Thirteen items of private members’ business were considered on Wednesday, including a motion of no confidence, bills, orders for papers and general motions.

Motion of No Confidence – Treasurer and icare

As discussed in our Friday post the House was recalled to sit last week to further scrutinise the Government, with a particular focus on the management of the NSW Workers’ Compensation Scheme by Insurance and Care NSW (icare). The issue was debated on Wednesday when Mr Mookhey (Labor) moved that the House express no confidence in icare, as well as the Treasurer, who has ministerial responsibility for icare.

Mr Mookhey noted that the no confidence motion was the result of a range of scrutiny actions undertaken by the House to examine icare including orders for papers, answers to questions and evidence from the ongoing review of the Workers Compensation Scheme underway by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. He indicated that these scrutiny measures uncovered many concerns regarding icare including issues relating to payments, scheme management decisions and probity concerns. Mr Mookhey argued that, while a no confidence motion is a serious step, nothing would change in the Workers Compensation Scheme if the current icare board remains in place and the Treasurer remains responsible for the system.

Minister Tudehope responded on behalf of the Government and opposed the motion. He strongly defended the Treasurer, noting his commitment to resolving issues with icare and implementing the recommendations of the independent Dore Report. He described the no confidence motion as grandstanding by the Opposition and argued that it should not be supported.

Given the importance of the issue, the motion was debated over two and a half hours, with debate extended after the initial two hour debate time had expired. Overall, 16 members spoke, canvassing a range of issues and opinions:

  • Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) supported the motion, detailing concerns that a senior compliance, audit and risk officer had been allegedly bullied by icare officials when uncovering mismanagement. He condemned the Treasurer for stating publicly, as recently as early August, that icare is doing a superb job.
  • Mr Banasiak (Shooters, Fishers, Farmers Party) supported the motion, stating that the new workers compensation system had been mismanaged from the start and that the Government is using the Treasurer’s good management of COVID-19 to mask his poor performance regarding workers compensation
  • Mr Latham (One Nation) opposed the motion, stating that while the Treasurer may have made mistakes, he has apologised, and that other members had not made a strong argument in favour of no confidence
  • Mr Field (Independent) opposed the motion, noting that while there are systemic issues at icare, it was inappropriate for the House to consider a motion of no confidence while a statutory review with expanded terms of reference was underway and the Standing Committee on Law and Justice was still inquiring into the matter.

No confidence motions are rare in the Legislative Council, with only three such motions having been debated since 1987, none of which were agreed to in the original form. When the question of Mr Mookhey’s motion was put, the President reported an equality of votes, with the Opposition, The Greens, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and Animal Justice Party voting for the motion and the Government, the Christian Democratic Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Mr Field voting against it. To resolve the matter, the President gave his casting vote against the motion, in keeping with the principle that decisions should not be taken except by a majority of members. The motion was consequently negatived.

Bills

The following private members’ bills were debated:

Public Health Amendment (Registered Nurses in Nursing Homes) Bill 2020

The bill was introduced by Mr Banasiak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party) and seeks to  amend the definition of ‘nursing homes’ in the Public Health Act 2010 to reinstate the requirement to have at least one registered nurse in nursing homes at all times.

Prior to changes in Commonwealth legislation in 2014 it had been standard practice for at least 30 years for aged care facilities to have a registered nurse on staff. The bill seeks to reintroduce minimum staffing in nursing homes, in particular for facilities which provide a high level of residential care. Mr Banasiak stated that it was essential to have a registered nurse on hand in aged care facilities to pick up on medication errors, recognise and respond appropriately to the onset of more serious conditions, perform resuscitation and decide whether hospital admissions were required.

At the conclusion of his speech, debate on the bill was adjourned for five calendar days.

Roads Amendment (Toll-free Period) Bill 2020

Mr Graham (Labor) introduced this bill on 5 August 2020 (see Hansard for a transcript of the speech (part 1 and part 2)). As discussed in our previous post, the bill seeks to amend the Roads Act 1993 to provide for the declaration of toll-free periods for new tollways, and for compensation to tollway operators for any consequent loss of revenue. The bill does not specify the length of toll-free periods, leaving that as an operational matter for the Government.   

