It’s Budget week! Did you catch our explainer on the budget process and appropriation bills? We’ve packaged all our commentary into one for this week, as arrangements relating to the Budget and a covid outbreak in Sydney saw the sittings condense for the week. Read more below!
TUESDAY 22 JUNE
ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS) BILL 2021 AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (ELECTIONS) BILL 2021
Debate resumed on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Local Government Elections) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Harwin in the previous sitting week. The bill seeks to make a number of amendments to the Electoral Funding Act 2018 relating to the declaration of political donations as well as the safe conduct of local government elections in the COVID pandemic. The bill also seeks to amend the Local Government Act 1993, to enable technology assisted ivoting (iVote) in local government elections for the first time.
Leading for the Opposition, Mr Graham (Labor) said that they would not oppose the bill but queried its timing, observing that it had been introduced late in the electoral cycle, with local government elections just 73 days away. Mr Graham also expressed the Opposition’s reservations regarding the extension of technology assisted voting (iVote) to local government elections. Mr Shoebridge said that The Greens also would not oppose the bill, despite similar concerns about the expansion of iVote. He indicated that he would move an amendment in committee of the whole, seeking to prohibit property developers from being councillors. The second reading was agreed to on the voices.
Following the second reading, Minister Harwin moved an instruction to committee of the whole to provide it with the power to divide the bill into two bills –the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Local Government Elections) Bill 2021 and a new bill, the Local Government Amendment (Elections) Bill 2021. Want a refresher on instructions? See our previous post.
The first bill would deal with election funding arrangements for the upcoming elections (the provisions set out in Schedule 1 of the original bill) and the second with amendments to the Local Government Act around COVID-safe elections (set out in Schedule 2 of the original bill). Mr Shoebridge also moved an instruction to allow the committee to consider The Greens’ amendments dealing with the prohibition on property developers, which were outside the leave of the long title of the original bill.
At the beginning of committee of the whole, Mr Harwin, having earlier gained the House’s agreement to move the instruction, moved an amendment to divide the bill.
Mr Shoebridge, whose instruction was also agreed to by the House earlier, moved an amendment to the Local Government Amendment (Elections) Bill to prohibit property developers from being elected to council. Mr Shoebridge said that this prohibition was designed to address the inherent conflict of interest between being both a property developer and a local councillor, given councils’ role in determining development applications and rezoning land.
Mr Latham said One Nation would oppose the amendment on the basis that it was a basic democratic right to be able to run for office and that existing rules requiring councillors to declare conflicts of interest were enough to mitigate any risk. Mr Harwin also indicated the Government would oppose the amendment, suggesting such a major change should have been considered by the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters before being proposed. Mr Graham indicated the Opposition would support the amendment, noting that Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations had shown that NSW has a particular problem regarding the relationship between local government and property developers. The amendment was agreed to on division, 23 ayes to 18 noes, with Mr Harwin’s amendment (to split the bill) as amended by Mr Shoebridge (to prohibit property developers from being elected to Council) agreed to on the voices. Both bills were read a third time and sent to the Assembly for consideration.
FAMILIES, COMMUNITIES AND DISABILITY SERVICES MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENT BILL 2021
On Tuesday, the Families, Communities and Disability Services Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2021 was introduced in the Council – where members agreed that the bill be considered an urgent bill, enabling it to pass through all stages in the one sitting.
DID YOU KNOW? Whereas debate on a bill introduced in the LC is usually adjourned for five calendar days following its introduction, declaring it “urgent” allows the second reading debate to take place immediately or at any future time. In effect, this can see a bill pass through the Council on the same day it is received
During the second reading speech, Parliamentary Secretary Mr Martin said the bill would make a number of amendments to several Acts relating to families, communities and disability services in NSW, including but not limited to:
- Amending the Adoption Act 2000 to improve information sharing, including by allowing a person to access adoption information contained within court records, such as non-identifying information about their birth parents, without having to apply directly to the court.
