On the last sitting day of the week, a joint sitting with the Legislative Assembly was held, which saw Mr Peter Poulos elected as the newest member of the House. Members also voted to disallow three regulations, as well as debate a matter of public importance, consider two bills and move a condolence motion following the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Read on for more!
A JOINT SITTING AND THE ELECTION OF PETER POULOS TO THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
Early in the sitting day, regular proceedings were paused for a joint sitting of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly convened by Her Excellency the Governor to fill the seat vacated in the Upper House following the resignation of Mr John Ajaka in April. The joint sitting elected Mr Peter Poulos as the newest member of the Council.
Fun fact: As well as to appoint members of the Council, joint sittings can also be used to fill vacancies in the Senate, should a NSW senator resign. The two houses also meet for openings of Parliament – that is, on the first sitting of a new Parliament – and they can also sit together to work through disagreements on legislation, though this provision in the Constitution has been very rarely used.
Following the joint sitting, Mr Field moved a motion to disallow three regulations created as part of the Government’s plan to license and meter the practice of floodplain harvesting (the capture and use of water flowing across a floodplain). These regulations follow on from a previous floodplain harvesting regulation made in early 2020, which was disallowed by the Council in September 2020 following an inquiry by the Regulation Committee.
Mr Field said that he was moving the motion due to the uncertainty perpetuated by the regulations, which he said did nothing to address concerns raised in the inquiry about downstream communities’ access to water. Mr Field called for a regulatory system to be put into place to address these uncertainties but said it should be enshrined in legislation laid out before the Parliament, rather than introduced by regulation.
Members of the Government disagreed, with Minister Mitchell (Nationals) arguing that the practice of floodplain harvesting had long been unmonitored and that these regulations would improve transparency of river system management. Mr Latham (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) also opposed the motion, saying that farmers and irrigators should not lose the right to use water flowing onto their land. The Opposition, Greens and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers supported the motion. The motion was agreed to on division, 21 ayes to 15 noes. As the disallowance motion passed, the regulations now cease to have effect.
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – HUNTER VALLEY COALMINERS
Members also debated a matter of public importance moved by Mr Latham (PHON) into Hunter Valley coalminers and the future of jobs in the area, in light of the Government policy of net-zero emissions by 2050. Matters of Public Importance allow the House to discuss the merits of an issue without the House having to vote on the matter at the conclusion of the discussion.
Members from all sides contributed to the discussion noting the contribution coal mining makes to the NSW economy, as well as the upcoming by-election in the Upper Hunter. You can find the full discussion in Hansard.
TAX ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (COMBATING WAGE THEFT) BILL
The Government’s Tax Administration Amendment (Combating Wage Theft) Bill was introduced by the Leader of the House, the Hon Damien Tudehope. This bill would amend the Taxation Administration Act 1996 to, among other things, include measures to deter employers underpaying wages.
In introducing the bill, Mr Tudehope said that wage theft is a serious issue and that the underpayment of wages – whether deliberate or inadvertent – has been identified as a concerning problem, with modelling by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimating that 13 per cent of Australian workers are underpaid a total of around $1.35 billion per year.
Mr Tudehope said the bill would not criminalise wage theft, which he identified as being a national issue requiring a national framework. Instead, to help deter wage theft, the bill would allow Revenue NSW to: name employers that have underpaid wages; disclose information to the Fair Work Ombudsman to assist investigations of wage underpayment, and disclose information to Industrial Relations NSW to assist in its investigations of long service leave breaches; and reassess and recover payroll tax on wages underpaid by an employer more than five years after the initial assessment was made.
The bill would also strengthen the maximum penalties for offences under the Taxation Administration Act 1996 not specifically related to wage underpayment, but related to activities that may impede a proper assessment of tax liabilities – such as failing to keep records or knowingly giving false or misleading information.
Following its introduction, debate on the bill was adjourned for five calendar days.
HEAVY VEHICLE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NATIONAL REGULATOR) BILL 2021
The Heavy Vehicle Legislation Amendment (National Regulator) Bill 2021 was passed in the Legislative Assembly in May and introduced in the Council by Parliamentary Secretary Mr Ben Franklin.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (NSW) puts in place a national scheme for facilitating and regulating the use of heavy vehicles on the state’s roads. This bill would see some of the functions under that law pass from Transport for NSW to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, including the transfer of staff and the provision of relevant information between bodies. It would also allow the Minister to direct that certain assets, rights and liabilities of Transport for NSW be transferred to the Regulator.
Mr Franklin described the moving of functions to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator as the final step in a long national reform journey. While the Regulator commenced operation in 2014, with state and territory jurisdictions initially continuing to undertake heavy vehicle regulator services under delegations and service-level agreements, Mr Franklin argued that the time had come to phase out these agreements, and for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to realise the safety and productivity benefits of a national system.
During debate on the bill, Mr Mick Veitch (Opposition) said the outcome of the bill would be welcomed by industry, but requested that Mr Franklin clarify several provisions. Mr David Shoebridge (Greens) said his party did not oppose the bill.
Following Mr Franklin’s reply speech, the third reading was agreed to on the voices, and the bill was returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.
At the end of the day, Leader of the Government the Hon Don Harwin moved a condolence motion acknowledging the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Mr Harwin described the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, including his birth in Crete, military service in World War II and enduring marriage to Her Majesty The Queen. Mr Harwin also spoke of the Duke of Edinburgh’s commitment to Australia, noting his 15 year service as the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Debate was adjourned to a future day.