Tuesday saw the House back to Government business in the second week of the epic three-week November sitting block and it was all bills, bills, bills. A number of government bills were received from the Legislative Assembly and a further two were introduced in the House. In the evening, the House considered the Electronic Transactions Amendment (Remote Witnessing) Bill 2021 and the Modern Slavery Amendment Bill 2021.

WHAT DOES ‘URGENT’ MEAN?

Eagle eyed readers will note that a number of bills both received from the Assembly and introduced in the Council were declared ‘urgent’. As we are in the last two sitting weeks of the year, a sessional order introduced in 2019 means that bills received from the Assembly or introduced during this time must be declared ‘urgent’ in order for them to be debated this side of the New Year. Without an urgency motion, the earliest these bills could be debated is the first sitting day in 2022!

Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021

The Teacher Accreditation Amendment Bill 2021 was introduced by Minister Mitchell (Nationals) on Tuesday and declared urgent. The bill seeks to strengthen child protection requirements that form part of teacher accreditation in NSW, and make other changes to the state’s accreditation scheme by amending the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004, enshrining the principle that the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person is paramount.

The bill would also enable the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) – rather than existing teacher accreditation authorities – to grant accreditations for teachers in schools and early childhood education centres. NESA would also be empowered to carry out suitability assessments, revoke or suspend accreditations, and access and share relevant information. The bill also seeks to clarify who in schools or early childhood education centres is required to be accredited, making it clear that it is any person who supports or leads the development or implementation of the delivery and assessment of programs and courses.

Minister Mitchell’s overview of the bill can be found in the Hansard record here. At the conclusion of the Minister’s second reading speech, debate on the bill was adjourned for five calendar days, according to standing orders.

Electoral Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021

The Electoral Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2021, introduced by Minister Harwin (Liberal) and declared urgent. The bill seeks to amend the Electoral Act 2017 to allow any State by-elections held during the pandemic to be conducted in a COVID-safe manner. It does this by expanding the circumstances under which a person can vote by post, or vote early in a State by-election held during the pandemic, allowing voters more flexibility around whether to attend a voting centre in person. Notably, the bill does not expand the circumstances under which a person can vote by iVote and changes made by the bill will be repealed on 30 June 2022.

In addition to the changes proposed above, the bill would also allow the Minister to recommend regulations be made to further modify any of the Electoral Act’s provisions relating to COVID-safe by-elections, provided the regulations are reasonable to protect people from the risk of COVID and are in accordance with advice from the Electoral Commissioner. However, any regulation made could not allow any State by-elections to be conducted exclusively by means of postal voting and iVote. These changes mirror changes made to the Local Government Act 1993 to allow local government elections scheduled for December 2021 to be held in a similarly COVID-safe manner (which you can read about in our blog here).

Minister Harwin’s overview of the bill can be found in the Hansard record here. At the conclusion of the Minister’s second reading speech, debate on the bill was adjourned for five calendar days, according to standing orders.

Electronic Transactions Amendment (Remote Witnessing) Bill 2021

The Electronic Transactions Amendment (Remote Witnessing) Bill 2021 makes permanent three temporary schemes that were brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic for dealing with documents remotely. These schemes are currently in place under the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017 and the Electronic Transactions Act 2000. The temporary schemes that will be extended by this bill are:

  1. A pilot scheme for allowing documents to be witnessed remotely via audio-visual link,
  2. A temporary scheme to allow Australian lawyers to witness oaths, declarations, or affidavits under the Oaths Act 1900 (NSW), and
  3. A temporary provision that expands the class of people who can witness statutory declarations in New South Wales.

The temporary measures were brought in to provide greater flexibility around the witnessing of documents during COVID-19 restrictions (you can read the blog about the bill that introduced the scheme here) and, after consultation with stakeholders, the parts of the scheme that allowed remote witnessing were extended to 1 January 2022 (read our blog on the bill that did that here and read about the bill itself here). Now, this bill will make the changes permanent.

At the conclusion of the second reading debate, the bill was read a third time and returned the bill to the Legislatively Assembly without any amendments. You can read more about the bill, and see what members had to say during the second-read debate, in the day’s Hansard record here.

Modern Slavery Amendment Bill 2021

On Tuesday, the second reading debate on the Modern Slavery Amendment Bill 2021 continued. Introduced by Minister Harwin (Liberal) in the first sitting week in October, you can learn more about what the bill seeks to do in our blog recap here. You can also read that day’s Hansard record here, as well as members’ contributions to the second reading debate from 21 October here.

At the conclusion of the second reading debate, the House resolved into committee of the whole to debate amendments, which were moved by the Government, Opposition and The Greens:

  • Minister Harwin (Liberal Party) moved six amendments (agreed to on the voices)
  • Mr Graham (Labor) moved seven amendments (two agreed to on the voices and five agreed to on division: 18 ayes to 11 noes)
  • Mr Shoebridge (The Greens) moved nine amendments (agreed to on the voices).

Following the committee stage, the bill was read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly for concurrence with the 30 amendments. You can read the end of the second reading debate and full committee-of-the-whole debate in the day’s Hansard record here.

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