On May’s final sitting day, bill amendments took centre stage – including the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill, which saw debate on more than 40 amendments, culminating in a division on the third and final reading. Meanwhile, members debated no fewer than 30 amendments to the Local Government Amendment Bill. Earlier in the day, special guests were welcomed into the President’s Gallery to watch the House’s debate on the teaching profession as a matter of public importance. Read on for more…
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – ‘VALUING THE TEACHING PROFESSION’
Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) moved a matter of public importance regarding the ‘Valuing the teaching profession’ report – authored by the Hon Dr Geoffrey Gallop, the Hon Dr Tricia Kavanagh and Mr Patrick Lee, who were present in the President’s Gallery for the debate. The report, commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation, was the product of an independent inquiry into the state of the teaching profession in public schools. The inquiry was the first review of teaching undertaken since 2004.
Mr Shoebridge praised the report, particularly its recognition of the profound increase in the workload of school teachers over the past 17 years. Mr Shoebridge also said the report made important recommendations around the need for an immediate increase in teachers’ salaries, along with the need to address the large number of vacancies in teaching roles across the State.
Members from all sides contributed to the debate. On behalf of the Government, the Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning (Minister Mitchell) thanked the report authors and said that a number of the issues identified by the report were already being addressed by the Government. The Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to reducing red tape in schools, as well as a focus on teacher wellbeing. Ms Sharpe led for the Opposition, reiterating Mr Shoebridge’s comments about the need to address teacher shortages, as well as the fact that many teachers find themselves teaching out of their area of expertise as a result. From the crossbench, Mr Latham said that teachers’ pay should be benchmarked at a comparable private sector level and that schools should focus on education fundamentals, such as phonics, literacy and numeracy, rather than politics. At the conclusion of the mover’s contribution in reply, debate on the matter concluded with no question put – as required for debates on matters of public importance.
LAW ENFORCEMENT CONDUCT COMMISSION AMENDMENT (COMMISSIONERS) BILL 2021
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Amendment (Commissioners) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Harwin, seeks to implement recommendations arising from a five-year review of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016. The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) is an independent statutory body tasked with oversight of the NSW Police Force and NSW Crime Commission.
The key recommendation implemented by the bill was that the structure of the LECC be changed from a three-Commissioner to a two-Commissioner model by removing the position of Commissioner for Oversight. In support of this change. Mr Harwin said that during the review process, the two current LECC Commissioners had observed that although the position of Commissioner for Oversight had been vacant since early 2020, the affairs of the LECC were able to be successfully managed by two Commissioners alone.
Debate on the bill was adjourned for 5 calendar days.
PAYROLL TAX AMENDMENT (JOBS PLUS) BILL 2021
The Payroll Tax Amendment (Jobs Plus) Bill 2021 was passed with amendments in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, before being introduced to the Legislative Council by Leader of the House Minister Tudehope.
The bill amends the Payroll Tax Act 2007 to exempt employers from paying payroll tax on wages that are the subject of Jobs Plus agreements – Jobs Plus being the NSW Government’s assistance program for companies undertaking job-creating projects. It also extends an exemption for bonus payments funded by the Federal Government’s Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity program, which supports retention bonuses paid to eligible aged care workers.
Mr Tudehope said the bill would ensure taxes are not a barrier to cementing NSW as the best place to do business in Australia, nor in providing quality care for older citizens.
Mr Secord said the Opposition supported the bill, noting amendments made in the Legislative Assembly that reduced the threshold for payroll tax in rural and regional areas of the State and applied new reporting requirements.
Ms Boyd (The Greens) said that payroll tax exemptions were welcome, and that the Greens supported provisions of the bill relating to the Aged Care Workforce Retention Grant Opportunity program. However, she moved eight amendments relating to the Jobs Plus components of the bill in committee of the whole.
Three of those amendments were supported on the voices. They included a change to narrow the Minister’s delegation powers under the bill, so that the Minister can only delegate the power to enter into Jobs Plus agreements to the Chief Executive Officer of Investment NSW. The other amendments agreed to would require a rolling total of the payroll tax employers have been exempt from to be recorded, and other related details.
The other five of Ms Boyd’s proposed amendments were negatived. They included amendments to the language of the bill to more directly link the payroll exemption and the Jobs Plus program; an amendment to allow an employer to object to the Minister’s decision to cancel an exemption agreement and enable the review of such a decision; plus amendments to figures required in annual reporting.
The bill as amended was agreed to, read a third time, and returned to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT BILL
The Local Government Amendment Bill 2021, introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Farlow) on behalf of Minister Harwin, seeks to implement recommendations made by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in its review of the local government rating system. It also seeks to provide for superannuation contributions for councillors and introduce a process by which merged councils can put forward a proposal for de-amalgamation to the Minister. Prior to incorporating his second reading speech in Hansard, the Parliamentary Secretary thanked members for their cooperation in the development of amendments (moved later in committee of the whole).