On Wednesday, debate resumed with the Government neither supporting or opposing the bill. Minister Tudehope asserted that with the recall of the House, coupled with the Legislative Assembly not sitting and Cabinet not meeting, the Government had been deprived of sufficient circumstances to consider its position on the bill and to decide whether to support or oppose it. On that basis, Minister Tudehope sought to adjourn debate on the bill until the next sitting day. The motion to adjourn the debate was negatived on division (17 votes to 21).

One Nation supported the bill, with Mr Latham observing the bill would ensure new roads were opened with a no-obligation trial period. He suggested this would promote road safety because drivers would be deterred from taking unsafe actions to avoid the toll. Ms Boyd (The Greens) argued that there can be good reasons for road tolls as they can encourage more people to catch public transport. However, on the basis that it would help alleviate cost of living pressures on drivers and commuters, the Greens did not oppose the bill.

The bill was agreed to on division (23 votes to 17) with the Opposition, One Nation, Animal Justice Party, the Greens, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and Mr Field in support and the Government and Christian Democratic Party opposed. The bill was forwarded to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.

Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2019

Debate briefly resumed on Revd Mr Nile’s (Christian Democratic Party) bill to amend the Crimes Act 1900 in relation to criminal acts resulting in the ‘serious harm to or the destruction of an unborn child’. This afforded Mr Khan (Nationals) the opportunity to conclude his speech, which had been interrupted the previous week. Debate was then adjourned.

Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019

Mr Latham’s (One Nation) bill seeks to lift the ban on nuclear power and uranium mining in NSW. Mr Latham first introduced the bill in June 2019, before it was referred to the Standing Committee on State Development for inquiry. The committee’s report, tabled in March 2020, contained a range of recommendations, including that the Government should:

  • support the bill
  • support exploration for uranium to identify and understand economically viable uranium sources
  • work with relevant agencies to ensure that existing frameworks provide adequate worker safety
  • commission independent analysis and modelling to evaluate the viability of nuclear energy.

The bill having been restored following the inquiry, Mr Latham  had the opportunity to speak a second time to his reasons for introducing the bill: to lift the ban on uranium mining to create jobs and establish an affordable and reliable energy source.

Mr Martin contributed to the debate, speaking in his capacity as a Government member and Chair of the Standing Committee on State Development. He indicated that safety conditions in uranium mines have significantly improved in recent years and noted that passing the bill would promote research in the space rather than facilitate the immediate establishment of uranium mines.

The Greens and the Opposition briefly outlined their opposition to uranium mining and use of nuclear energy. Debate was interrupted at midnight for the adjournment.

General motions

The following general motions were debated:

  • Victory in the Pacific Day (Mr Khan, Nationals) – Motion noting that 15 August 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific. Debate was adjourned.
  • DonateLife Week (Mrs Maclaren-Jones, Liberal Party) – Motion agreed to noting that DonateLife Week was held from 26 July to 2 August 2020 to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation.
  • Dr Clive Marks (Mr Pearson, Animal Justice Party) – Motion agreed to, as amended, congratulating the Australian academic Dr Clive Marks for successfully developing techniques that replace lethal animal bioassays with new non-lethal and in vitro methods.
  • Portfolio Committee No. 5 – Legal Affairs inquiry into the provisions of the Firearms and Weapons Legislation (Criminal Use) Bill 2020 – extension of reporting date (Mr Borsak, Shooters, Fishers, Farmers Party) – Motion agreed to on division (23 votes to 17) to extend the inquiry reporting date to the first sitting day in 2021.

Orders for papers motions

The following three orders for papers were agreed to:

  1. Administration of icare (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 9 and 16 September 2020
  2. Bushfire inquiries (Mr Searle, Labor) – due 9 September 2020
  3. Lower Hunter Water Plan (Mr Field, Independent) – due 23 September 2020

In addition, debate on a further order concerning a police investigation involving the Minister for Police and Emergency Services was adjourned.

The House will meet again on Tuesday 15 September 2020.

As we mentioned on Friday, owing to the recall of the House last week and the restructuring of business, we are publishing only two posts covering the sitting week: the first summarising Government business (Friday), and the second Private Members’ Day (this post). Stay tuned for our post next week, which will focus on the work of our committees.

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