**Thanks for your patience, blog readers! While our overviews of the 19 October sitting week are a little delayed, we hope you still find them handy.**

With the remote-participation TV screens removed from the back of the chamber and stand up and sit down divisions reinstated, Tuesday 19 October saw COVID-safety measures return to those used earlier in the pandemic. Two bills were also agreed to, covering COVID-safe local government elections and arrangements for electric vehicles, as well as a motion to allow the House to accept petitions in electronic format for the first time. Read on for more…

End of remote participation and walk-through divisions

Tuesday saw the end of the House’s brief foray into remote participation, with the removal of the two large screens used to allow members to participate remotely in the previous sitting week. The House also agreed to a motion moved by the Leader of the House (Minister Tudehope, Liberals) discontinuing walk-through divisions, and reinstating ‘stand up and sit down’ divisions. Stand up sit down divisions were introduced during the first wave of COVID in 2020 to reduce members’ movement throughout the chamber.

AGREEMENT TO ePetitions

During formal business, the House agreed to a sessional order moved by Minister Tudehope allowing electronic petitions to be presented to the Legislative Council. Petitioning is a direct mechanism for members of the public to request the Parliament take a particular action – such as amending or introducing a state law. While to date only paper petitions have been able to be accepted, under the new sessional order, web-based petitions can be created through the Council’s new ePetitions system, digitally signed by supporters, and then presented to the House by a member.

The Legislative Council has since launched its ePetitions platform, which you can learn more about here.

Local Government Amendment (Covid-19 Elections Special Provisions) Bill 2021

The second reading debate on the Local Government Amendment (COVID-19 Elections Special Provisions) Bill 2021 concluded, with the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr Franklin, Nationals) delivering the speech in reply on behalf of Minister Harwin (Liberals). The bill would insert a new section into the Local Government Act 1993 to allow regulations to be made to modify any of the Act’s provisions governing the 2021 local council elections, so that they can be conducted in a COVID-safe manner, if required. In his reply speech, Mr Franklin responded to concerns raised by both the Opposition and Greens, reiterating that the measures in the bill were limited to the 2021 elections and would not allow them to be delayed further, or to be conducted wholly by iVote or postal vote.

The House then moved into committee of the whole to consider amendments to the bill – all of which were moved by the Greens. The first sought to impose a deadline of 11 November 2021 by which regulations altering the local government provisions of the Act must be made, in order to ensure that the House had time to consider, and if necessary, disallow them before the elections on 4 December. What do we mean by ‘disallowance’? Read about it in the context of the COVID-19 health orders here. Mr Shoebridge said this limitation was important, given his concerns that the power granted by the bill to make regulations was very broad. This amendment was negatived on division (8 ayes, 30 noes), with the Greens, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and the Animal Justice Party voting in favour and the Government, Opposition and Reverend Nile opposing it.

The second Greens amendment sought to clarify that regulations could be made to apply to one or more councils only (and not to every council in the state), if required. While noting that it was proposed out of abundant caution, Mr Shoebridge said that the amendment allowed a targeted response to be applied to a local government area in isolation, and that the response implemented need not automatically apply to other councils. A third amendment imposed special conditions to require that the necessity for any new regulation be validated by advice from both the Electoral Commissioner and the Chief Health Officer, with this advice then reported by the Minister to the Presiding Officers of each House prior to the new regulation being made.

Amendment number four sought to prohibit the further postponement of the elections after 20 February 2022. All three amendments were negatived on division (10 ayes, 30 noes) with the Greens, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and the Animal Justice Party voting in favour and the Government, Opposition and Reverend Nile opposing it.

The bill was then read a third time and forwarded to the Governor for assent.

Electric Vehicles (Revenue Arrangements) Bill 2021

The second-reading debate on the Electric Vehicles (Revenue Arrangements) Bill 2021 began in the previous sitting week (recap the contributions here) and continued on Tuesday. The bill seeks to introduce a road-user charge for certain zero-emission and low-emission vehicles in NSW, payable on every kilometre travelled across Australia and to begin in 2027 or when electric vehicles make up 30 per cent of all new vehicle sales. It would also exempt electric vehicles from stamp duty charges – first for cars under $78,000, and later all electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

On the last sitting day, Mr Latham (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) moved that the bill be referred for inquiry and report by the Legislative Council’s Transport and Customer Service Committee. On Tuesday this motion was negatived on division, 7 ayes to 32 noes.

The House then resolved into committee of the whole to consider a significant number of amendments – more than 70 of them!

Mr Latham moved a large suite of amendments which sought to:

  • Take out reference to ‘low-emission vehicles’ in the bill, effectively removing its coverage of hybrid vehicles
  • Limit road-user charges to travel on roads within NSW
  • Remove or limit the relevant Minister’s regulatory powers under the bill – including but not limited to allowing the Minister to exempt certain types of vehicles from the application of the new Act
  • Limit stamp duty exemptions applied in the bill
  • Provide that revenue from road-user charges be ‘hypothecated’ (legally pledged) to road maintenance and improvement costs
  • Increase per-kilometre road-user charges, and exempt vehicles of local government authorities from these charges
  • Calculate road-user charges on average distances travelled by NSW road users, and not by user estimates, in the absence of odometer readings
  • Bring forward the implementation of the road-user charge
  • Restrict Transport for NSW in implementing devices or systems to measure vehicle travel, access and share information and more.

All amendments were negatived either on division or on the voices.

Ms Boyd (Greens) also moved a series of amendments to:

  • Include administration fees collected under the new Act into a central revenue pool, not just the road-user charges
  • Tighten privacy provisions, including in the collection of distance-travelled readings and through restriction of the types of information and documents able to be requested, transferred and disclosed under the Act
  • Provide for the pre-payment of road-user charges – including removing the potential for fines for vehicle users who travel over their prepaid amount, as well as changes to provisions for fines when users fail to pay road-user charges at all
  • Prevent regulations under the new Act from establishing further administration fees relating to road-user charges
  • Require the Minister to provide information about the progress and percentage of electric vehicle registrations in NSW – noting the road-user charge would begin when electric vehicles make up 30 per cent of all new vehicles or in 2027, whichever comes first.

These amendments were agreed on the voices.

Further amendments from Ms Boyd, negatived either on the voices or on division, sought to reduce a vehicle’s road-user charge by the amount incurred in tolls during a particular period, and make changes to offence provisions.

Mr Mookhey (Labor) also moved an amendment to bring forward a review of the operation of the new Act to two years after its implementation, instead of five. He noted debate on the bill had raised a number of issues of concern, and said sooner examination by a parliamentary committee would allow expert voices to be heard on those issues, before the bill’s road-user charge came into effect. It was agreed to on the voices.

Following committee of the whole, the bill was read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly for its consideration of the amendments.

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