Clarity and consistency needed for State fines, taxes and duties

30 March 2022

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown): I make a contribution to debate on the State Revenue Fines Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2022. I note the three aims of the bill: First, to provide clarity and consistency in the way the State levies fines, taxes and duties; secondly, to improve the efficiency of revenue and fines administration; and, thirdly, to correct a drafting oversight in the Liquor Act 2007. I focus on the last point today, but I will first talk about efficiency improvements in the way the Government collects fines. Given the number of fines the Government seems intent on imposing, efficiency improvements would seem warranted. Over the 12 months to November 2021, according to a Nine News analysis, 3.2 million fines worth more than $900 million were handed out in New South Wales. Rightly called eye-watering, the total was by far the most the New South Wales Government has ever issued in a single year.

It represented a 20 per cent jump over same period in 2019-20, when 2.8 million fines generated over $760 million. That is also despite the State being in lockdown for most of that time, with most people doing the right thing and staying at home to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities. Despite how many people were doing it tough thanks to lost work, and despite the complete lack of support from the Commonwealth and the inadequate support from the New South Wales Government, those opposite still managed to levy a record number of fines. It is not surprising that Government members are taking steps to make the debt recovery process more efficient—they need a way to clear a backlog of their own making. No doubt that was an unexpected consequence of the Government's revenue-raising agenda, and those unexpected consequences bring me to the integrity changes that constitute the bulk of the bill.

I acknowledge the Government's stated intention, which is to close loopholes and address tax avoidance schemes. It is about time we had true consistency in both the applications of and exemptions from State levies, fines, taxes and duties. But I also note that the suite of changes proposed in the bill may have unintended consequences, and I particularly note the concerns about the potential impact on the property industry. For that reason, I support the Opposition's proposed amendment to ensure a statutory review clause at 24 months. With greater consistency should come greater transparency and greater certainty for stakeholders. The industry has warned that while the changes may improve flexibility, they may also create greater uncertainty for industry and taxpayers.

Finally, I return to the changes to the Liquor Act contained in the bill. I note that a drafting error in the Customer Service Legislation Amendment Bill, passed by this Parliament in 2021, led to section 166 of the Liquor Act 2007 lapsing unintentionally. The amendment corrects that error and extends the repeal date to 11 December 2023. The amendment also retroactively validates any approvals that were granted after the unintentional lapse on 11 December 2021. I reflect on the importance of outdoor events not just for a local economy but also for local culture and quality of life. In Australia, we are blessed with a wonderful climate—most of the time, anyway—which gives us relatively mild winters and long, balmy nights in the summer. We should be able to make the most of that climate by enjoying outdoor events.

Australia's climate is not too different from that of Valencia on Spain's eastern coast. Each Northern Hemisphere spring, the Valencians celebrate an event called Las Fallas from 15 to 19 March. It is an ancient festival with a long tradition, but it most importantly has always taken place outside. Streets are closed as pop-up eateries and beer-halls take them over; restaurants expand their outdoor dining spaces; parades and cultural displays take place on every street corner; and, most importantly, each neighbourhood constructs a falla, which is a brightly coloured wood-and-plaster statue that depicts a figure from pop culture or politics in a humorous way. The neighbourhoods strive to have the best, brightest, funniest falla of the lot. Kim Kardashian competes with the King of Spain, for instance. In 2022 the city's first-prized falla used fairytale imagery to represent the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The fallas are all incredible works of art. They are built in public spaces and can be seen by the locals and the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pack the city every year for the festival—and they are all packed with fireworks. At the end of the festival, the fallas are burned. The city glows with the light of the fires, the sky bursting with colour as the fireworks go off. The event has been added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and it would not be possible without the use of outdoor spaces. We enjoy something similar here in Sydney with the Vivid festival, which is coming up. It does not have quite the same history as Las Fallas but certainly showcases and enlivens this beautiful city. But the use of outdoor space to promote culture should not be limited to special events; it should be part of the ongoing use of space in a city. The iconic alleyways in Melbourne are an important part of Melbourne's culture and image—vibrant outdoor spaces offering food, drink, art and music. Throughout history, cities all over the world have made the most of outdoor spaces. The vibrancy of those places can be astonishing.

Many visitors to Bali, Singapore or Malaysia will tell stories of the extraordinary things that can only happen on the streets of a lively, thriving city at night. I remember visiting the night markets in Bangkok and being overwhelmed in the best possible way by its sights, sounds, smells and sheer energy. It created a lasting impression of an extraordinary place. I would like to see that sort of energy and vibrancy in our cities in New South Wales. Section 166 of the Liquor Act 2007 goes some way towards achieving that. Aimed at empowering local councils to encourage the use of outdoor space, the section allows a council "to temporarily allow the use of a footway or public open space" associated with a licensed premises, restaurant or cultural venue "to be used as an outdoor dining area, extension of foyer space or a performance space". It also allows a council to temporarily close a local government road and to let venues use parking spaces within the local government area for those same purposes. Just as importantly, the section allows council to vary a development consent condition to allow outdoor performance.

I acknowledge that section 166 came about as part of the State's response to COVID‑19 in an effort to help businesses stay open despite social distancing restrictions and to encourage people to participate in our State's cultural and economic life while minimising the risk of spreading the virus. I acknowledge that the increased powers offered to councils in section 166 may cause inconvenience to some, which is not something to be glossed over or ignored. However, it is also important to remember that we have all been stuck inside for the past few years. As individuals and communities, we have all lost many opportunities for a special kind of joy. Some of my most treasured memories are of nights out with friends in Sydney and Newcastle, and of enjoying a live music performance or an outdoor event with my family. Over the past two years I have missed that very much, as have most people across the State, the country and the world.

As we consider how best to rebuild our hospitality, entertainment and arts industries in the wake of COVID, it is worth taking in the lessons we have learnt during the pandemic and considering the examples of other cities around the world. The use of outdoor space for entertainment and cultural events should be encouraged, not just to limit COVID‑19 exposure. We should be encouraging cities and communities to make the most of our outdoor environment as often as they like, not just for special occasions. After two years of social distancing, we should embrace the opportunities that will offer—opportunities for economic growth, social participation and cultural enrichment. I join with my colleagues in not opposing the bill, but I will support an amendment for a statutory review into the changes to fines, taxes and duties.