On Tuesday, the Leader of the Government was required to “attend in his place” to report on the production of documents relating to the Stronger Communities Fund. The Leader of the House also tabled the Budget Papers in preparation for debate on the Appropriation Bills next week. Two bills were also debated and agreed to. Read on for more information.
Matter of privilege – Contempt for failure to table documents
In the previous sitting week, the House resolved to order the Leader of the Government (Mr Harwin) to attend in his place at the commencement of business on Tuesday to report on the production of documents relating to the Stronger Communities Fund. These documents included ‘working advice notes’ referred to in recent committee hearings. The order also required Mr Harwin to give an explanation of the data recovery process used to recover these documents and an explicit explanation of the circumstances and timing of their destruction.
At the start of the day, the President called on Mr Harwin to address the House. Mr Harwin said that a number of documents relating to the document recovery process had been voluntarily tabled with the Clerk the previous day and that the document recovery process in relation to the working advice notes was underway. Mr Harwin also noted advice from the Digital and Information Branch of DPC which set out some of the challenges involved in attempting to recover the deleted document and that the return would not be finalised until 25 November 2020. He also said that his ability to fully comply with paragraph (8) of the order – which required him to explain the circumstances and timing of destruction of the documents produced – was limited by the fact that the document recovery process remained underfoot.
NSW Budget 2020-2021
The Leader of the House tabled five papers relating to the NSW Budget 2020-2021, including the Report on the State Finances 2019-2020. Earlier in the day on Tuesday, the Treasurer (Mr Perrotet) introduced the Appropriation Bills (see Appropriation Bill 2020, Appropriation (Parliament) Bill 2020 and Payroll Tax Amendment Bill 2020) in the Legislative Assembly. Members of the Council will have an opportunity to debate the bills next week.
Debate resumed on the bill, introduced in a previous sitting week, which seeks to establish a pilot scheme for drug supply prohibition orders (DSPO) in four areas of New South Wales. These prohibition orders would allow a police officer to stop, detain and search a person and their home, car or other vehicle without a warrant if the person is over the age of 18 years and had been convicted of a serious drug offence in the previous 10 years.
Speaking for the Opposition, Mr Graham (Labor) said that Labor would not oppose the bill but would examine the scheme’s particular effect on juvenile offenders and homeless people during the two years of its operation. He also indicated that Labor would move amendments in committee of the whole to alter the definition of ‘serious drug offence’ so that a DSPO would be available only in respect of offences involving at least an indictable quantity under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985. Reverend Nile indicated his support for the bill, commending the scheme for providing police with the tools to disrupt and deter convicted drug dealers from reengaging in supply. Mr Roberts (One Nation) also expressed his support for the bill. Both The Greens and the Animal Justice Party indicated their opposition to the bill, foreshadowing amendments that would be moved in committee.
In committee, Mr Shoebridge moved a number of amendments to exclude Bankstown from the scheme’s area, reduce the time after conviction during which a person could be subject to DPSO to 5 years and exclude serious drug offences committed when a person was a child. Mr Pearson moved a similar amendment regarding the exclusion of serious drug offences committed when a person was a minor. None of the amendments were agreed to.
The Government moved two amendments. The first was similar to that foreshadowed by the Opposition and sought to alter the definition of ‘serious drug offence’ so that a DSPO would be available only in respect of offences involving an indictable quantity of prohibited drugs or plants under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985. The second provided for an oversight commissioner, appointed by the Attorney General, to make an application for revocation of a DPSO at any time. Both Government amendments were agreed to on the voices.
The bill as amended was agreed to and, following the third reading, was returned to the Assembly for concurrence.
In the evening, debate commenced on the Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill 2020.The bill amends the Rural Fires Act 1997 and a number of other legislative instruments in response to the recommendations of the Final Report of the Bushfire Inquiry following the Black Summer fires of 2019-20.
Speaking for the Government, the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) acknowledged the devastation caused by the Black Summer 2019-20 bushfire season and the scale of the emergency response required. Mr Farlow stated the bill reflects the Government’s determination to learn from the 2019-20 bushfire season and build preparedness and greater resilience for future seasons and bushfire threats. Mr Farlow then detailed the provisions of the bill, which include: introducing a Rural Boundary Clearing Code to regulate vegetation clearing, protection and hazard management, a range of measures aimed at improved oversight and consistency in land management, hazard plans and bushfire preparedness, exemptions from the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme for people re-building property affected in the Black Summer fires, and enhanced involvement of First Australians through representation on the Bushfire Coordination Committee from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council.
While advising the Opposition would not oppose the bill, Ms Moriarty (ALP) stated the provisions were a major disappointment, falling short of community expectations and unrelated to the Inquiry recommendations. Ms Moriarty also noted warnings from some stakeholders that the bill would not mitigate fire risk and foreshadowed proposed Opposition amendments to the bill. Mr Latham (PHON), Mr Field (IND), Ms Hurst (AJP), Mr Banasiak (SFFP), Mr Shoebridge (Grns) and Revd Mr Nile (CDP) all contributed to debate, discussing the provisions of the bill, the Black Summer bushfires, the Inquiry and its report, and the priorities and approach of the bushfire response. Members also raised concerns over various aspects of the bill, with proposed amendments foreshadowed by Mr Latham, Mr Field, Mr Banasiak, and Mr Shoebridge.
The second reading was agreed to on division (31/6), with the Government, Opposition, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party, and Christian Democratic Party voting for the second reading and The Greens, Animal Justice Party and Mr Field opposed.
During committee of the whole amendments were moved by both The Greens and the Opposition which sought to expand membership of the Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee, with the amendments of the Opposition agreed to. An Opposition amendment omitting provisions relating to industry brigades was also agreed to before the committee was interrupted by the hard midnight adjournment.
The next House in Review will report further on consideration of the bill in committee, and the third reading, which occurred on Wednesday.