COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) BILL 2020 (and others)
12th May 2020
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:01:05): It is quite extraordinary to be here today to contribute to debate on the extraordinary cognate bills—COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Attorney General) Bill 2020, COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Treasurer) Bill 2020 and COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Miscellaneous) Bill 2020—addressing the Covid-19 pandemic emergency. I do not wish to speak on every provision because wide-ranging matters are embedded in the three bills. It is important that we as representatives of the community—and the Government in particular—ensure that no sector of our community is overlooked in providing a response to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a particular need to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community, including the homeless, low-income families, renters, and those who may suffer chronic physical illness and mental illness, are looked after. Often those issues tend to cascade; they come together and make life just that much more intolerable.
Particular provisions in the bills are setting out to address those issues, particularly relating to residential tenancies, which has caused a great deal of distress, financial stress and emotional stress to numerous people in my electorate. It is pushing people into the realms of what I would consider mental health problems. I am pleased that the bills have some amendments to give some protections and put some power back into the hands of low?income renters and those who are vulnerable. I will quickly speak to a couple of other matters, which may not seem that important. In the "emergency measures—miscellaneous" bill, once again we see what has historically been a little bit of an easy kick: to have a go at local government. For example, in relation to expenditure on council buildings, section 747AC says in part:
From the commencement of this section … a council must not enter a contract or agreement for the carrying out of building work involving a building used (or to be used) by the council in the exercise of its administrative or decision-making functions.
Where that comes from I do not know. I would imagine that there will be different demands on councils and that every council will be slightly different, but council buildings are used by not just councillors and administrative staff but also often by members of the community. Therefore, they are multipurpose. This may well be an example of somebody in their mind saying that that is wrong and taking this opportunity to make the broad?brush amendment and once again lord it over the local government. That is legislating to the lowest common denominator; I do not believe that it is good.
My major concern—and I will be relatively quick here—is around the governance of New South Wales and the expectations that there will be transparency around the management of public funds. That certainly has been put in question by the provisions in the bill related to the Treasurer. Part 2 (6) of the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Treasurer) Bill says, in part:
6 Payments authorised on lapse of appropriation because of delay in 2020–2021 Budget
(1) The Treasurer may authorise payments out of the Consolidated Fund under section 4.10 of this Act until whichever of the following occurs first—
(a) the extended Budget presentation day,
(b) the enactment of the 2020–2021 annual Appropriation Act.
The community would like a lot of understanding of how the finances of the State will be managed through the pandemic. Already the Treasurer has extraordinary powers; the legislation will extend them. In doing so, the bill, as the member for Maroubra said, seeks to allow the Treasurer to set aside the need for monthly statements and a half-yearly review. Those monthly statements are possibly being set aside until 31 October 2021. I have real concern about that. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I am somewhat disappointed that the Government did not, from day one, seek to find alternative methods of providing accountability to the members of the public. The Public Accounts Committee to me seems to be an obvious vehicle that already exists. By the way, it is being used in other jurisdictions around the world but not so here.
That said, the Public Accounts Committee had a closed briefing some two weeks ago. I believe the best case scenario would be for it to be on the public record but not at this stage. I have had further discussions with the Treasurer's office today. I will read on to the record a short letter provided today by the Treasurer, the Hon. Dominic Perrottet, to me as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The letter says:
I refer to discussions between you and my office in relation to regular briefings to the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Assembly.
I am pleased to confirm my offer to provide the Committee with a private briefing every two months by the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate, upon request. The precise time of briefings should be arranged between you or the Committee secretariat and the Secretary's Chief of Staff.
I will take up that request because I think it is the bare minimum that we can do to provide that oversight. The main thing is that we will reinstate the parliamentary sitting schedule on 2 June. That is the most important part of the oversight process that we can have. The Public Accounts Committee will do that. I am hoping that as we work along, we improve the measures, the accountability and transparency, and put the briefings on the record.
This is a start but only a start. I appreciate that the Treasurer has given that concession to me as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I will continue to work for more in that regard. I acknowledge all those who have been working very hard in this space, not just the Government. The Executive has been working very hard. I acknowledge the Premier and the Minister for Health and Medical Research in a very difficult circumstance. As has been said by other members, I also acknowledge all those people on the frontline of providing for people in New South Wales, whether it is logistics, supplying to supermarkets and ensuring that the public transport is working. On International Nurses Day today, I also acknowledge nurses, including my wife and all of her colleagues, who are still out there looking after the vulnerable in our community.
Website: Read full Parliamentary debate