30 May 2017

2nd Reading Speech

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 15:08 ): I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Electronic Transactions Legislation Amendment (Government Transactions) Bill 2017. The Opposition does not oppose the bill. Despite its title, it does not really have anything to do with the Electronic Transactions Act 1999. It has more similarities with the statute law revision legislation in that it makes a series of amendments to a wide range of Acts and other legislative instruments. This bill has a number of purposes and objects. One is to provide for a trial of digital driver licences. Despite this involving amendments to the Road Transport Act 2013 within the portfolio of the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, the carriage of the bill is with the Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Minister Dominello, in the other place.

The shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property in the other place will make some further comments on behalf of the Opposition. In this part of the bill the relevant provisions are in schedule 5. Schedule 6 to the bill postpones the commencement of portions of the Strata Schemes Management Act. Our relevant shadow Minister in the other place, the member for Swansea, will give some more commentary on that part of the bill. This should be very embarrassing for the Government, because when it introduced that legislation it considered it to be significant reform. It was to commence on 1 July 2017 but is now being delayed by some months. That calls into question the competence of the Government in rolling out its reform plans. It is a bit like the Fire and Emergency Services Levy. We now understand the Government will have to legislate to unwind that before the budget and if it ever gets it back on track it will have to re-legislate it. This echoes that situation. It is becoming a bit of a habit with this Government, which must be causing the community to question its basic competence.

Other aspects of the other bill include the facilitation of service of documents by email to allow for the use of approved forms instead of using statutory declarations, and to provide for the online publication of public notes announcements and advertisements. There is also a proposal to make minor amendments. In particular, schedule 4 contains amendments to a range of Acts. Schedule 1 amends 40 Acts or regulations and allows notices and other documents to be served by sending a notice or other documents concerned to an email address specified by the recipient or by other means as may be prescribed. Various ways of service are set out in the provisions and include quite exhaustive methods. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary in her reply to indicate the purpose of the regulation-making power.

Schedule 3 provides amendments allowing for the online publication of government notices—not just restricting it to publications in the print media—in relation to provisions in the Charitable Fundraising Act, the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act, the Storage Liens Act and the Uncollected Goods Act. These provisions provide for publication on a website that in the opinion of the authority or agency concerned is appropriate to cause the notice to come to the attention of the persons in the district concerned. This seems to potentially expand the discretion of the agency concerned, for example, to include notification of compulsory land acquisitions. The question is whether the provision is designed to hide rather than to disclose such intention. I ask the Government to clarify that.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: So cynical for one so young.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I acknowledge that interjection. It is caused by the actions of your Government over the past six sorry years. This seems to potentially expand the discretion of the agency concerned. The provisions being replaced refer to papers circulating in the area concerned, which seems to us to be a more objective and clear test than the one it replaces, relying as it does on the opinion of the agency. Schedule 2 provides for the use of approved forms to replace statutory declarations in relation to the Associations Incorporation Act, the Conveyancers Licensing Act, the Co-operative Housing and Starr-Bowkett Societies Act, the Duties Act, the Fisheries Management (Aquaculture) Regulation, the Impounding Act and an exhausting array of other enactments.

Criminal penalties will apply to false claims in approved forms, as they do to statutory declarations. The practical purpose of the amendment is to allow forms to be completed online. The sidelining of justices of the peace [JPs] achieved by the legislation seems to be part of a wider trend. The Government’s disregard of the requests made by the NSW Justices Association—especially relating to training and JP portals—is consistent with the sidelining of their role. The recent attitude by the Department of Justice about proof of life forms and JPs is unexplained, to say the least, as well as profoundly inconvenient for the constituents of many lower House members. In sidelining their role this legislation almost has an incidental consequence that is unfortunate, unless of course that was the Government’s intention. If it was, the Government should have drawn someone’s attention to that. With those pointed remarks, the Opposition will not be opposing the legislation.