The last sitting week before the winter break saw a number of new inquiries – the House established a new committee into First Nations people in custody, and referred to committees a number of bills into RFS donations, water management and the practice of mulesing.

A focus on First Nations people in custody in New South Wales

On Wednesday 17 June the House set up a new select committee into an important and topical issue – First Nations people in custody in New South Wales.

The committee will focus on the high number of First Nations people who are held in custody, and the work of various oversight bodies in inquiring into deaths in custody. The committee will consider the suitability of oversight bodies in relation to reviewing deaths in custody, any overlaps in their functions and funding, and how those functions should be undertaken in the future. Mr David Shoebridge MLC, who introduced the original motion to Parliament, noted that the inquiry provides an opportunity for a genuine cross-party investigation into how deaths in custody are reviewed.

The committee is comprised of six members – two from the government, two from the opposition, and two from the crossbench – one of whom must be from The Greens. The resolution also specified that the Chair of the select committee is to be a member of the Opposition.

PC 5 to look into restrictions on donations to the RFS after recent bushfires 

The House referred the Rural Fires Amendment (NSW RFS and Brigades Donations Fund) Bill 2020 to Portfolio Committee No. 5 – Legal Affairs. The bill was introduced into the Legislative Council by Greens member, Mr David Shoebridge MLC. The amendments aim to overcome restrictions in how recent donations received by the Rural Fire Service may be used to support individuals and communities who were impacted by recent bushfires.

The donations, of which over $50 million was raised by Celeste Barber, were the subject of consideration by the Supreme Court recently, who held that the money can only be applied for the purposes of the RFS Donations Trust, which is to pay for equipment and training. The limitations of the Trust prevent the donations from being used more broadly, for example, to help individuals who have lost their homes or those impacted in other states.

The committee is calling for comments on the bill via a questionnaire, and will be holding a virtual public hearing on Thursday 16 July 2020. The committee are due to report on Friday 31 July 2020.

PC 4 begins inquiry into three water bills

Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Industry commenced an inquiry into three bills relating to water management in New South Wales: the Constitution Amendment (Water Accountability and Transparency) Bill 2020 and the Water Management Amendment (Transparency of Water Rights) Bill 2020 and the Water Management Amendment (Water Allocations – Drought Information) Bill 2020.

These bills contain amendments about:

  • disclosure of interests in water access licences
  • public access to information relating to water access licences and the establishment of a register
  • how determination of inflows for water management plans are undertaken.

The committee is seeking the views of interested stakeholders via an online questionnaire, which is open until Sunday 5 July 2020.

Public hearings will follow on Monday 13 and Tuesday 14 July which will be broadcast via the Parliament’s website.

Legislation to prohibit mulesing under the spotlight

The house referred one more bill to Portfolio Committee No. 4, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animal Procedures) Bill 2019. The bill seeks to prohibit ‘mulesing’, a widely used practice where strips of wool bearing skin are removed from the buttocks of sheep in order to prevent parasitic infection. The bill also seeks to make compulsory the use of pain relief in other stock animal operations, including castration, dehorning and tail docking.

The committee has put together an online questionnaire to provide an accessible way for the community to have their say on the matter. Organisations and experts who wish to contribute their views in other forms are also invited to contact the committee secretariat. The committee will publish its report on the bill by 24 September 2020.