Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) [10.10 a.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Gaming and Liquor Administration Amendment Bill 2015. Alcohol is a substance that can be misused, and its misuse can cause serious harm to both individuals and the community. Its regulation is therefore a serious matter that should be fully and properly considered. Labor supports the reform of the structure of current regulatory arrangements in order to reduce duplication, promote transparency and increase efficiency. This bill has the potential to improve the current system and contains some positive measures, but Labor is concerned about the provisions that compromise and undermine the independence of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority. Therefore, Labor will oppose the bill and will move amendments in the other place to protect the independence of the authority.
Labor is disappointed with the way the Government has introduced this bill. An emerging theme over the past couple of weeks has been to ram through legislation, without consultation and certainly without regard to the importance of the bills that are coming before this House. Instead of allowing for full and proper consideration of the proposed changes, the Government dropped this bill in the House on Tuesday and is ramming the debate through today. It has given no explanation or justification for that. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain why the bill is so urgent and is being rushed through without consultation. It is as though the Government does not want its reform proposals to be fully considered and properly examined. That is a common theme that is emerging with this Government: secrecy, a lack of transparency and a lack of respect for the community on very important issues.
Prior to the bill's introduction into this Parliament there was scant consultation with key stakeholders and the public. The reform of alcohol laws, whatever form that may take, affects everyone. Everyone has a stake in the outcome. It is important that all stakeholders and the community are treated with respect in this regard. The Government has not attempted in any way to make a case for the changes that it is proposing, particularly with regard to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority. There has been no public consultation on the specific changes. The Government has merely asserted that it has been informed by submissions to the 2013 statutory review of the Liquor Act 2007 and the Gaming and Liquor Administration Act 2007. This ambush approach to reform proposals is not the way to build consensus in the community about changes to the State's regulatory architecture for alcohol.
There are some measures in this bill that the Opposition supports and considers are warranted. For example, the introduction of an affordable appeal mechanism is an important step forward for members of the community. Currently, decisions made by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority can be appealed only to the Supreme Court. In practice this means that appeals are viable only for those with deep pockets and therefore are made only by commercial interests. The process is not currently open to the community or encouraging of the community's views. In most cases, the issues that are being appealed impact significantly on the community. Whatever happens with the reform of alcohol laws in this State, it is important that the community has a say.
The reform in this bill provides that licensing decisions made by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority will be subject to review by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This is a much more realistic review option for members of the community who are concerned about a licensing decision that has an impact on them. Labor congratulates the Government on moving in this direction. In my community the owners of a hotel are seeking to have its licence extended. The community has been vehemently opposed to that, but there are limited avenues available for appeal. Labor has serious concerns about the provisions that seek to undermine the independence of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority. That is Labor's main concern with this bill. Labor is disappointed that this bill is primarily aimed at undermining the independence of the authority.
I note that its very name, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, indicates how the authority should operate. The threats to the independence of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority have not been explained or justified. I hope that the Minister will elaborate. Labor looks forward to hearing more from the Minister. For example, the Minister is to assume some power over its operations, and its decisions are to take into consideration the views of the secretary of the Minister's department. These are direct and indirect encroachments upon the independence of the authority. They represent a white-anting and undermining of the independence of the authority. It is extraordinary that the Government is trying to ram through such a significant change this morning. In the 2013-14 annual report of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority its chairperson, Mr Chris Sidoti, indicated that the independence of the authority was critically important. He said:
The Crown Sydney investigation, the regulation and supervision of The Star and the day to day regulation of the liquor and gaming industries, all demonstrate the importance of having an independent regulator to ensure that liquor and gaming in the State are provided with integrity and a minimum of harm. Policy concerning these industries is properly a matter for the political processes of Government and Parliament but implementation and administration of the law are best done independently.
Importantly, he went on to say:
Independence is at the heart of the Authority's nature and functioning. It is clearly provided in the law we administer. It is enhanced through the appointment of statutory office holders to lead the Authority.
The chairperson speaks about the integrity of the authority being connected to its independence. That will be completely undermined by this bill. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the integrity of the authority will be maintained under the changes that this bill proposes. I would also like to know the views of the chairperson on the bill. The chairperson has expressed the view that the authority should remain independent. Clearly the Government is ignoring that. The Government has not made a case as to why the independence of the authority should be compromised, as it is in this bill. For example, the Government has not outlined any misconduct or maladministration.
These are issues I would have expected the Minister to raise when he brought the bill before the House. Until the Government provides answers to these questions, we believe that the authority should not be weakened. While the introduction of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to the appeal process is worthwhile and I note that some provisions in the bill are merely administrative, the provisions that represent a threat to the independence of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority have not been properly explained or justified. I look forward to a response from the Minister on the issues I have raised. I commend the bill to the House.