Thursday saw the House debate 18 items of private members’ business, including bills, orders for papers, the establishment of a committee inquiry and general motions.

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Bills

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animals Procedures) Bill 2019

The bill which was introduced by Mr Pearson (Animal Justice Party) in September last year seeks to prohibit from 1 January 2022 the performance of “mulesing” on sheep (the removal of strips of skin to prevent flystrike infection) and to require the administration of pain relief for certain procedures involving stock animals.

When debate resumed, the Government noted that the wool industry has been working, through long-term breeding programs, to decrease and ultimately remove the reliance on mulesing. The Government argued that it was not possible to cease mulesing by 2022 without creating perverse animal welfare outcomes, and on that basis it opposed the bill.

Mr Veitch (Australian Labor Party), stated that, when he had been a shearer, he had experienced first-hand the effects of flystrike (where parasitic flies lay eggs on soiled wool or open wounds) infestation on a flock of sheep. The Opposition shared the Government’s concern over the 2022 implementation date, and moved that the bill be referred to a committee to investigate a suitable timeframe for outright prohibition of mulesing. The Greens also held some concerns about the two-year implementation period and supported the proposal to send the bill to a committee for investigation, but noted they would support the second reading of the bill on the basis of the pain caused by mulesing and the need to set a target date for the industry.

The Animal Justice Party argued that it was essential to put in place a firm deadline, noting that the wool industry had previously made a commitment to phase out mulesing by 2010 but had been unable to meet that commitment. In order to ultimately reach a firm deadline, the party indicated it would support the move to refer the bill to a committee inquiry.

When the House considered the proposal to refer the bill to a committee inquiry, there was a tied vote (17 votes to 17) which required the Acting President to use a ‘casting’ vote. The Acting President cast his vote with the noes and the reference was defeated.

The second reading was then defeated on division (6 votes to 30), with the Greens supporting the Animal Justice Party, but with the Opposition now joining the Government, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and One Nation voting against the bill.

Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaint Handling) Bill 2020

The bill introduced by Mr Latham (One Nation) seeks to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to provide additional grounds on which the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) must decline certain complaints. These include frivolous complaints and complaints that could be dealt with by a more appropriate remedy or other state or commonwealth authority. The bill would also omit a provision in the Act that requires the President to refer certain declined complaints to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) at the request of the complainant.

During his second reading speech, Mr Latham asserted that components of the Act are too legalistic and too open to vexatious complaints and exploitation. He noted that the role of the ADB is to facilitate conciliation and not make determinations on the merit of complaints. In instances where after 18 months conciliation has failed a complainant has the automatic right of referral to NCAT. Mr Latham argued that this can lead to matters dragging out over many years often to the financial and emotional detriment of the respondent. He also expressed concern at the level public resources required to attend to such lengthy matters.

At the conclusion of Mr Latham’s speech the bill was referred to Portfolio Committee No. 5 – Legal Affairs for inquiry and report.

Local Government Amendment (Disqualification from Civic Office) Bill 2020

The bill amends the Local Government Act 1993 to disqualify real estate agents and property developers from holding a civic office, such as a councillor or mayor of a city council or the office of a chairperson or member of a county council.

Mr Secord (Australian Labor Party) introduced the bill indicating his wish for it to pass before the local government elections in September this year, but noted that a similar bill had been defeated in the previous Parliament.

Mr Secord stated that it is a common-sense proposal that property developers and real estate marketers be excluded from local government office as these positions rule on high-value property development and zoning decisions. He noted that this has been a long-term concern and referred to a 2001 Independent Commission Against Corruption report which highlighted that due to local government’s role in development proposals it has a unique level of corruption potential when it comes to developer-based corruption. The bill was adjourned for five calendar days.

Motions

The following four motions were debated (a fifth motion concerning the tabling of privileged documents is included below in the order for papers section):