- Amending the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act 2019 to improve protections for older people and people with a disability, including expanding protections offered to those who provide assistance to the Ageing and Disability Commission relating to reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
- Amending the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 to clarify the powers and processes of the Children’s Court, including extending the time during which a court may require a report on a child’s care and protection to be provided to it, from 12 months to 24 months. Amendments would also allow a court to act on the content of a report, by making a new supervision order or new care arrangements, as well as granting discretion to a court to determine whether a Guardian ad Litem needs to be appointed, rather than making their appointment mandatory
- Amending the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987, including to clarify the type of person who can be detained in a youth detention centre.
- Amending the Children’s Guardian Act 2019 to require entities that report to the Children’s Guardian to have a nominated head (such as a CEO), so that person can ensure reporting requirements are met.
The Opposition, The Greens and Reverend Nile all indicated their support for the bill, with Mr Shoebridge flagging that The Greens would move an amendment to the provisions relating to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 in committee of the whole. The second reading was agreed to on the voices.
In committee, Mr Shoebridge sought to tighten the conditions under which a report prepared by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) relating a child under a supervision order, can be delayed by more than 12 months.
According to the bill a court can accept a report lodged after 12 months if it considers the delay is reasonable under the circumstances and it is in the best interests of the child. Mr Shoebridge’s amendment sought to add an additional condition which would require the Court to also be satisfied that there are ‘compelling reasons to justify the delay in receiving the report.’
The Government and Opposition opposed the amendment, with members from both sides stating that they did not want to further limit the courts’ discretion as there are often unavoidable delays in producing these reports. The amendment was negatived on the voices, before the bill was read a third time and returned to the Assembly.
WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE
Private members’ day on Wednesday saw a number of orders for papers debated and agreed to, spanning the 2021-2022 budget through to private native forestry plans. A number of private members’ motions were also debated, with a full list included below.
MASKS IN THE CHAMBER
At the start of the day the President made a statement regarding COVID-19 and Parliament House, informing members that several members had taken COVID tests after visiting a potential exposure site. For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, members wore masks in the Chamber – a measure that accompanied more longstanding COVID-safe measures implemented in 2020 such as social distancing and a new process for divisions
The following motions were resolved:
- Ration Challenge 2021 (Mr Shoebridge, Greens) – agreed to as formal business
- Select committee on floodplain harvesting (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – agreed to as amended
- Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (Mr Latham, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) – negatived on division (5 ayes, 34 noes)
- Public Accountability Committee inquiry into the Transport Asset Holding Entity (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – agreed to
- Animal sentience, as amended (Mr Pearson, Animal Justice) – negatived, following the casting vote of the President
- NSW Rural Fire Service Awards (Mr Amato, Liberal)
- Public Works Committee inquiry into the Office of Sport (Mr Latham, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) – agreed to
- 150 years + 1 of Forbes Shire Council (Mr Farraway, Nationals) agreed to.
- Response to order for papers regarding jobs created by the COVID-19 Recovery Plan (Mr Primrose, Labor) – agreed to on division (19 ayes, 13 noes)
- Native forest logging (Mr Shoebridge, Greens) – negatived on division (5 ayes, 27 noes)
- Healthcare workers across New South Wales (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – agreed to on division (20 ayes, 12 noes)
Orders for papers
The following orders for papers were agreed to:
- 2021-2022 Budget Finances (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 14 July
- 2021-2022 Budget (Mr Mookey, Labor) – due 14 July
- Dam Infrastructure Projects – Further Order (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – due 14 July
- Mobile speed camera program (Mr Graham, Labor) – due 14 July
- Hospital developments (Mr Secord, Labor) – due 14 July
- Workforce planning for public schools, as amended (Mrs Houssos, Labor) – due 14 July
- Firearms inspections and licensing, as amended (Mr Borsak, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – due 14 July
