Along with being the last day of the Hon John Ajaka’s term as President of the Legislative Council, Tuesday saw two bills agreed to by the Council – one relating to government grants and the other to extend certain COVID-19 measures. We also have an update on the non-compliance with order for papers from last week – you can read it all below!

prESident hon john ajaka mlc resigns

Tuesday marked the last day of the President’s term, following almost four years in the role. Elected to the position in 2017, President Ajaka is well-regarded by members from all sides and has been considered an impartial chair during debates. Throughout the day, members took the opportunity to thank the President and wish him all the best for his retirement – with an informal consensus during the take note debate on answers to questions that the President was indeed a ‘good bloke’ (something with which the Clerk and all the staff of the Legislative Council and across the Parliament agree!)

The President formally resigned as President on Wednesday morning. That triggered a series of fascinating events… but we’ll need to provide that update in tomorrow’s blog.

non-compliance with orders for papers REGARDING STAGES 1 AND 2 OF THE PARRAMATTA LIGHT RAIL PROJECT

In our last blog we reported that the House had supported a motion moved by Mr Mookhey to censure the Leader of the Government for non-compliance with an order to produce the final business cases relating to the Parramatta Light Rail Project, Stage One and Stage Two. The motion required that the business cases be tabled by Friday 19 March 2021 – if the Leader did not comply, the Leader would be required to stand in his place on the next sitting day to explain the non-compliance, with the House reserving its right to move to hold the Leader in contempt if the explanation was not satisfactory.

Immediately on the House meeting on Tuesday morning, the President called on the Leader to explain his reasons for continued non-compliance. Mr Harwin advised that, while the Government respects the authority of the House to compel the production of documents, in its view the New South Wales Court of Appeal has determined that the House’s power to compel the production of documents does not extend to Cabinet information. On that basis, Cabinet documents are neither identified nor produced in response to an order even if otherwise covered by the terms of an order.

However, the Leader of the Government went on to say that the Government assesses the need for voluntary disclosure of Cabinet information on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the Government had determined to voluntarily provide, under privilege, copies of the main bodies of the final business cases within seven days. This will be the fifth occasion since 2018 where documents of this nature have been produced on a “voluntary” basis following a series of orders under SO52 and a censure motion.

statements by the president

The President made two statements to the House on Tuesday. The first related to the establishment of a working advisory group to consider Parliament’s approach to bullying, sexual harassment and serious misconduct, to be chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

The second informed the House of the launch of the second edition of New South Wales Legislative Council Practice. The second edition, edited by David Blunt (Clerk of the Parliaments) and Stephen Frappell (Clerk-Assistant Committees) builds on the work of the first edition, colloquially known as ‘Lovelock and Evans’, and is a comprehensive account of the precedents, practices and procedures of the House. Contact us at council@parliament.nsw.gov.au to find out more about how to get your hands on a copy!

Government sector finance amendment (Government grants) bill 2021

With the third-reading of the bill having been interrupted by the midnight adjournment last Wednesday, the question on the third-reading of the Government Sector Finance Amendment (Government Grants) Bill 2021 was put as formal business (without debate). This bill seeks to amend the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 to require an entity responsible for deciding a grant application to inform the ‘relevant member of Parliament’ of their decision, in order to improve transparency and ensure elected representatives are kept informed of grant decisions affecting their electorates.

The bill was agreed to on the voices and sent to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.

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 recovery bill 2021

The COVID-19 Recovery Bill 2021, like the COVID bill agreed to last week, seeks to extend a variety of measures implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic for another 12 months, until March 2022. (You can read more about the measures introduced early last year here and here).

As the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) described, these measures included changes to allow strata committees to hold meetings virtually as well as provisions to allow longer construction hours on development sites. The bill also seeks to amend commercial and residential tenancy laws to transition out of the ‘moratorium’ on landlords evicting tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, introduced in April 2020 and set to end on 26 March 2021.  

Mr Secord (Labor) indicated that the Opposition would not oppose the bill. Referring to other countries currently in the midst of the crisis – particularly those undergoing another wave of outbreaks – Mr Secord said that NSW was ‘still not out of the woods’ and for this reason, the provisions should be extended. Ms Boyd said that The Greens would support the bill but would move amendments in committee of the whole related to the ‘moratorium’ on evictions, while Mr Banasiak (Shooters Fishers and Farmers) criticised the Government for introducing these extensions through a miscellaneous bill, rather than through standalone bills.

In committee of the whole, Ms Boyd moved four amendments. The first two amendments sought to allow tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to incur rental arrears for another six months from March 2021 without the risk of eviction. Both the Government and Opposition said they would oppose the amendments on the basis that these amendments would extend the moratorium on evictions, rather than allowing the industry to transition out of it. Both amendments were negatived on the voices. Two further amendments sought to expand the circumstances the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) can consider when reviewing the reasonableness of a landlord’s decision to evict a tenant – the first by allowing NCAT to consider whether alternative and affordable accommodation was available for the impacted tenant, the second by allowing NCAT to look at the special vulnerability of the tenant.

Both amendments were agreed to on the voices before the bill was read a third time and sent to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.

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