The NSW Government last week removed the Shooters and Fishers proposed business voting bill from the parliamentary agenda, signalling the bill needed to be revised before being put before parliament.
The upper house was set to discuss the legislation when it sat on Wednesday, September 10 and the bill was expected to pass. At the last minute, the Government withdrew the bill from the agenda.
The following Tuesday (September 16), the NSW Government released its list of amendments to the bill. The amendments were less consequential than expected, with many major elements of the legislation left untouched.
The amended bill has been met with disappointment from parties who opposed the original legislation.
The original bill initially had the full support of the NSW Government but was strongly opposed by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, David Shoebridge MLC, Councillor Linda Scott and Councillor Angela Vithoulkas, as well as a large section of the community.
Opposition to the bill cited that provisions allowing two votes per business, transferring responsibility for elections to the City of Sydney and allowing the City of Sydney Act to be applied to councils across NSW were undemocratic. The campaign said the legislation threatened the principle of “one vote, one value”.
This week, NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole told City Hub the Government had become aware of potential issues with the Shooters and Fishers’ legislation and had decided to amend the bill.
“We support reforms that remove any obstacles that get in the way of people exercising their democratic right,” Mr Toole said.
“Some issues have been brought to our attention and we are currently considering potential amendments.”
The Minister also indicated the future of the legislation would remain in the hands of parliament.
“The proper place for debate is in the NSW Parliament.”
Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Alex Greenwich MP initially indicated they were hopeful the cancellation of the debate on the legislation signals the Government has taken into consideration concerns about the impacts of the legislation.
Both the Lord Mayor and Mr Greenwich indicated it was possible the Government had changed its position on business voting and would amend the Shooters and Fishers legislation to accommodate community concerns.
The Government’s amendments do not in fact address any of the major issues raised by politicians and the public regarding the original bill. The provision of two votes for businesses, the provision of transferring responsibility for elections to the City of Sydney and of allowing the bill to be applied to other councils remain intact following the amendments.
The Lord Mayor and Mr Greenwich both expressed disappointment following this revelations.
“We’ve just found out that despite strong opposition from the community and business, the NSW Liberal Government will support the Elephant Shooters Bill to give businesses two votes and is expected to ram the changes through Parliament by the end of the week,” said the Lord Mayor.
“They have released a set of minor amendments which are primarily of a technical nature – none address the substantial community concerns.”
Mr Greenwich said the Baird Government’s amendments “merely tinker at the edges” of the legislation, ignoring community concerns.
“Rather than working with the community, businesses, and affected councils, the Baird Government appears to have done a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party that could see radical and undemocratic changes rolled out across New South Wales,” Mr Greenwich said.
Before the Baird Government’s amendments were released, it was believed they may have been a response to the strong community campaign against the bill as well a report released by the NSW Parliament Legislation Review Committee questioning the functionality of the bill.
The first category under which the Committee took issue with the bill was on the basis it “trespasses on personal rights and liberties”.
“The Committee is concerned that in enabling corporations, ratepaying lessees and occupiers or rateable land to nominate two people to be enrolled as electors, then these electors may be granted a disproportionate influence on the election of councillors and mayor when compared to the voting rights of residential voters.”
The Committee also raised concern about the potential for the City of Sydney amendments to be extended to other councils in NSW, saying this “inappropriately delegates legislative power”.
Neither of these elements of the bill have been amended.
As this article goes the print, the bill had passed the second reading in the Legislative Council, with debate on the amendments pending. The bill, with amendments, are expected to be passed in the current sitting of the Legislative Council.