From a censure to the passage of bills, read on for a recap of what happened in the Legislative Council on Thursday, 18 March
A return to Government business on Thursday saw the passage of two bills, relating to increased penalties for animal cruelty offences and COVID-19 pandemic arrangements, as well as a new sessional order relating to committee reports. The House also agreed to censure the Leader of the Government for failure to comply with an order for papers – and it’s all covered below!
COMMITTEE REPORTS AND GOVERNMENT RESPONSES
In the morning, the House agreed to a new sessional order to allow debate on committee reports and the Government responses to occur at the same time. The Government Whip (Mrs Maclaren-Jones) said that would give the House the opportunity to “clear the deck” given the significant number of committee reports still to be debated, some of them dating back to 2019. The motion was agreed to on the voices.
CENSURE OF THE LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT – GOVERNMENT FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH ORDER FOR PAPERS REGARDING STAGES 1 AND 2 OF THE PARRAMATTA LIGHT RAIL PROJECT
Early on Thursday morning, Mr Mookhey (Opposition) moved a motion to censure the Leader of the Government for the Government’s failure to comply with successive orders for papers seeking the final business cases relating to the Parramatta Light Rail Project stage one and stage two. This motion followed on from a series of similar motions (for example see this post and this post) agreed to by the House in recent years to hold the Government to account where documents are not provided under the guise of cabinet in confidence. The House has consistently argued that the Government applies a broader definition of cabinet in confidence than is reasonable at law. These arguments were revisited again during debate on this motion – you can find the detail here in Hansard.
Under the terms of the motion, which was agreed to on division (ayes: 23, noes: 16, with only Government members and Reverend Nile voting in the negative), if the business cases are not produced by Friday, the Leader will be called to stand in his place on the next sitting day (Tuesday 23 March) to explain the non-compliance. The motion also noted that the House reserved the right to find the Leader in contempt and suspend him from the House in the event of continued non-compliance. Stay tuned for proceedings tomorrow, when we will find out if the documents are reported by the Clerk, and, if not, whether the House proceeds to hold the Leader in contempt.
PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS AMENDMENT BILL 2021
Having agreed to the question on the second reading of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 on Tuesday, the House resolved into committee of the whole to consider amendments – but not before Ms Hurst (Animal Justice) moved an instruction to committee on behalf of Ms Boyd (The Greens). This instruction allowed the committee to consider amendments relating to the objects of the principal Act, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, as well as changes to the code around breeding dogs and cats. (Here’s an explainer on instructions to committee of the whole.)
The Animal Justice Party, The Greens, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party moved amendments in committee.
The first Greens amendment sought to amend the objects of the principal Act to recognise the sentience of animals, while the second sought to expand the definition of animal cruelty. Both these amendments were negatived on the voices, with the Government noting that it was currently consulting the community on fundamental issues, such as the definition of ‘cruelty’ within the principal Act, with proposed changes still to be released. Two other Greens amendments were agreed to: the first sought to extend the time in which prosecutions can be brought for animal cruelty offences from 12 months to 3 years (ayes: 20; noes: 17), while the second requires the Government to review the welfare code on the breeding of dogs and cats by 31 May this year (agreed on the voices).
Two of the 11 Animal Justice Party amendments were agreed to. Under the original bill, a court could impose an ‘interim disqualification order’ to prohibit a person against whom animal cruelty proceedings have commenced from acquiring new animals. The first amendment sought to expand this power to cover animals already in the possession of a person. The second sought to prohibit a person convicted of a serious animal cruelty offence under the Crimes Act 1900, such as bestiality, from owning or working with animals in the future.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party amendment, which was negatived on division, sought to amend the definition of ‘animal trade’ contained within the bill so that it would not capture ‘mum and dad hobby breeders’ or those involved in breeding greyhounds. The One Nation amendment, negatived on the voices, sought to make it an offence to construct wind towers in bird migratory zones that resulted in the death of birds.
The bill as amended was agreed to and sent to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.
COVID-19 LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (STRONGER COMMUNITIES AND HEALTH) BILL 2021
The COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Stronger Communities and Health) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Mitchell on Tuesday, seeks to extend emergency measures implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from their current end date of 26 March 2021, until 26 September 2021. It would also allow these measures to be extended for a further six months by regulation if necessary in the future, but importantly, does not extend any Henry VIII clauses introduced as part of the Government’s original COVID-19 response. (Wondering why a long-dead king is getting a mention? Read about these clauses here). The Parliamentary Secretary, Mrs Ward, noted that the bill did not propose any new COVID-19 emergency provisions, with all provisions proposed for extension having previously been passed by Parliament.
Both the Opposition and Greens indicated that they would not oppose the bill. Speaking for the Opposition, Mr Searle (Labor) said that it was good that no Henry VIII clauses were being extended by the bill and Mr Shoebridge noted that the Greens did not support an extension beyond September. Reverend Nile gave his support for the bill, while Mr Roberts said that One Nation did not support it on the basis of a lack of necessity.
The bill was agreed to on the voices and returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.