Wednesday saw the House debate 18 items of private members’ business, including bills, orders for papers and general motions, while on Thursday Government business took precedence with three bills considered.
Sessional order—Private members’ business draw
As noted in last week’s blog post, the items selected for debate on private members’ business day are organised at a Tuesday meeting chaired by the Government Whip and formalised in the House on Wednesday via a conduct of business motion.
Because this process has been working well, members considered that there was no need to continue conducting private members’ business draws to select 12 items to be “in” the order of precedence for debate, as required under the standing orders.
For this reason, at the start of the day, Minister Tudehope moved to suspend standing orders 184 and 185 concerning the draw for the remainder of the parliamentary session. The motion was agreed to without debate.
Private members’ business
Eighteen items of private members’ business were debated on Thursday, including bills, orders for papers and general motions.
Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment (Coal Seam Gas Moratorium) Bill 2019
Mr Field (Independent) had introduced this bill on 22 August 2019 (see Hansard for a transcript of the speech). As discussed in our previous post, the bill seeks to impose a moratorium on coal seam gas mining in New South Wales, establish an expert advisory body on coal seam gas and reintroduce ‘the public interest test’ as a relevant ground when considering petroleum titles.
On Wednesday, debate resumed with members from the Government and One Nation expressing their opposition to the bill, arguing that it undermined the development of the gas and broader energy industry in New South Wales. Minister Tudehope, Leader of the Government, stated that the provisions of the bill conflicted with recent regulatory reforms and would unfairly impact industry. Mr Tudehope added that a moratorium on exploration and production would be ‘reckless at a time when New South Wales must stand up to meet an economic challenge not seen since the Great Depression’.
Members from The Greens, Animal Justice Party and the Opposition spoke in support of the bill. Mr Searle (Labor Party) stated that the bill seeks to implement widely supported recommendations made by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer concerning the scientific base and regulatory framework of the coal seam gas industry. Mr Searle argued that the bill would address concerns regarding the current regulatory framework, per the findings of a recent Portfolio Committee No. 4 inquiry, and ensure assessments and decisions were based on scientific evidence. Mr Searle added ‘any benefits the industry may offer should not be at the expense of our age-old aquifers and prime agricultural land’.
The second reading of the bill was agreed to on division (20 votes to 17) with, Mr Field, the Opposition, Animal Justice Party, The Greens, and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, in support and the Government, Christian Democratic Party and One Nation, opposed.
In committee, Mr Latham (One Nation), who was strongly opposed to the bill, moved that Schedule 1 be omitted. This schedule contained almost the entire provisions of bill and, if agreed to, would have ‘gutted’ the bill, however the amendment was negatived on division (17 votes to 20). In speaking against the amendment, Mr Borsak (Shooters, Fishers, Farmers) stated that his party was listening to farmers and rural communities by not supporting coal seam gas and argued that unconventional gas in New South Wales is not necessary, puts water supply at risk and does not create jobs.
Three other amendments were considered. Mr Field successfully moved two amendments to provide for consideration of recommendations made by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, as well as safeguard provisions for hydrology and water quality, and Mr Searle (Labor) successfully introduced provisions requiring a statutory review after three years. The amended bill was agreed to on division (20 votes to 17), and forwarded to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.
Rural Fires Amendment (NSW RFS and Brigades Donations Fund) Bill 2020
Mr Shoebridge introduced the bill which seeks to amend the Rural Fires Act 1997 so that donations made in response to the 2019-2020 bushfire season can be allocated according to the wishes of those who made the donations.
Mr Shoebridge noted the generous response to comedian Celeste Barber’s call for assistance on social media, which resulted in $51 million dollars donated to the NSW Rural Fires Service and Brigades Donations Fund. The funds were intended to provide relief to firefighters injured on duty and the families of firefighters who lost their lives, and also to affected communities and animal welfare organisations. However, the current terms of the RFS Trust limit the allocation of funds to equipment, training and administration for the service. The matter was brought before the Supreme Court, which ruled that the trust could direct funds to firefighters and their families, but not to other charities.
