Public Spaces (Unattended Property) Bill 2021

On behalf of the Opposition, I contribute to the debate on the Public Spaces (Unattended Property) Bill 2021. The Opposition does not oppose the bill. The bill seeks to resolve a range of concerns raised by communities and councils in New South Wales about shopping trolleys, abandoned vehicles and stray stock, which is a particularly significant issue for rural and regional communities in terms of not only biosecurity but also loss of life in motor vehicle accidents. The bill has been a long time coming and follows an extended campaign by the Labor Opposition leading into the 2015 and 2019 elections. While Opposition members welcome the bill this time, we feel that more action should have been taken previous to this and the Government should have responded more urgently. However, we welcome the bill's introduction to the Legislative Assembly to address the issues that have remained outstanding for some time.

As part of the overhaul, the Office of Local Government sought feedback on the Impounding Act 1993 discussion paper and the Impounding Act stakeholder workshop options paper, and also targeted stakeholder workshops. The Opposition acknowledges that much work has gone into the bill to address concerns and acknowledges the efforts of the staff in the Office of Local Government, Local Government NSW [LGNSW], the United Services Union and all the other stakeholders in the sector. I note that LGNSW currently supports the bill and the United Services Union do not oppose the bill. Ultimately, the Impounding Act focuses on process, with the onus being on regulators and not owners. Furthermore, calls have been made to change the Act given public space is diminishing and becoming more crowded and because there is a belief that the Act has not kept pace with community values and social and technological change. Ultimately, the bill is fixing an issue in the Impounding Act that has been in place for nearly 30 years.

The bill finds an adequate and appropriate balance and addresses the concerns of councils and communities that ultimately need to address some of the issues that have been long standing. To achieve those objectives the bill will clarify and modernise the items and animals for which action must or may be taken. The bill also gives the necessary powers to councils, which they have been calling for for some time. That includes regulatory enforcement action they have been long calling for, such as a clear and simple time frame for the removal of items left unattended and the application of fines; the ability to make arrangements with the appropriate and efficient storage of items or care of animals; where necessary, the ability to ensure that animals dealt with under the Act are cared for in line with contemporary community expectations and, importantly, animal welfare laws; and, finally, the recovery of costs from responsible persons of dealing with unattended property where authorities have taken possession of it.

At the end of the day, one does not need to go round to too many communities to see dumped items, particularly shopping trolleys. Those who own those shopping trolleys must take responsibility for them. In closing, LGNSW was consulted, reviewed the bill and broadly supports the measures, expressing that they modify and make improvements to the Impounding Act and will improve the compliance and enforcement framework for unattended property. The Disability Council of NSW also threw its support behind the bill and noted that it:

… encourages 'gold standard' in creating accessibility for people with a disability in consultation with lived experience.

Accordingly, the Labor Opposition does not oppose the bill. However, it notes that the Government has taken considerable time—too much time—to respond to the community concerns addressed in the bill. However, I acknowledge everyone who has worked very hard to get this very thorough [inaudible] to ensure that communities get better expectations and councils get [audio malfunction] and that the local government sector gets what it has been long asking for. I commend the bill to the House.