Published on: June 2020
Legislation Review Committee
Report: Legislation Review Digest No. 15/57
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Sonia Hornery):
The question is that the House take note of the report.
Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (13:02):
:00 As Chair, I address the House on behalf of the Legislation Review Committee on the fifteenth digest for this Parliament, tabled on 2 June. In this digest, as was the case with previous digests, the committee continued to consider emergency legislation related to COVID-19. It also considered two private members' bills. In addition, the committee considered 11 regulations of which it reported on two. Turning first to the COVID-19 related legislation. In this digest the committee considered three cognate bills: COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Attorney General) Bill; COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Miscellaneous) Bill; and COVID-19 Legislation (Emergency Measures—Treasurer) Bill.
As with the previous emergency legislation that the committee has considered, these bills contained a number of extraordinary provisions. For the most part, the committee found that though these extraordinary provisions impacted on a variety of personal rights and liberties, they were reasonable in the circumstances to respond to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. For example, the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Treasurer) Bill extended the date by which the Treasurer would be required to present the 2020-2021 budget to Parliament. It also allowed the Treasurer, on the lapse of the 2019-2020 appropriations, to authorise much larger payments from the Consolidated Fund and for a longer time than would otherwise be possible before the 2020-2021 budget was presented.
The committee noted that the bill thereby included a wide and ill-defined administrative power affecting the right of citizens to know how public money is being spent. However, it further noted that the delayed presentation of the budget would allow the Government to allocate resources when it has a greater idea of the economic impacts of COVID-19. Given this, the committee acknowledged that until the budget is presented, it is necessary to grant the Treasurer extraordinary powers to spend consolidated revenue so that agencies are funded. The committee also acknowledged certain safeguards in the bill so that citizens continue to get information about how public money is being spent. This includes a requirement for the Treasurer to continue to publicly release certain monthly financial statements unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so. In short, given these safeguards and the extraordinary conditions created by COVID-19, the committee considered that the new powers granted to the Treasurer were reasonable and made no further comment.
While the committee generally considered that the extraordinary provisions contained in these three COVID-19 bills were reasonable in the circumstances, there were a few exceptions. On occasion, the committee found that a provision may impact unduly on personal rights and liberties. For example, it noted a provision in the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Miscellaneous) Bill 2020 that would allow an unauthorised medical practitioner to require a person to undergo medical testing if the person was reasonably suspected of having certain medical conditions, including COVID-19. The committee recognised that the provision was intended to protect public health through increased testing. However, it found that by requiring a person to submit to medical testing, the provisions may unduly trespass on the right to personal physical integrity. The committee therefore referred this matter to the Parliament for consideration.
I turn now to legislation not related to the pandemic. As mentioned, the committee considered two private members' bills in this digest. One was the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020. This bill seeks to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 by introducing a new ground of unlawful discrimination, discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs or activities. However the bill would create an exception for religious ethos organisations. Such organisations would be taken not to have discriminated on the grounds of religious beliefs or activities if they fulfilled certain criteria. For example, if they genuinely believed that their conduct was consistent with the doctrine or beliefs of their religion. The bill defines religious ethos organisations quite broadly to include private educational authorities, charities and any other body that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion.
The committee found that, if passed, the bill may thereby protect behaviour of certain organisations, including educational authorities and charities that is currently deemed to be discriminatory under the Anti‑Discrimination Act. For instance, it might mean that if a school or charity gave preference to a person of its religion in areas covered by the bill—like employment or education—this behaviour would be protected. In making these observations the committee acknowledged that the bill seeks to balance freedom of religion with other human rights. However, it referred the provisions to the Parliament to consider whether these are reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. That concludes my remarks on the fifteenth digest of this Parliament. I commend the digest to the House.
Mr DAVID MEHAN (The Entrance) (13:07):Legislation Review Digest No. 15
:06 I contribute to debate on of this Parliament. The committee considered six bills, of which it commented on five. It also considered 11 regulations, of which it commented on two. Of the bills commented on and examined by the committee, three were quite far-reaching COVID-19 related bills. As I have said previously, they are collected on the committee's website. The COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures—Treasurer) Bill authorises the Treasurer to make allocations outside of the budget of 2019-20. These important and far-reaching bills have been collected on the committee's website for further reference by members of this place and by the public.
The committee also commented on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, a private member's bill currently before the other place. Religious freedom is an issue that excites those of a conservative frame of mind, and while the bill is currently before the other place if it does reach this House I encourage members to refer to the committee's comments. Those extensive comments outline in detail the effect of this private member's bill and the impact that it would have on the rights and liberties of the people of New South Wales were it to become law. I thank my fellow committee members and the secretariat who supports us. I commend the digest to the House.