Mr Shoebridge indicated that, if enacted, the bill would widen the scope of the RFS Trust so that the $51 million dollars could also be allocated to communities and charities. At the conclusion of his speech, debate was adjourned for five calendar days.
Building Amendment (Mechanical Services and Medical Gas Work) Bill 2020
Mr Buttigieg (Labor) introduced the bill, stating that its purpose is to prevent a repeat of the tragic events that took place at the Bankstown‑Lidcombe Hospital in 2016 when two newborn babies were catastrophically administered poisonous gas instead of oxygen.
The bill seeks to amends the Home Building Act 1989 to include a new category of specialist work called “mechanical services work”, which includes medical gas. It also seeks to provide for licensing and certifying requirements of contractors, supervisors and tradespersons who carry out mechanical services work and medical gas systems work. Mr Buttigieg stated that this is a highly specialised form of plumbing work which has a great deal of complexity and requires extensive technical training to be performed safely. At the conclusion of his speech, debate was adjourned for five calendar days.
Water Management Amendment (Transparency of Water Rights) Bill 2020
Mr Banasiak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) introduced the bill and stated that its purpose is to bring greater transparency to the ownership of water in New South Wales. The bill seeks to change the pecuniary interest form for New South Wales members of Parliament so they must declare any water that they (or their spouses) have owned over the past five years. The bill also makes changes to the application process for obtaining a water licence so that people cannot hide their identity when applying. It also increases the accessibility of the online water register to provide more information including the water holdings of people, companies and Government departments. At the conclusion of his speech, debate was adjourned for five calendar days.
Water Management Amendment (Water Allocations—Drought Information) Bill 2020
The bill was introduced by Mr Veitch (Labor) to provide that the determination of the lowest inflows into a water source, according to a management plan made under the Water Management Act 2000, is to be made by reference to all flow information held by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, not just the flow information held at the time a management plan is made.
Mr Veitch stated that flawed methodologies had been used in the preparation of water sharing plans. Mr Veitch argued that water sharing plans do not sufficiently take into account the negative impacts of long, dry spells which are becoming more frequent. As a result many water sharing plans had not held sufficient water in reserve to get regional areas through the drought, which he argued had led to negative environmental and agricultural outcomes. Mr Veitch stated that the bill would facilitate greater use of all available information in the development of future water sharing plans. At the conclusion of his speech, debate was adjourned for five calendar days.
The following general motions were debated:
- Gone Fishing Day 2019 (Mr Martin, Liberal Party) – Motion agreed to congratulating fishing clubs that participated in Gone Fishing Day by organising local events.
- Mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic (Mr Farraway, Nationals) – Motion agreed to commending mental health and wellbeing workers for their work during the pandemic and commending the Federal Government for its bipartisan work to develop a national pandemic mental health plan.
- Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic (Ms Boyd, Greens) – Motion agreed to calling on the Government to ensure the future prosperity of New South Wales and prioritise the ongoing wellbeing of its people. The motion was significantly amended to remove reference to a ‘climate crisis’.
- Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people and students (Ms Jackson, Labor) – Motion agreed to calling on the State and Federal Governments to develop policies to support the needs of young people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and to amend the eligibility of JobKeeper and Youth Allowance.
- 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (Mrs Maclaren-Jones, Liberal) – Motion debated and adjourned marking 75 years since the end of the Second World War and Victory in Europe Day.
- Re-development of the West Pennant Hills IBM site (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – Motion negatived calling on the Government to reject Mirvac’s rezoning application at the old IBM site at West Pennant Hills and instead convert the land into a National Park.
Orders for papers motions
An order for papers from Mr Veitch (Labor) was agreed to during formal business regarding Young High School Joint Use Library and Community Facility (due 18 July 2020).
The following orders for Government papers were then debated and agreed to:
- Site visits taken by the NSW Building Commissioner (Mr Veitch, Labor) – due 24 June 2020
- Complaints and referrals regarding unlicensed electricians (Mrs Houssos, Labor) – due 24 June 2020
- Principal bicycle network plan for Sydney (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – due 24 June 2020
- Stronger Country Community Fund Grants (Mr Banasiak, Shooters, Fishers, Farmers) – due 24 June 2020
- Ruby Princess Cruise Ship (Mr Borsak, Shooters, Fishers, Farmers) – due 21 days following the delivery of the final report of the Special Commission of Inquiry in the Ruby Princess
- The Stronger Communities Fund (Mr Shoebridge, Greens) – due 17 June 2020
- Economic modelling on public sector wages (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 24 June 2020.