Leading for the Opposition, Ms Moriarty criticised the Government’s policy of forced council amalgamations, saying that the subsequent rate harmonisations had adversely affected many councils and needed to be corrected. Ms Moriarty foreshadowed that she would move amendments in committee of the whole to rectify these issues, and ensure that councils could not sell land to recoup unpaid rates for five years, rather than the three years proposed in the bill. Mr Shoebridge indicated that the Greens would support the bill but would also move amendments to allow serving councillors to more easily access information and remove the Emergency Services Levy from a council’s rate cap.
Prior to the House resolving into committee of the whole, Ms Moriarty successfully moved an instruction to the committee to allow it to consider amendments relating to local government de-amalgamations and financial support grants for amalgamated councils. In committee, amendments were moved by the Opposition, Greens, and Mr Field (Independent). Of those moved, the following were agreed to:
- Amendments by Mr Field and the Greens to ensure that rate exemptions for private landholders who voluntarily enter into in perpetuity conservation agreements remain in place.
- Opposition amendments to enable merged councils to put a proposal for de-amalgamation to the Minister.
- Opposition amendments to extend from 4 years to 8 years the transition period within which local councils must harmonise their rates, and to introduce a mandatory review of the amending Act every two years.
- Greens amendments to remove any funds that are required to be collected and paid by councils under the emergency services levy [ESL] from the general rate cap.
The third reading was agreed to on the voices and the bill was returned to the Legislative Assembly with amendments.
MANDATORY DISEASE TESTING BILL 2020
Debate on the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 began in the House on Tuesday – revisit all the action in Tuesday’s blog here. In short, the bill proposes a scheme for mandatory blood testing of a person if – as a result of deliberate action – that person’s blood has come into contact with a health, emergency or public sector worker, who may be at risk of contracting a blood-borne disease as a result. The bill was the subject of an Upper House inquiry, detailed here.
On Tuesday, the midnight adjournment of the House interrupted debate on amendments to the bill in committee of the whole, so debate resumed on Thursday. On debate recommencing, leave was granted to consider the bill as a whole, which had the effect of facilitating faster consideration of the amendments. This motion had initially been resisted when moved on Tuesday.
Six amendments were moved by Mr Graham (Opposition). They included a proposal to increase the minimum age for mandatory testing from 14 to 16 years of age, as well as to require a decision for a mandatory testing order against a person to be stayed, if that person makes an application for review of that decision. All of these amendments were negatived – five through division.
Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) moved more than 20 amendments to the bill. A number of these amendments were directed to the same outcome – making the Chief Health Officer the decision maker for any mandatory testing order, based on the perceived level of expertise required to make such a decision.
Other proposed amendments moved by Mr Shoebridge included:
- Increasing the minimum age for testing to 18 years
- Removing saliva from the definition of bodily fluids subject to the provisions of the bill, and making changes to other definitions within the bill
- Including a requirement that the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) be notified if a mandatory order is made for the testing of an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander
- Allowing health professionals to refuse to take blood from a person under a mandatory testing order
- Changes to the grounds for making mandatory testing orders, including that the officer making an order must be satisfied that the order is necessary and that there are no suitable alternatives
- Expanding the type of information included in mandatory testing orders to provide those subject to them with medical support and assistance from medical practitioners
- Allowing workers and third parties the right to appeal against the decision to issue or refuse to issue a mandatory testing order to the Local Court, rather than by the Chief Health Officer as the bill provides.
All of Mr Shoebridge’s amendments were negatived.
Meanwhile, Mr Roberts (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) moved nine amendments that were all agreed to on the voices. They included that:
- Collected blood samples must not be used by a member of the NSW Police Force for any purpose not authorised under the new Act
- Blood samples and results of mandatory testing orders cannot be admissible in any proceedings against a person, or used as grounds to issue a search warrant
- Blood samples may be destroyed by pathology laboratories once they’ve served their purpose
- The Ombudsman must be informed quarterly of applications for mandatory testing orders
- The Act will not have effect until guidelines are issued and made publicly available by the Chief Health Officer.
Ms Hurst (Animal Justice Party) moved one amendment that would mean a blood sample could only be taken from a person under 18 years of age only if a parent or guardian was present. It was negatived.
On the third reading of the bill being moved, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House, Ms Sharpe, said that she could not vote to support the bill, observing that that mandatory disease testing had been resisted so far by governments and parliaments because “it is not evidence based”. She stated that the bill would take NSW into “disappointing, unproven new territory” and left the chamber before the division on the third reading.
Mr Shoebridge also spoke, supporting the points made by Ms Sharpe and those in the community who had fought against the bill.
The third reading was agreed to on division (26 ayes, 6 noes), and the bill was returned to the Legislative Assembly with amendments.
The following day, Ms Sharpe publicly tendered her resignation as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Council, citing the reason as her decision to abstain from voting on the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill, which “put [her] at odds with Labor’s position on [the] bill”.