The final day of June’s first sitting week, Thursday involved the passage of two bills, the introduction of a third, and debate on a range of matters – from a regulation concerning the burning of native forest bio-materials, to the Government’s energy program, which was debated as a matter of public importance. A message from the Legislative Assembly also saw the Legislative Council revisiting amendments made to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021.
DISALLOWANCE OF A STATUTORY RULE – PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT OPERATIONS (GENERAL) AMENDMENT (NATIVE FOREST BIO-MATERIAL) REGULATION 2020
In the morning, Mr Field (Independent) moved a motion to disallow the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2020. Wondering what ‘disallowance’ is? Read more here.
Under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009, the burning of native forest bio-materials (such as trees and shrubbery) to generate electricity is banned. In 2014, the definition of ‘native forest bio-material’ was changed, allowing trees cleared from thinning and offcuts from forestry operations to be burnt. At the same time, an exemption was granted to three sugar mills to allow them to burn this material, provided they report monthly on the source, the volume and the type of biomaterial being burnt. The 2020 Regulation introduced a further change to what is considered ‘native forest bio-material’, permitting the three sugar mills to also burn native trees cleared as a result of development, road construction and maintenance, as well as from emergency clean-up activities.
Mr Field said that he had moved for the disallowance because since 2014, the three sugar mills had almost entirely failed to comply with their monthly reporting requirements. Mr Field said that this longstanding non-compliance, coupled with the expansion of the type of material that could now be burnt had prompted his concerns.
Both the Government and Opposition indicated they would oppose the motion, with Mr Franklin (Nationals) saying that disallowance of the regulation could remove the certainty of energy supply relied on by these sugar mills. Ms Sharpe (Labor) argued that the regulation allowed material that would otherwise go to waste to be used for a better purpose and stated that the Environment Protection Authority was well placed to ensure the sugar mills complied with their statutory obligations. Mr Shoebridge indicated that The Greens would support the disallowance, on the basis that they were generally opposed to expanding provision for native forest biomass to be burned to produce electricity.
The motion was negatived on the voices.
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – the government’s energy program
Following debate on the regulation, the House discussed a matter of public importance moved by Mr Latham relating to the Government’s energy program. Matters of Public Importance allow the House to discuss the merits of an issue without obliging the House to vote on the matter at the conclusion of the discussion.
Mr Latham said that a number of the Government’s energy projects, such as pumped hydro and solar panel batteries had failed because they had not received the investment or take-up anticipated. Mr Latham also observed that Government programs to assist vulnerable households who cannot pay their electricity bills were not tracking as intended, as most funds initially allocated to these programs had been reallocated.
The Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Franklin, Nationals) disputed Mr Latham’s characterisation of the Government’s energy program, citing the anticipated private investment it was expected to generate. Mr Searle (Labor) said that the Opposition was concerned that requisite assistance was not available to vulnerable households; he also challenged the Government to respond to Mr Latham’s assertion that budget funds for these programs had been reallocated. Mr Searle also questioned Mr Franklin’s assertion that the Government had ‘turned around’ energy policy in NSW, referring to the negative effect the privatisation of NSW’s electricity system had had on energy prices. Mr Field (Independent) and Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) also spoke to the matter, emphasising the importance renewable energy sources would play in future electricity generation.
ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS) BILL 2021
Introduced by Minister Harwin, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Local Government Elections) Bill 2021 seeks to make a number of amendments to the Electoral Funding Act 2018, in the lead up to local government elections planned for September this year.
The bill expands the circumstances in which a party agent can choose to be responsible for electoral expenditure and donations disclosures – which are required to be disclosed to the NSW Electoral Commission – on behalf of endorsed candidates, councillors or groups. At present, candidates, councillors and groups are generally responsible for making their own disclosures during local council elections. According to Minister Harwin, this bill would align the requirements more closely with those for State elections, where party agents are automatically responsible for disclosures, as well as for correctly accepting any political donations received. The bill would also allow the NSW Electoral Commission to conduct COVID-safe elections in September 2021, if required. Debate on the bill was adjourned until a later hour.
BUILDING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2021
Passing the Legislative Assembly earlier in the week, the Building Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 was introduced in the Upper House by Parliamentary Secretary Mr Farlow, on behalf of the Leader of the House Minister, Minister Tudehope.
The bill makes a range of amendments to the state’s building, design and electricity legislation, including Acts that support the Building Commissioner and NSW Fair Trading in regulating the construction industry. Mr Farlow said the amendments made by the bill would enhance the compliance and enforcement powers of the industry’s regulators to detect, investigate and require the rectification of serious building defects – helping secure behaviour change in the construction industry, improve building quality, and restore consumer confidence.