The final order for papers in this list was subject to a lengthy point of order debate. The Leader of the Government called for the motion to be ruled out of order as, in the Government’s view, it should instead be an address to the Governor under standing order 53, relating to the administration of justice (rather than an order to the Government under standing order 52). Mr Tudehope argued the papers should be sought under SO 53 because the Government is intending to commence proceedings concerning public sector wages in the Industrial Relations Commission.
The Opposition countered that the Industrial Relations Commission is not a court and therefore the matter did not relate to the administration of justice. Further, the papers had been created for public policy purposes, rather than as documents relating to court proceedings. After initially reserving his ruling, the President later ruled that he was not prepared to rule the motion out of order, noting that no submission had been put to him to support the argument that the documents sought were created in contemplation of, or for the purposes of proceedings in the Industrial Relations Commission. The order was subsequently debated and passed.
Thursday 4 June 2020
Thursday saw the House debate a matter of public importance brought on by the Opposition and then consider three Government bills.
For this week only a shortened commentary of Thursday’s proceedings has been included. Owing to COVID-19 restrictions, at the time of writing, Hansard has not been produced for Thursday 4 June.
Matter of public importance – Remuneration of public sector employees
At the start of the sitting day, Mrs Houssos (Labor) brought on a matter of public importance for discussion concerning the remuneration of public sector employees. This followed the House’s decision on Tuesday to disallow a regulation which would implement a freeze on public sector wages and the Government’s subsequent statements that it would take the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission.
Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Amendment Bill 2020
Mrs Ward (Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General) introduced the bill which seeks to expand the criteria for the appointment of the Chief Commissioner and Alternate Chief Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.
Mrs Ward noted that the current appointment criteria limits the pool of eligible candidates and that the bill would bring the appointment criteria in line with the Independent Commission Against Corruption. At the conclusion of the speech, debate was adjourned for five calendar days.
Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Bill 2020
Further to the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 which passed on Tuesday, this bill seeks to address community concerns with the building industry following high profile incidents such as defects in Mascot and Opal Towers.
Mr Tudehope moved the second reading, noting that the bill seeks to arm the Building Commissioner with a suite of comprehensive powers against noncompliant developers and serious defects identified in residential buildings. The bill provides enforcement and investigation powers to the department to order the rectification of work or prohibit building work from being completed. It also seeks to empower the regulator to operate proactively while buildings are under construction to prevent defects from being inherited by future owners.
Eight Greens amendments were moved and agreed to, including a requirement that a statutory review of the Act be conducted by the Legislative Council’s Public Accountability Committee as soon as possible after 30 March 2022 and provision to extend the retrospective application of the bill’s effect from six years to 10 years. The amended bill was agreed to, with the Assembly subsequently agreeing to the Council’s amendments.
Work Health and Safety Amendment (Review) Bill 2019
The bill seeks to amend the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to expedite the implementation of 12 proposals based on recommendations of a national review of the Federal Work Health and Safety Act, on which the New South Wales Act is based.
Mr Farlow (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) took carriage of the bill and incorporated the Minister’s speech in Hansard. The speech noted that the reforms are intended to make workers in New South Wales safer and are being expedited ahead of Federal legislation to ensure that the issues identified in the review of the Act do not continue to affect New South Wales workplaces.
While the bill was generally supported by members, Labor and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party unsuccessfully attempted to amend it by inserting provisions regarding the offence of industrial manslaughter (Labor) and the power of SafeWork NSW to issue permits for prohibited weapons (SFF). Both amendments were defeated on division. The Greens, Animal Justice and Mr Field supported the Labor amendments (18 votes to 19), while only One Nation supported the SFF amendment (4 votes to 33). The bill was agreed to without amendment.
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