public Accountability Committee inquiry into building standards in New South Wales. Mr Searle indicated a preference for a standalone Act, and requested that the Government consult with relevant stakeholders and the community when developing amendments to this bill and all necessary regulations stemming from the Act once it has passed.

Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) also considered that the bill does not go far enough and outlined the community’s current lack of confidence in the building industry. He referred to several recommendations of the Public Accountability Committee, in particular the recommendation that a standalone Building Act would be more effective. Debate was interrupted before Mr Shoebridge concluded, and is likely to continue when the House resumes in 2020.

Adjournment debate

The following members spoke to the adjournment debate:

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