A visit to the ‘Koala Capital of the World’

Last week the inquiry into koala populations headed to Gunnedah, the self-proclaimed ‘Koala Capital of the World’ for its fifth hearing. The day started with a site visit to Breeza Station, a 4,680ha farming property owned by the Pursehouse family. Since purchasing the property in the 1980s, the Pursehouses have observed many koalas in and around the property, and spoke with the committee about concerns surrounding a proposed mining development in the area.20191213_095852.jpg

At the afternoon’s hearing, the committee heard evidence from community groups and wildlife rescuers, as well as ecologists studying the local koala population. All agreed that Gunnedah’s koalas are in crisis, as the effects of the drought see koalas travelling long distances for water and to shelter from the heat. Witnesses spoke of koalas drinking from watering points designed for stock, and commended the rollout of ‘Blinky Drinkers’ – specialist koala drinking stations being installed throughout the region. For more on the evidence received by the committee, read the transcript.

The committee will continue visiting locations of key koala populations in early 2020, with hearings scheduled for Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour in February.

Untangling the network

This week, Portfolio Committee No. 6 – Transport and Customer Service held a third hearing for its inquiry into the planned conversion of the Sydenham-Bankstown line from heavy rail to metro. The conversion is part of the Sydney Metro City and Southwest project.

This final hearing gave the committee an opportunity to hear further evidence from Sydney Trains and Sydney Metro the impacts to customers and the wider rail network. Issues examined include the suitability of metro, network capacity, the project business case and business model, and the ‘Sydenham bottleneck’. The committee also discussed the continuation of rail services for T3 line stations west of Bankstown.

Flammable cladding and building regulation

The Public Accountability Committee was very busy last week, holding three hearings for two different inquiries.

On Wednesday, the committee held a full day hearing for the building standards inquiry where they looked into the issue of flammable cladding and the NSW Government’s Cladding Register. The committee was keen to find out what materials are considered flammable, how many buildings in NSW are affected, and how the government is addressing the issue.

Residents told the committee about the issues they faced trying to get rid of the flammable cladding on their buildings. They talked about the emotional and financial burden of trying to deal with the issue without much support. Building professionals, Local Government NSW and the NSW Government also gave evidence about what they are doing to address the problem and some of the issues they face.

The committee will continue its inquiry in the new year with an offsite hearing in Newcastle.

The budget process: Independent oversight bodies and NSW Parliament

The day after their hearing into building standards, they put on their Budget hats (no, not for Budget Estimates – not yet!) to listen to key stakeholders for the inquiry into the Budget process for independent oversight bodies and the Parliament of New South Wales.

On Thursday, the committee heard from senior officeholders from the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, NSW Electoral Commission, NSW Ombudsman and from our very own Legislative Council Clerk and Chief Executive of the Department of Parliamentary Services. On Friday, the Secretaries of NSW Treasury and Department of Premier and Cabinet attended to give evidence.

The Audit Office of New South Wales is included as one of the agencies listed in the inquiry’s terms of reference. However, the committee has decided to delay receiving evidence from the Auditor-General until the completion of her audit of the financial arrangements and management practices of the independent bodies.