On the final day for Government business in 2019 the House passed two bills including one that consolidates the powers of the Children’s Guardian. The House also debated a bill to amend road transport legislation to further support camera based enforcement of ‘mobile phone use while driving’ offences.
The bill seeks to amend the Road Transport Act 2013 to establish a presumption that an object held by a driver in a photograph taken by a traffic enforcement camera is a mobile phone for the purposes of a mobile phone use offence, unless the driver satisfies a court that the object was not a mobile phone. The bill would also amend the Road Rules 2014 to provide that it is not an offence when a driver is complying with a requirement made by a police officer to hand over a phone. The Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) stated that the bill followed a pilot program that found a concerning number of drivers illegally use their phones while driving. The Parliamentary Secretary argued that the bill would strengthen the current legislative provisions to support prosecution of camera detected mobile phone use offences thereby promoting road safety.
Mr Graham (Opposition) indicated support for the bill but questioned whether the Government had sufficient evidence to justify the presumption provision which reverses the onus of proof. Mr Graham also raised privacy concerns relating to modesty and driver information. He called for appropriate privacy protection measures given images would be captured from above and some individuals may have parts of their body exposed. Mr Graham foreshadowed an amendment which would make explicit in the bill that any information relating to drivers and passengers is captured for law enforcement and road safety purposes only. A further foreshadowed amendment includes a requirement for traffic enforcement cameras to be accompanied by warning signs.
Mr Roberts (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party) supported the bill arguing that the number of offences identified in the pilot program justified the bill’s introduction on road safety grounds. The Greens did not oppose the bill noting that the public would welcome new road safety provisions concerning mobile phone use. However, the Greens also expressed serious concern with the reverse onus provision and argued for its removal, foreshadowing an amendment to that effect. The Greens also questioned whether the Government had a sense of how many fines it would be issuing and what it would do with the revenue raised. The Christian Democratic Party supported the bill as a road safety measure.
In reply, the Parliamentary Secretary indicated the Government would not be supporting the foreshadowed amendments and argued that the bill as introduced should be supported. The second reading was agreed to with consideration of amendments in committee of the whole adjourned to the next sitting day (that is, to the new year!).
The bill creates a new Act to consolidate the powers and functions of the Children’s Guardian with the purpose of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children in New South Wales (see last week’s blog for more details).
Last week the House agreed to the second reading, but adjourned consideration of amendments until this week. This break allowed time for members to consider the issues and consult with stakeholders. Subsequently, the amendments were dealt with in an expedient and collegial manner. In total 31 amendments were moved, 25 from The Greens and six from the Opposition, with all but two amendments being agreed to.
Some of the amendments agreed to:
- postponed the commencement of the Act until March 2020 as many non-government organisations are not ready for the provisions to commence (The Greens)
- inserted a principle that wherever possible, Aboriginal children are placed with extended family or culturally appropriate carers (The Greens)
- inserted provisions that the Children’s Guardian may concurrently investigate a matter when it is also being investigated by police as there may be good reasons why the Children’s Guardian should continue an investigation (The Greens)
- inserted provisions that investigations should be completed in a reasonable time (Opposition)
- inserted information disclosure provisions to establish that if there is an allegation of abuse or neglect, the parent or carer and the child should be informed (The Greens)
- inserted provisions to restrict access to the Children’s Guardian register to ensure it is only accessible in very particular circumstances (Opposition).
At the end of the committee stage, the Chair of Committees (Mr Khan) noted that this was likely to be the final committee of the whole for 2019. He thanked members for their collaborative work and thanked parliamentary staff for their assistance. The bill was then read a third time and returned to the Assembly.
The bill amends road transport legislation to give effect to a number of reforms to improve road safety. It amends certain provisions concerning driver licence disqualification and clarifies the circumstances in which police are able to request blood and urine samples from drivers involved in fatal off-road accidents.
Members from the Opposition, The Greens, the Christian Democratic Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation all briefly spoke in support of the bill which was then read a second and third time and returned to the Assembly.
The following members spoke to the adjournment debate: