On the first sitting day in June, the House considered three bills dealing with law enforcement oversight, wage theft and miscellaneous amendments to a number of current NSW Acts. The President also made a statement about the Bicentenary of the Legislative Council in 2023 and the Opposition announced changes to its leadership in the Council. Read on for more!
THE UPCOMING BICENTENARY OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
President Mason-Cox began the sitting day by acknowledging two important occasions for the Legislative Council. The first was the 165th anniversary of the chamber itself, which was used for the first time on 22 May 1856 for the opening of the new bicameral Parliament.
The President then flagged the upcoming bicentenary of the First Legislative Council in 2023/2024 –the Upper House having been established in 1823 by the passage of the NSW Act through the British Parliament, and the House meeting for the very first time in August 1824.
The President observed that the lead-up to the bicentenary would provide an opportunity to celebrate the rich and significant history of the House; to examine the functioning of the House and how it can be improved; and to engage with the community to increase awareness of the vital role the Legislative Council plays in NSW’s democratic process. The President foreshadowed that he would continue to update members on plans for the celebrations over the coming months.
STATEMENT FROM THE OPPOSITION
Mr Searle made a statement advising that, following the election of a new Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, he would be stepping down from his position as Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. Ms Sharpe then informed the House that she had been elected Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council and Mr Graham had been elected Deputy Leader.
LAW ENFORCEMENT CONDUCT COMMISSION AMENDMENT (COMMISSIONERS) BILL 2021
Debate resumed on the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Amendment (Commissioners) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Harwin in the previous sitting week, which seeks to implement recommendations arising from a five-year review of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016.
Speaking for the Opposition, Mr Searle (Labor) spoke positively about the bill, observing that it would ensure the LECC remains a ‘fit-for-purpose organisation’. However, Mr Searle foreshadowed that the Opposition would move an amendment in committee of the whole. This amendment– which proposed removing the current restriction on LECC Commissioner’s being appointed to any other office holder position in the LECC, once they had served their five-year term – was agreed to on division, 21 ayes to 16 noes. Mr Searle also acknowledged the recent inquiry into the high level of First Nations people in custody, which recommended that the NSW Government expand the functions of LECC to undertake full investigations in relation to deaths in custody. However, he said that the Opposition would not seek to implement this particular recommendation at this stage, noting their preference that the Government to have the opportunity to first respond to the report.
Mr Shoebridge (Greens) also referred to this report and in committee, moved an amendment to expand the functions of LECC to undertake full investigations in relation to deaths in custody. He also moved a number of amendments that sought to replace the LECC’s current third commissioner with a First Nations commissioner, instead of making the LECC a two-Commissioner model as the bill proposes. All of the Greens amendments were negatived on the voices.
The third reading was agreed to on the voices and the bill sent back to the Assembly for concurrence with the amendment.
STATUTE LAW (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) BILL 2021
The Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Ward, continues a statute law revision program that has been in place for more than 35 years. The bill makes minor changes to multiple Acts and instruments – essentially making small policy changes and ‘tidying up’ Acts by removing typographical errors, updating cross references and repealing redundant provisions. These changes are grouped together to avoid the need for a large number of separate bills.
Minister Ward confirmed the bill would amend 40 Acts and nine instruments to, for example, to include provision for the electronic service of documents and update references to Acts or entities that have been renamed.
Mr Searle said the Opposition did not oppose the bill.
The Greens also did not oppose the bill, however Mr Shoebridge foreshadowed that he would move an amendment in committee of the whole. The amendment would insert an additional change to an Act not included in the bill. For this reason, following the second reading being agreed to on the voices, Mr Shoebridge moved an ‘instruction to committee of the whole’ – a special motion by which the House gives permission for the committee to consider an amendment that would otherwise be outside the leave (or the long title) of the bill. Learn more about instructions here.
Mr Shoebridge moved the instruction because the Local Government Act 1993 was not listed amongst the Acts already amended by the bill (and, according to convention of the House, could arguably be outside the leave of the long title). The instruction was agreed to on division (21 ayes to 16 noes).
In committee of the whole, Mr Shoebridge moved an amendment to the Local Government Act 1993 to make clear that fire and emergency service levies are not to be treated as part of the general income of councils. The Opposition supported the amendment while the Government opposed the amendment, arguing that it was not appropriate for inclusion in a statute law bill.
Mr Shoebridge’s amendment was agreed to on division (21 ayes to 16 noes). The bill as amended was reported to the House, read a third time on the voices, and returned to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.
TAX ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (COMBATING WAGE THEFT) BILL 2021
The Tax Administration Amendment (Combating Wage Theft) Bill was introduced by the Leader of the House, Minister Tudehope, during the first sitting week in May. It seeks to amend the Taxation Administration Act 1996 to, among other things, include measures to deter employers underpaying wages, such as increasing penalties for tax evasion and allowing for companies engaged in wage theft to be publicly named.
The bill had been referred to Portfolio Committee No. 1 for inquiry and report on 11 May. The committee reported on Tuesday morning and the bill was restored to the Notice Paper, enabling the House to resume it’s consideration of the bill.
Leading for the Opposition, Mr Mookhey welcomed the bill’s introduction but said the Opposition would move amendments in committee to expand the circumstances under which Revenue NSW can investigate an employer; provide that information currently published in ministerial guidelines be instead published by way of regulation (as Parliament has the power to disallow regulations, a power that does not extend to guidelines); and make wage theft a criminal offence. Ms Boyd said The Greens also supported the bill but would also move amendments in committee, to ensure that employers exploiting workers are held accountable for their behaviour. Debate on the bill was adjourned until a future sitting day with the Minister speaking in reply.