  • Buy from the bush campaign – Motion of Mr Farraway (The Nationals) commending the successful social media campaigns such as #buyfromthebush and #onedayclosertorain, as well as the Government’s ‘Buy Regional’ website to showcase regional small businesses affected by the recent drought and bushfires. All members who spoke supported the initiatives and highlighted that they have been a great way for people to support the bush during a difficult period. The motion was unanimously supported.
  • Disability Advocacy Services – Motion of Ms Boyd (The Greens) calling for the Government to make a public commitment to fund the independent disability advocacy sector on a long term basis. Ms Sharpe (Australian Labor Party) spoke in support of the motion, stating that the issue had been well canvassed in the Upper House and noted that the review by the NSW Ageing and Disability Commissioner, completed in December 2019, makes an obvious case that disability advocacy is a vital service for people with disability. Ms Maclaren-Jones (Liberal Party) informed members that the Government had announced that advocacy funding would be extended to December 2020 to allow for the Government to consider the Commissioner’s recommendations. The motion was agreed to.
  • Prohibition on new approvals for the extraction of thermal coal, oil and gas – The motion brought on by Ms Boyd (Greens) stated that New South Wales is in a climate emergency, noted the state’s role as a major coal exporter, described significant opportunity for investment in the renewable energy industry, and called on the Government to pass legislation prohibiting new approvals for extraction of coal, oil and gas. Mr Farraway (Nationals) outlined the Government’s opposition to the motion, emphasising the importance of the coal and gas industries, particularly in regional in New South Wales, and stating the Government recognises the role that these industries will continue to play throughout a transition to different energy sources. Mr Searle (ALP) And Mr Field (Independent) proposed amendments to the motion, neither of which were agreed to. The original motion was ultimately defeated on division (6 votes to 29).
  • Ausgrid privatisation – Mr Buttigieg’s (Australian Labor Party) motion highlighted the recent power outages in Sydney, stating these were exacerbated by the low levels of staff working at Ausgrid and calling on the Government to comply with its own legislated minimum levels of staff at Ausgrid (3,570 workers). Mr Franklin (Nationals) noted the Government’s opposition to the motion and emphasised that the recent power outages occurred during extreme weather events, including the storm on 8 and 9 February which was declared a natural disaster. In addition, Mr Franklin stated that Ausgrid has reported full compliance with appropriate staffing levels and, as at December 2019, its actual full-time equivalent employee number is 3,950 – which is well above the legislated minimum. The motion was agreed to on division (19 votes to 11).

Committee inquiry reference

Regulation Committee – Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020

The motion sought to refer the Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020 to the Regulation Committee for inquiry and report. In moving the motion, Mr Veitch (Australian Labor Party) stated that there are many concerns in the community about the implementation, application and temporary embargo of the regulation and that a committee inquiry would provide clarity around these issues. Mr Veitch noted that Mr Field had given notice to disallow the regulation and that the inquiry would illuminate whether the regulation is valid, or should be disallowed.

The Government opposed the committee reference, arguing that referring the regulation will create a period of uncertainty for water users. The motion was supported by One Nation, The Greens and Mr Field (Ind) and agreed to on division (19 votes to 11).

Mr Field’s notice of motion to disallow the regulation now stands postponed until the Regulation Committee reports in May.

Orders for papers motions

The following nine orders for government papers were debated and agreed to including further orders where documents had not initially been provided by the Government in 2019:

  1. Scope 3 emissions or downstream emissions (Due 19 March 2020)
  2. Transport Asbestos Register – Further Order (Due 4 March 2020 and 26 March 2020)
  3. Western Sydney Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link Business Cases – Further Order (Due 5 March 2020)
  4. Documents prepared by Monash University in relation to road safety – Further Order (Due 5 March 2020)
  5. Lists of current TAFE courses (Due 5 March 2020)
  6. Biodiversity assessment of the proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall (19 March 2020)
  7. Payroll tax compliance (19 March 2020)
  8. Proposal for cruise ship terminal at Yarra Bay (12 March 2020)
  9. Operator of the Maules Creek Coal Mine and biodiversity offsets (19 March 2020).

The moving and passing of the order for papers concerning payroll tax compliance followed an important ruling on a point of order raised during debate on a similar motion in November last year. The ruling was delivered by the Acting President (Mr Khan) on Tuesday 25 February 2020.

Premier’s rulings on disclosures under the Ministerial Code of Conduct – tabling of privileged documents

Mr Searle’s (Australian Labor Party) motion was agreed to for the tabling of privileged documents concerning an order for papers regarding the Premier’s rulings on disclosures under the Ministerial Code of Conduct. In moving the motion he indicated that the Independent Legal Arbiter, the Hon Keith Mason, AC, QC found that there were no relevant grounds for privilege over these documents following a dispute over the claim of privilege.

The Government opposed the motion for three reasons: the public disclosure of the documents is not reasonably necessary for the proper exercise of the Legislative Council’s functions; the documents form part of the Ministerial Register of Interests and the information was provided in confidence and should remain in confidence ; and the documents include personal information that relate not only to Ministers but also to their immediate family members. However, the motion passed on division (18 votes to 14).

Adjournment debate

The following members spoke to the adjournment debate:

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