- Monaro Farming Systems – Further Order (Mr Veitch, Labor) – due 21 July
- Report entitled ‘Building on Strong Foundations: A review of state-owned corporations’ (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 14 July
- Australian Clay Target Association (Mr Shoebridge, Greens) – due 14 July
- Courses offered by TAFE NSW (Mr Veitch, Labor ) – due 21 July
- Transport and Roads Infrastructure, as amended (Mr Graham, Labor) – due 14 July
- Exhibited animals (Mr Hurst, Animal Justice) – due 14 July
- Intersection of Calala Lane and Campbell Road (Mr Banasiak, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – due 14 July
- School Infrastructure NSW Projects – Further Order, as amended (Mrs Houssos, Labor) – due 14 July
- Mice plague in New South Wales, as amended (Mr Veitch, Labor) – due 21 July
- Redevelopment of the Sydney Fish Markets (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 14 July
- Real estate licence of Mr Daryl Maguire (Mrs Houssos, Labor) – due 14 July
- Private native forestry plans (Mr Field, Independent) – due 14 July
Thursday 24 June
In view of news that a member of the Legislative Assembly had tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, proceedings for Thursday in the Council looked significantly different to those planned. With the Council still to receive and debate the annual appropriation bills, a significantly reduced number of members met at 5.00pm to pass two of the bills and refer the provisions of another to a committee. By agreement, only 18 members entered the chamber and each had been tested that day and received a negative COVID result. The delay to the scheduled start time of 10 am was affected by utilising the sessional order introduced at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, which allows the President to postpone a scheduled meeting of the House, in the event of a public health concern.
The sitting took a matter of 10 minutes, resulting in one of the speediest sitting days on record. Read on below to understand how things were able to move so quickly!
Conduct of business and special adjournment
To facilitate the swift conduct of proceedings, Minister Tudehope (Liberal) moved a conduct of business motion to provide for the following:
- Motions listed for consideration as formal business (without debate) to be set down for consideration on the next sitting day
- No question time
- The motion for the adjournment of the House be decided without debate
- Consideration of the Appropriation Bill 2021 and Appropriation (Parliament) Bill 2021 to take precedence of all other business.
Mr Tudehope also moved a ‘special adjournment’ motion – this had the effect of authorising the House to skip the sitting day originally scheduled for Friday 25 June 2021, and to reconvene on the next sitting day scheduled after the winter recess (being Tuesday 10 August 2021), unless the President (or if the President is unwell and unable to act, the Deputy President) fixes an alternative day. This special motion enables the House to be recalled during the winter recess in the event of an emergency – a timely provision given the health considerations at play when the House adjourned.
Appropriation Bill 2021 and Appropriation (Parliament) Bill
The Appropriation Bill 2021 and Appropriation (Parliament) Bill 2021 were agreed to swiftly and without amendment. Earlier in the day, the Legislative Assembly had separated the following cognate bills from the appropriation bills to enable consideration of the Appropriation Bill and Appropriation (Parliament) Bill to be finalised as soon as possible:
- Electric Vehicles (Revenue Arrangements) Bill 2021,
- Environmental Planning and Assessment (Infrastructure Contributions) Bill 2021 (see below for more on this bill)
- NSW Generations Funds Amendment Bill 2021.
These bills will most likely be introduced into the Council when the House resumes in August. Given debate on the appropriation bills usually spans a number of days, their swift movement through both Houses (with the Opposition Leader in the Legislative Assembly postponing his speech in reply until August) reflected the unprecedented nature of events taking place in Parliament House that day.
Referral of bill to Portfolio Committee No. 7
Following negotiation with other members to facilitate an expedited sitting, Mr Tudehope moved a motion by leave and without previous notice (ie. with the unanimous support of all members present) to refer the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Infrastructure Contributions) Bill 2021 to Portfolio Committee No. 7 for inquiry and report by 10 August 2021. Technical point: when a bill hasn’t yet arrived into our House, the provisions of the bill are referred to a committee rather than the bill itself. Council members were keen to ensure that Portfolio Committee No. 7 could use the winter recess to review and consult on the matters covered in the bill so that members have access to the committee’s report by the time the bill reaches the Council when the Assembly resumes in August. This method of referral will enable the committee to consider the impacts of the bill, without preventing its continued passage through the Assembly.