The Legislative Council returns from its winter break with a bang – our first day back features the next chapter in the House’s determination to ensure compliance with an order for papers, a defeated Government bill and two bills agreed to concerning an economic response to COVID-19 and improving processes for injured persons navigating the workers compensation and motor accidents schemes.
Non-Compliance with Order For Papers – Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link
At the start of the sitting day the Leader of the Government was called to stand in his place and address why the Government did not comply with an order for papers seeking business cases for the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link project. The matter was last considered by the House in June.
The Leader of the Government stated that the Government considered the ordered documents to be Cabinet in confidence, and in the Government’s view, the House’s power to order documents does not extend to Cabinet papers. However, the Leader of the Government indicated that he would ‘voluntarily’ provide the documents by 5.00 pm on Wednesday 5 August 2020. Documents were provided to the Clerk the next day. Read the President’s statement in the House.
Over the winter break this Government bill had been the subject of an inquiry by Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Industry, along with two other related water bills, which reported on 31 July. The bill seeks to amend the Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Regulation 1983 to require members of Parliament to disclose all assets and shares relating to water access licences, water allocations and contractual rights to receive water from irrigation corporations.
During the second reading debate a number of members spoke of the need for transparency in water ownership, however also indicated that they could not support the bill in its current form.
Mr Field (Independent) stated that the bill failed to capture the holdings of members’ spouses, which means that members can easily transfer their interests and water licences to their partners to avoid scrutiny. Mr Banasiak (Shooters, Fishers, Farmers) expressed concern that the bill gives the Minister the power to withhold water access to a member of Parliament, including the ability for them to trade or buy water.
In an unusual occurrence in the Legislative Council, the second reading of this Government bill was negatived on division (15 votes to 20) and the bill was defeated. Although it is common for Government bills to be amended in the Legislative Council, the Council has not defeated a Government bill since 2009.
The purpose of the bill is to assist with the economic recovery of the State following the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting housing affordability and construction and reducing the tax burden on employers in the aged care sector. The bill:
- reduces or waives stamp duty on the purchase of new homes by first home buyers until 31 July 2021
- provides incentives for the construction of ‘build-to-rent’ development, by providing a 50 per cent land tax concession until 2040 and exemptions from other duties and taxes
- provides that certain wages paid to employees under the Commonwealth Government’s Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity are exempt from payroll tax.
The Opposition noted their support for the bill, while the Greens indicated their support for aspects of the bill concerning first home buyers and aged care workers, but noted their opposition to the build-to-rent provisions as they would likely benefit landlords at the expense of tenants.
In committee, three Opposition amendments were agreed to which would ensure that new affordable housing and social housing are constructed as part of the build-to-rent program and to ensure that construction is, in part, performed by those in need of work opportunities including apprentices or trainees, long-term unemployed workers, Aboriginal jobseekers and graduates. While they did not vote against the amendments, Government members noted their in-principle opposition as they considered the amendments too prescriptive and inconsistent with the intent of the bill.
The Greens then moved 15 amendments to ensure that the build-to-rent provisions provide long-term housing security and affordability to tenants. All amendments were defeated on the voices except for an amendment that was defeated on division (6 votes to 30) which would require the Minister to make regulations concerning build-to-rent provisions, rather than making guidelines. Ms Boyd’s (Greens) reason for moving this amendment was that regulations can be scrutinised and disallowed by the Parliament, but this power to disallow does not extend to guidelines. The amended bill passed the House and was returned to the Assembly. The Assembly agreed to the amendments the next day.
The bill reflects the ongoing work of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice in its role in scrutinising and reviewing the workers compensation and motor accidents (CTP insurance) schemes. In its 2018 report on the worker’s compensation scheme the committee received evidence that it can be confusing for injured people to navigate through the dispute process of the different schemes and recommended consolidating them into a single body. The Government’s response to the report supported this recommendation and the bill delivers on this by establishing a single Personal Injury Commission of New South Wales with separate workers compensation and CTP insurance divisions.
Members from the Standing Committee on Law and Justice spoke in support of the bill, acknowledging the committee’s role in its development. Mr Mookhey (Labor) and Mr Shoebridge (Greens) noted their support for the Government’s ‘lift and shift’ model where the current dispute resolution systems will carry over in their current form to separate divisions within the Personal Injury Commission.
Although there was general support for the bill, in committee a total of 57 amendments were moved by the Government, the Opposition, the Greens and the Christian Democratic Party – with a further eight amendments to amendments moved by the Government. While complex, the end result was 37 amendments being agreed to across all parties in a collaborative committee of the whole process.
Successful amendments included:
- Qualifications of members (Labor) – In keeping with the ‘lift and shift’ principle, ensures Commission members have expertise in the division in which they are to function
- Membership of Rules Committee (Christian Democratic Party and Labor) – Ensures that key stakeholders are members of the Rules Committee which has an important role in determining how the Commission functions
- Establishment of an Independent Review Office (Greens) – This is in place of the current Workers Compensation Independent Review Office and ensures both the workers compensation and CTP schemes are effectively oversighted by an ‘Ombudsman’ style body
- Changing establishment date (Government) – Changes the establishment date of the Commission from December 2020 to 1 March 2021.
The amended bill passed the Council and was returned to the Assembly. The Assembly agreed to the amendments the next day.
We will return shortly with updates from Wednesday’s private members’ business day.