It was another busy Private Members’ Day on 20 October, with seven general motions debated and 11 orders for papers agreed to. The House also passed a bill to amend the NSW Constitution to allow members to attend meetings of Parliament remotely. Debate continued on a bill to allow uranium mining and nuclear facilities in NSW, but when debate resumed on a bill to facilitate the administrative independence of the state’s four integrity agencies, a point of order was taken that the bill was an appropriation (money) bill and therefore could not originate in the Council. There’s a lot to cover, so get comfortable and read on!
Constitution Amendment (Virtual Attendance) Bill 2021
Debate resumed on the Constitution Amendment (Virtual Attendance) Bill 2021, introduced by Mr Shoebridge in the previous sitting week. The bill seeks to amend the Constitution Act 1902 to enable members of Parliament to attend meetings of both Houses remotely, by providing that a member is taken to be legally ‘present’ for the purposes of voting and being counted in a quorum.
Leading for the Opposition, Ms Sharpe said that Labor supported the bill, describing it as a means for members to be able to fulfil their role as representatives, notwithstanding the presence of ‘dire’ circumstances that may prevent them from attending Parliament in person. From the crossbench, Mr Roberts (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) and Ms Hurst (Animal Justice) indicated their support for the bill, with Mr Roberts flagging that he would move an amendment in committee of the whole.
Minister Harwin (Liberal) then moved a motion to adjourn debate, which he said was to provide time for the Government to reach a conclusion on the bill. Mr Harwin said that there was no doubt that this matter needed to be addressed, but that the Government’s preference was that debate continue in the November sittings, to ensure all of the bill’s possible implications were considered. This motion was negatived on division (17 ayes, 24 noes) with the Government and Reverend Nile (Christian Democrats) supporting it and the Opposition, The Greens, Animal Justice Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Mr Field and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers opposing it. Mr Harwin then moved a motion to refer the bill to the Procedure Committee, which was defeated with the parties voting in the same way (17 ayes, 24 noes).
The House also divided on the bill’s second reading (24 ayes to 17 noes), with the Government and Reverend Nile (Christian Democrats) opposing the question and the Opposition, The Greens, Animal Justice Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Mr Field and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers supporting it.
In committee of the whole, amendments were moved by both Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and the Opposition. For the former, Mr Roberts moved an amendment to remove the option for members to attend a meeting of the House by audio link and, therefore, to require that they attend by audio-visual link. He said this was a necessary safeguard to verify the identity of those participating in the proceedings, as well as to ensure that the division process wasn’t complicated by someone trying to vote using their voice alone. This amendment was agreed to on the voices.
Mr Searle moved two Opposition amendments. The first inserted what he described as a ‘trigger’ provision, as it would require the Presiding Officer to make a declaration that it was impracticable for members of the House to meet by reason of a public emergency and for the majority of members to request remote attendance, before the House could meet remotely. The second amendment proposed removing the sunset clause (which would automatically repeal the Act in five years). Both amendments were agreed to on division (22 ayes, 16 noes), with the Opposition, Greens, Animal Justice Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Mr Field and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers voting in favour and the Government and Reverend Nile opposing them.
With the third reading of the bill agreed to on the voices, the amended bill was sent to the Assembly for concurrence.
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019
Debate resumed on Mr Latham’s (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019. The bill seeks to repeal the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act 1986 to allow uranium mining and nuclear facilities in NSW. The bill was introduced in 2019 and examined by the State Development Committee, which recommended that the Government support the bill and support uranium mine exploration. (You can read about the first part of the debate on the bill in August 2020 here and the report on the bill by the State Development Committee here).
Members from across the Chamber, including those who had contributed to the committee inquiry, spoke to the bill on Wednesday, with much of the debate centring on the opportunities for and risks involved in nuclear power as a source of energy. Mr Fang (Nationals), Mr Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) and Reverend Nile (Christian Democrats) spoke in favour of using nuclear energy, while Ms Jackson (Labor), Mr Buttigieg (Labor), Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) and Mr Field (Independent) argued that nuclear power is not the answer to the state’s energy needs. Mr Veitch (Labor), also speaking against the bill, noted that, while individual Government members had spoken in support of nuclear power generally, the Government’s position on the bill has not yet been made clear. Minister Tudehope gave a commitment that the Government will consider the bill and broader issues with nuclear power in detail.
Mr Latham, speaking in reply, wrapped up debate by noting that the bill lifts the current ban on nuclear facilities and enables future development of uranium mining, in line with states like South Australia. Mr Latham also noted the bill would allow NSW to develop expertise and other technical nuclear facilities to support nuclear-powered submarines.
Debate was adjourned prior to the question on the second reading being put.
ICAC and other Independent Commissions Legislation Amendment (Independent Funding) Bill 2021
In an unusual turn of events, when debate resumed on the ICAC and other Independent Commissions Legislation Amendment (Independent Funding) Bill 2021 on Wednesday afternoon (a private members’ bill introduced by Mr Borsak), the Leader of the Government (Mr Harwin) immediately took a point of order. Tabling legal advice from the Crown Solicitor which you can read here, Mr Harwin said that, as the bill provided for the payment of money from the Contingency Fund, it was a money bill within the meaning of section 5 of the Constitution Act 1902 and therefore, must originate in the Legislative Assembly.
Responding to the point of order, Mr Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) disputed the characterisation of the bill as a money bill and questioned why this issue was not raised when an identical version of this bill was introduced in 2020. Mr Graham (Labor) said that the House had debated and agreed to the first version of the bill, which contained the exact same terms, in 2020 and questioned the necessity of this point of order.
The Deputy President (Mr Khan, Nationals), who was presiding at the time, determined that as the point of order raised constitutional issues, it was appropriate for him to reserve his ruling and to allow time for all members to consider the advice tabled and, if desired, to make written submissions to him within seven days.
List of general motions and orders for papers
- Mental Health Month 2021 (Mr Farlow, Liberal)
- International Day of Sign Languages 2021 (Ms Boyd, Greens)
- Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales (Mr Veitch, Labor)
- Dingo control, as amended (Mr Pearson, Animal Justice)
- Failure of the Star Casino’s anti-money-laundering controls (Mr Field, Independent) – negatived
- Legacy Week 2021 (Mr Franklin, Nationals)
- 2020 Olympic Games (Mr Martin, Liberal)
Orders for papers
- Changes to the Government’s mobile speed camera program – Further order (Mr Graham, Labor) – due 10 November
- Administration of Insurance and Care NSW (icare) – Further order (Mr Mookhey, Labor) as amended – due 10 November
- South East Bus Changes community feedback survey (Mr Buttigieg, Labor) – due 10 November
- Requests by the NSW Building Commissioner (Mrs Houssos, Labor) – due 10 November
- Audit of Uber (Mr Mookhey, Labor) – due 3 November
- Great Western Highway Upgrade between Katoomba and Lithgow (Mr Searle, Labor) – due 20 November
- “Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities: Hawkesbury Nepean Valley Flood Risk Management Strategy” (Ms Sharpe, Labor) – due 18 November
- Proposed Western Sydney Airport Metro (Mr Graham, Labor) – due 10 November
- Bushfire and evacuation plans for the Greater Macarthur Growth Area (Ms Faehrmann, Greens) – due 10 November
- Revenue NSW investigations into gig economy companies – Further order (Mr Mookhey, Labor), as amended – due 18 November
- Proposed changes to infrastructure contributions (Mr Shoebridge, Greens) – due 10 November