While the House might be sitting again, most committees are still meeting virtually to hold their hearings. This week committees have heard evidence on COVID-19, poor air quality arising from the bushfires earlier this year, and anti-discrimination legislation
Oversight of the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Public Accountability Committee’s inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic continues to gather pace with the fifth public hearing to be held tomorrow, the latest in a succession of hearings held since early May.
The inquiry was established to provide ongoing parliamentary oversight to the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 public health and economic crises. Evidence gathered to date considers the adequacy and appropriateness of policy interventions and decisions taken by the Government in response to the pandemic. Since the virus and its effects cut across many areas of public administration, the committee is considering evidence from various portfolio areas. To date, the portfolios of health, education, treasury, police, better regulation and innovation, and planning have been examined. In the spirit of public accountability, via its transcripts, the inquiry is generating a public record to provide greater detail to the public on the Government’s response to the virus.
The inquiry was something of a landmark for the Upper House committee system as it was the first inquiry to hold its public hearings via electronic means (that is, as totally virtual hearings). This took a monumental team effort from our colleagues in Hansard and IT Services, testing and stretching the limits of technology in what was unfamiliar territory for all involved. The inquiry is ongoing until June 2021 to follow developments as they unfold. At this stage, submissions to the inquiry remain closed.
PC 2 begins hearings into poor air quality arising from bushfires and drought
Portfolio Committee No. 2 is conducting hearings for the inquiry into the health impacts of poor air quality arising from bushfires and drought.
Wednesday’s witnesses included a representative of Asthma Australia with a young woman who tragically lost a family member due to an asthma attack during the January bushfires. The committee also heard from three panels of stakeholders: unions representing outdoor workers, other unions, and medical organisations.
Friday’s hearing will be the second and final day of evidence for the inquiry. The committee will hear from a number of researchers with expertise in public health and air quality monitoring. Next it will hear from a panel focusing on the reduction of ongoing emissions. The day will conclude with a panel of four government agencies: NSW Health, SafeWork NSW, the NSW Rural Fire Service and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
The committee expects to table its report in September.
Anti-discrimination legislation under the spotlight
Portfolio Committee No. 5 held two virtual public hearings this week for the inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaints Handling) Bill 2020. The bill proposes amendments to Anti-Discrimination legislation, including the ability of the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to decline certain complaints and not have to refer them to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The bill was introduced in the Legislative Council by the Hon Mark Latham MLC and was subsequently referred to the committee for inquiry and report.
The committee heard evidence from the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board on the implications of the proposed amendments to the bill. It also heard from a number of experts and key organisations across both hearing days, including a panel of legal experts, and other representatives of public interest, religious and certain lobby groups. The inquiry is ongoing and the committee will report on whether or not the proposed amendments in the bill are necessary in the next couple of months.