During government business days this week the House passed bills concerning birth certificates for adopted people and police promotions. The House also debated a matter of public importance.
Tuesday 15 September 2020
On Tuesday, the House debated one bill and devoted the rest of the sitting day to debate on committee reports and government responses, questioning ministers during Question Time and introducing business to consider later in the week.
The bill seeks to amend the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to establish information sharing between NSW Health and the work health and safety regulators SafeWork NSW and the NSW Resources Regulator to reduce the prevalence of occupational diseases, in particular the lung disease silicosis.
Prior to being debated, the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for inquiry. The committee’s report, tabled earlier in September, noted that stakeholders had raised privacy concerns regarding information sharing and more general concerns that the bill would not be effective in preventing dust diseases. The committee recommended that the Government address these concerns during the second reading debate.
During debate the Government noted that the bill is part of a broader package of reforms to address the concerning rise in the number of silicosis cases. The Government noted the importance of protecting workers’ privacy and indicated that, in the case of silicosis, SafeWork NSW and NSW Health will enter into a memorandum of understanding to establish information sharing parameters.
While the Opposition and The Greens noted their in principle support for reforms that address the rise in silicosis cases, they were concerned that the bill is limited in scope and does not establish a dust diseases register. The parties commended the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s work across multiple inquiries into dust diseases, noting that the committee has on two occasions recommended the establishment of a dust diseases register. The Opposition foreshadowed that amendments would be moved in the committee stage to implement these recommendations. Debate was adjourned.
Thursday 17 September 2020
Matter of public importance – Dispute in the Coalition
On Thursday morning the House debated the following matter of public importance moved by Mr Shoebridge (The Greens): ‘the dispute in the Coalition at a time when the state is facing multiple challenges including the economic devastation caused by COVID-19 and the challenges of poverty, homelessness, and the impacts of climate change and deforestation’.
Members from The Greens and the Opposition argued that the recent dispute between the Liberal and National parties regarding the planning policy to protect koalas and their habitat had distracted the Government from its response to other issues such as the health and economic response to COVID-19, the recent bushfires, climate change and other environmental matters, various infrastructure projects and homelessness.
Minister Tudehope asserted that the Government is committed to ensuring New South Wales continues to set the gold standard on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister Mitchell argued that The Nationals are working to ensure a thriving koala population in the State and pointed to the good work the Government is doing to deliver in a range of key policy areas. Minister Taylor pointed to the merits of healthy debate amongst the Coalition parties stating: “Yes, we may have differences with the Liberal Party on some policy issues, but that is a good thing because when we talk about things, debate them and disagree, we often come to a point that delivers really good policy”.
Members from One Nation indicated their support for The Nationals for fulfilling their role as parliamentarians by standing up for their constituents and not accepting a policy they did not agree with.
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.
The bill seeks to amend the Adoption Act 2000 and the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 to modernise birth certificates for adopted people, where, in addition to receiving the existing post-adoptive birth certificate, adopted children can also be issued with an Integrated Birth Certificate which includes information about the birth parents and any siblings, as well as the adoptive family’s details.
The Parliamentary Secretary (Mrs Ward) described the prior process of issuing post-adoptive birth certificates, where an adopted child’s original birth certificate was sealed, and a new certificate issued bearing the adoptive parents’ names. Mrs Ward stated that this bill demonstrates the shift towards modern open adoptions, having been developed in response to extensive research recommending that adopted people be given the right to know their origins, background and cultural heritage.
The Opposition supported the bill. Mr Searle (Opposition) referenced a 1997 report of the NSW Law Reform Commission that described how attitudes towards closed adoptions have changed over time, moving away from the culture of secrecy. Ms Sharpe (Opposition) noted the comparatively small number of Indigenous children adopted by non-Indigenous families and that this bill goes some way to promoting connection to culture.
Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) stated that, on balance, The Greens did not oppose the bill. He referred to stakeholder consultation on the bill, describing differing community viewpoints on birth certificates and acknowledged the difficulty of legislating the adoption process in a respectful manner. The bill passed the Council and was returned to the Assembly.
The bill seeks to amend the Police Act 1990 and the Police Regulation 2015 to provide for a merit-based and modern promotion system for non-executive police officers such as sergeants, inspectors and superintendents.
The Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) indicated that the bill reflects the key recommendation of a 2019 promotions review conducted by the former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, AO, which found there was overwhelming internal support for greater development opportunities for police officers and an overhaul of the promotions process. Mr Farlow noted that officers are currently promoted to the next available vacancy from a promotions list and that this bill will align the promotion process with the broader public sector.
Opposition, Greens and One Nation members all spoke in support of the bill, considering the reforms to be sensible and have the support of the police community. However, the Greens also noted that the Broderick review raised concerns regarding a predominately masculine culture in the NSW Police Force and that one in three female police officers had experienced sexual harassment by a colleague in the last five years. The Greens indicated that this matter is not specifically addressed in the bill and indicated that amendments would be moved in the committee stage to rectify this.
In committee, the Greens moved two amendments: the first to clarify that a police officer cannot be appointed to a role if they have engaged in sexual harassment or sexual misconduct; and second to ensure that an integrity inquiry check prior to promotion must canvass whether an officer has engaged in sexual harassment or sexual misconduct or had adverse finding made against them following criminal or civil proceedings. The amendments were defeated, the first on division (4 votes to 34) and the second on the voices. The bill passed the Council and was returned to the Assembly.
Stay tuned for part 2 on Tuesday where we will cover what occurred on private members’ business Wednesday.