The bill also imposes a levy on developers to contribute to the cost of a new scheme established under the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020. Under this scheme, only registered design and building practitioners can verify that building work complies with the Building Code of Australia and other prescribed standards – ensuring that critical parts of buildings are compliant and safe.
During debate, Mr Mookhey said the Opposition did not oppose the bill, noting amendments agreed to in the Legislative Assembly that improved safety for workers in the electrical trades industry. Mr Shoebridge said The Greens would support the bill with key amendments, which he moved during committee of the whole (discussed below). The second reading was agreed to on the voices.
In committee, Mr Shoebridge moved amendments that sought to vary regulation-making powers under the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 to ensure that regulations to exempt persons, bodies, works and/or registrations from the Act’s provisions would not apply to the Act’s insurance requirements, and to limit any exemptions granted to a maximum period of 12 months. A further amendment required the Secretary to delegate to the Building Commissioner the power to refuse occupation certificates when there has been a failure by a developer to comply with a notice (making this a statutory rather than discretionary delegation power).
All amendments were agreed to on the voices before the bill was read a third time and sent back to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence.
CONSIDERATION OF AMENDMENTS TO THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS AMENDMENT BILL 2021
In March 2021, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by the Legislative Council with four amendments and sent back to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence. You can revisit its passage through the Council in our earlier blog here.
On Thursday, a message was received from the Assembly noting that one of the Council’s amendments to the bill, which makes changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (POCTA), had been agreed to. This amendment related to the powers of a court to impose an ‘interim disqualification order’ on a person who is the subject of animal cruelty proceedings – allowing a court to both prohibit that person from acquiring new animals, and from keeping animals already in their possession.
However, the Assembly did not agree to the remaining three Council amendments and instead proposed new amendments, which retained elements of the Council’s original amendments. The House resolved into committee of the whole to consider these alternative amendments:
- The first amendment automatically prohibited a person convicted of a serious animal cruelty offence from owning or working with animals in the future.
- The second amendment reinstated the definitive list of who may prosecute an animal cruelty offence and also extended the limitation period to three years after an inspector is made aware of an offence.
- The third amendment extended the deadline by which a revised version of the Code of Practice relating to the breeding of dogs and cats must be published by the Minister.
The amendments were supported by the Government and were not opposed by the Opposition or The Greens. Speaking on behalf of the Animal Justice Party, Ms Hurst said her party did not oppose most of the changes, but was concerned that the bill would no longer allow for private prosecutions.
The House agreed on the voices to not insist on its original three amendments and to agree to the three alternative amendments proposed by the other House. A message was then forwarded to the Assembly to advise the outcome of the Council’s consideration. While agreement was reached in this instance, this isn’t always the case – read about what happens when the Houses continue to disagree.
MUTUAL RECOGNITION (NEW SOUTH WALES) AMENDMENT BILL 2021
The Mutual Recognition (New South Wales) Amendment Bill 2021 is tied to federal legislation to introduce a uniform scheme across Australia, allowing people registered for an occupation in their home state or territory to carry on that occupation in another part of the country without needing to apply for a second registration or pay a second fee in that second location.
The bill, which would amend the Mutual Recognition (New South Wales) Act 1992, was the subject of an Upper House inquiry – with the final report tabled earlier in the sitting week and available to read here.
In the second reading speech, Parliamentary Secretary Mr Farlow said automatic mutual recognition would make it easier and less expensive for businesses and workers to operate across jurisdictions. He further noted that local laws would be applied to interstate registration holders, so that local regulators could still take necessary enforcement actions to maintain protections for businesses, employees and consumers.
Mr Mookhey said the Opposition did not oppose the bill but would move an amendment during committee of the whole to address concerns that certain occupations are not “harmonised” across Australian jurisdictions, with sometimes significant variations across high-risk occupations relating to required qualifications and other aspects. Ms Boyd said The Greens opposed the bill in its current form, and would be supporting the Opposition’s forthcoming amendment.
During committee of the whole, Mr Buttigieg (Labor) moved an amendment to exempt certain industries from automatic mutual recognition, including occupations within the electrical, teaching, mining, diesel mechanic and building, maintenance and construction industries. The amendment would require the Minister to consult with industry experts to ensure that an industry or occupation is harmonised before being included in the mutual recognition scheme. In effect, the amendments provided for occupations to ‘opt in’ to the scheme, rather than to ‘opt out’ as originally envisaged by the bill. Mr Farlow, Ms Boyd, Rev Nile (Christian Democratic Party) and Mr Seale (Labour) all spoke in support of the amendment, before it was agreed to on the voices.
The third reading was agreed to on the voices, and the bill was returned to the Legislative Assembly for consideration of the Council’s amendments.