The Legislative Council was recalled this week! Read all about the action that occurred on government business days including debate on a range of bills and on a matter of public importance concerning children in out of home care.

Given the unusual week, we will be publishing two posts. This post canvasses items debated on government business days Tuesday and Thursday and we will post again early next week to cover all the items debated on private members’ business day on Wednesday.

Recall of the House

On 10 August 2020 the President informed all members that the House would be recalled to sit on 25 August. This followed a request by an absolute majority of members in the Council that the House should meet sooner than the next scheduled sitting day (15 September) to consider a range of matters including orders for papers concerning the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link Business Case and issues regarding icare. Only the Legislative Council was recalled to sit, meaning that any legislation passed would need to wait for the Assembly’s consideration when it returned in September.

To find out more about the recall procedure read our April blog post.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link Business Case

The day started with the President tabling correspondence from the government noting that it had provided the final business case for the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link to the Legislative Council on a voluntary basis.

This followed a resolution by the House on 6 August calling for the final business case to be provided by 24 August with critical information unredacted. The President informed the House that the documents were being treated as confidential and may only be viewed by members of the Legislative Council.

Matter of Public Importance – Their Futures Matter

The House then debated a matter of public importance brought on by Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) to consider the findings of a July 2020 report of the Auditor-General into the government’s ‘Their Futures Matter’ program. This was the government’s response to ‘the Tune Review’ (a report made public in 2018 thanks to the Council’s orders for papers process), which found that the out of home care system was ineffective and failed to improve long-term outcomes for children. The Auditor-General’s report examined whether the Department of Communities and Justice had effective governance and partnership arrangements in place to deliver much needed reforms.

Mr Shoebridge said this was the second time in a matter of weeks that the House had considered this important report. He criticised the government for failing to adequately implement the required whole of government reforms to protect children in out of home care and in particular Aboriginal children, and for the lack of response to the report in the first debate.

Mrs Taylor, Minister for Mental Health, noted that, despite the issues identified by the Auditor-General, the work undertaken by the Their Futures Matter program remains relevant and urgent. She acknowledged the recommendations made by the Auditor-General, including expanding representation of Aboriginal leaders, investing in programs, and collating strong data and evidence to establish benchmarks.

The Opposition stated that while the Government has initiated some worthy pilot programs following the Tune Review, there has not been any long term investment to fully implement them. Ms Sharpe, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, observed that, even now, only one-third of children reported to the child protection system are being seen by a Department of Communities and Justice caseworker.

Members from the Animal Justice Party and Christian Democratic Party urged the Government to follow through on the Auditor-General’s recommendations, while Government member Mr Mason-Cox described the findings as a low point in the public administration of child protection in New South Wales. He called on the Government to embrace the opportunity to make the changes necessary to support vulnerable children and families.

Matters of Public Importance under Standing Order 200 are an opportunity for the House to prioritise discussion on a matter over all other business on the Notice Paper for that day. While debate is subject to time limits, at the conclusion of the allotted time, discussion simply concludes. For this reason no vote was taken on the motion.

Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Bill 2020

The primary purpose of the bill is to reduce barriers faced by strata owners’ corporations to install sustainability infrastructure such as solar panels in apartment buildings. The bill seeks to achieve this by lowering the voting threshold on strata committees from 75 per cent to a simple majority of 50 per cent of votes.

In addition, the bill seeks to make several miscellaneous amendments to the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 to correct unintended consequences from the 2015 reforms. These include protecting secret ballots and improving the notification process of tribunal applications.

Members of the Opposition, the Greens and the Christian Democratic Party spoke briefly in support of the bill. However, the Opposition expressed concern that the bill does not include affordability and hardship measures and that there may be a cost impact on owners with limited capacity to pay for these improvements. On a similar note, the Greens indicated that the bill should provide funding for the installation of sustainability infrastructure to incentivise their uptake by strata committees.

Before proceeding to the committee stage, the Animal Justice Party moved an instruction to provide the committee with the power to consider an amendment that a strata by-law has no force or effect if it unreasonably prohibits keeping an animal. To learn more about what an instruction means read our blog post from last week!

In committee, the Animal Justice Party amendment was considered and agreed to, notwithstanding the Government’s opposition. The amended bill was returned to the Assembly seeking concurrence.

Thursday 27 August 2020

Casino Control Amendment (Inquiries) Bill 2020

The bill seeks to ensure that the current Bergin casino inquiry, as well as any future casino inquiries, have sufficient powers to ensure the highest level of oversight. The bill seeks to amend the Casino Control Act 1992 to make clear that certain powers conferred to royal commissions also apply to these inquiries, including:

  • that a witness who is compelled to attend and give evidence is not excused from answering questions or producing documents on the ground of self-incrimination, privilege or duty of secrecy
  • that any answer given or document produced is not admissible in civil or criminal proceedings against that person.

Ms Cusack, Parliamentary Secretary for Cost of Living, indicated that the bill responds to Melco Resorts & Entertainment Limited resisting a summons to produce certain documents to the Bergin inquiry on the grounds that it is not a royal commission. While this position was recently overturned by the Court of Appeal, and the High Court refused leave to appeal, the bill sought to provide certainty to the Bergin inquiry and avoid the time and expense of future appeals.

Members of the Opposition, the Greens, Christian Democratic Party and Mr Field supported the bill, noting it was important that the Bergin inquiry is fully empowered to conduct its investigation and that the public has confidence in the regulatory framework that governs casinos in New South Wales.

The bill passed the House and was returned to the Assembly.

Better Regulation Legislation Amendment Bill 2020

This is an omnibus bill which seeks to make miscellaneous amendments to 13 principal Acts and associated amendment Acts across the Better Regulation and Innovation portfolio.

Mr Farlow, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and for COVID Recovery, stated that the changes introduced are mainly administrative and have been identified through consultation with industry stakeholders. The Opposition and Christian Democratic Party supported the bill.

While supportive, Mr Searle, Leader of the Opposition, noted that the Opposition would move amendments in the committee stage to improve the bill. The second reading was agreed to and consideration of the amendments was set down for a future day.

Stay tuned for our post next week where we will cover the business considered on Wednesday, private members’ business day!

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