Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown contributed to the unprecedented bill implementing urgent measures to deal with the COVID19 pandemic on behalf of the Greens.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (13:23:17): On behalf of The Greens I make a brief contribution to this unprecedented COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020. I flag that my colleagues in the other place, Mr David Shoebridge, Ms Cate Faehrmann and Ms Abigail Boyd, are looking at the specific measures around justice, local government and domestic violence protections. They are also looking at ensuring consultation with health and mental health sectors. I echo the concerns raised in relation to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act provisions for ministerial orders. I also flag that my colleague Mr Jamie Parker has been looking at those. The Greens wish to look at whether further limits can be placed on those or whether they can be clarified at least, because those powers seem to be broad.
I also flag—and I acknowledge the Attorney General referred to the fact that we are moving at a rapid pace—that The Greens have a specific concern about homeless people under the Public Health Act provision changes. If someone was not complying with an order and police were required to return that person to their place of residence, that obviously does not work for anyone who is sleeping rough or who is homeless. We have circulated an amendment that seeks to refer those people to whatever is the appropriate place for them to be returned, as is articulated by the Department of Communities and Justice through the Link2Home phone number and officers. However, I understand an alternative amendment is being drafted. We hope the Government will bring that change into the other place to address that issue.
The Greens are also concerned that no protection is being offered or provided in this legislation to people who are currently at risk of being evicted from rental properties into homelessness in this State. We have been calling for a moratorium on evictions. As I understand it, there may be some shifts around measures for renters through the National Cabinet meeting tonight. However, we need some assurances that the New South Wales Government is taking the plight of renters seriously. Day by day every member would be receiving messages from people required to move out of their rental accommodation or who are fearful that that will occur.
I strongly request consideration of proposed amendments of The Greens in the other place that will seek to provide broad-ranging but limited ministerial order provisions to enable the Ministers responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act, the Boarding Houses Act, the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act and the Retail Leases Act in relation to both residential and commercial tenancies to make regulations to ensure that people are not evicted into homelessness during this crisis or slugged with the accrual of unmanageable and massive amounts of rental debts during this time. These assurances, although they do not need to be articulated today, to allow and enable ministerial orders to ensure that changes could be made for both residential and commercial tenants to be provided with relief in this current pandemic are absolutely essential.
While I appreciate that the National Cabinet is working on these measures right now, according to the information that we have, people are already giving notice on their properties. As of now, they are moving back home and they are suffering financial stress. Any indication that we could give by specifically referring to ministerial orders around both residential and commercial tenancy would provide much-needed assurances to people while these things are developed. We are not attempting to rush changes right now because we do not have all the answers. We are saying there needs to be a clear message to people who are currently deciding whether to close their business or determining whether they have to move back in with people into an unsafe environment because they are renting and they cannot afford to pay their rent.
We need to give them a clear assurance today that plans are in place to introduce those measures and put a moratorium on evictions in New South Wales. I appreciate we need to follow national structures, but we also need to recognise that right now people are making the decision to move back in with maybe an abusive partner because they can no longer pay rent because they have lost their jobs. People have decided to close cafes or shops because they do not believe or know that potentially rent relief is coming their way. We can put a stop to some of those impacts that will have detrimental consequences down the track by putting some of those protections and provisions in place. It is clear that big moves are afoot.
As I raised earlier, it is really important that this Parliament is sitting to make those changes. The strong view of The Greens is that we should not put a hold on our parliamentary sittings for six months. It is our strong view that we need to be in this place in whatever way, by whatever systems we can establish, to show that we are providing a multipartisan leadership approach to dealing with this crisis. In the middle of this pandemic we should not see less democracy and less accountability. It is exactly at these times that we need to see more cooperation and more collaboration.
We need to make sure that those who are making those decisions are held to account. We also need to ensure that there are ways to raise concerns in the community for those who are vulnerable or forgotten, or who have slipped through the cracks. I thank everybody, particularly those Ministers, officers and staffers who have been working collaboratively and collectively with us responding to immediate issues and needs on the ground in all of our communities. I am sure we have all had positive experiences with that. I put on record that The Greens thank all of those who are working overtime to be able to do that.