Back in 1989, in a typical NSW fudge, instead of getting a Bill of Rights, we got a Parliamentary Legislative Review Committee with the task of reporting on any draft legislation that “trespasses unduly on personal rights and liberties, or makes rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon insufficiently defined administrative powers, or makes rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon non-reviewable decisions, or inappropriately delegates legislative powers, or insufficiently subjects the exercise of legislative power to parliamentary scrutiny”.
“Good”, said NSW citizens. “At least our rights will be protected from bad laws”.
Many of us were pleased when the Legislative Review Committee reported on the Planning Minister Frank Sartor’s package of Bills ‘reforming’ the Planning system of NSW. The Committee noted some 35 places where the proposed legislation was in breach of the rights and principles set out above. These findings were similar to many of the issues raised by the Bar, the solicitors, local government and many others.
We were further heartened by the signature of Mr Roy Smith MLC on the Report of the Committee. Mr Smith is a member of the Shooters Party, which, by means of the manipulation of the extraordinary voting system for the Upper House, controls the numbers in that House.
We were especially relieved to see Mr Smith’s support for the Legislative Committee’s criticisms of the Planning Bills because we were aware that the Minister had an application on his desk for an unpopular shooting range in the Southern Highlands. “Good on him,” we said, “A legislator standing up for citizen’s rights”.
What we didn’t know was that the day before the Bill was to be put to the Upper House, the NSW Cabinet had agreed to support a Bill introduced by Mr Smith watering down the gun laws passed following Port Arthur. With Mr Smith’s supporting vote the Planning Bills passed through the Upper House last Wednesday. There were only a couple of minor amendments, with the Coalition opposing it outright and the Greens moving some 90 unsuccessful amendments.
The payoff to the Shooters came quickly. The next day the guns laws were introduced into the Lower House by the Government and, in under an hour, were whizzed through just in time for the Winter Recess.