After a six-week winter recess, West Australian politicians will return to parliament today to start the last half of the sitting year.
The priorities include reforms in the wake of Annaliesse Ugle’s death
Improving operations at Perth’s casino will also be high on the agenda
The opposition is keeping the spotlight on recent controversies
Plenty has happened since they last agreed, including another COVID-19 wave and controversies involving the Agriculture Minister and Attorney-General.
Even still, the government insists a cabinet reshuffle is not on the cards, with its focus instead on five priorities for the 33 sitting days ahead.
At the top of their list for reforms are long-awaited changes to WA’s Bail Act, largely in response to the death of Annaliesse Ugle in 2020.
The 11-year-old took her own life after the man accused of sexual assaulting her was released on bail.
The reforms are currently sitting in the lower house and will change the act in a variety of ways, including when a person is charged with child sex offences.
Once the new legislation is passed, anyone deciding bail in that situation will have to specifically consider a number of factors, including the “physical and emotional wellbeing” of the child victim.
Another provision will mean that where a child victim raises concerns about their safety and welfare if the accused is not kept in custody, the person deciding bail must be presented with that information by the prosecutor and take it into consideration.
When he introduced the bill into parliament, Attorney-General John Quigley said it struck the right balance “between elevating the voices and concerns of child victims of sexual abuse and maintaining the precepts of our justice system”.
Crown Perth reforms also high priority
It has been around five months since the WA government was handed the Crown Casino Royal Commission’s final report, containing 59 recommendations on how to clean up money laundering, criminal infiltration and problem gambling.
The first swathe of laws designed to start chipping away at those recommendations are yet to pass parliament but are on the priority list.
The bill is also still in the lower house, having been introduced just before parliament broke for the winter break.
Once passed, it will establish an independent monitor who will oversee the casino for a two-year remediation period, as recommended in the report.
Questions have been raised about the utility of that monitor though, with one gambling researcher raising concerns the casino would return to “business as usual” at the end of that two-year period.
The bill will also increase maximum penalties under the Casino Control Act from $100,000 to $100 million, and allow the minister to appoint an independent chair of the Gaming and Wagering Commission.
While there are more than a dozen other bills currently on the books for MPs to consider, the government is particularly keen to see three of them pass soon.
One will implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by requiring about 4,000 organizations to report allegations or convictions of child abuse.
That is on the list to be debated in the upper house this fortnight, and once passed will also give the state’s ombudsman oversight of how those organizations handle child abuse complaints and allow for independent investigations.
Another bill will provide greater protection for owner-drivers and other small businesses in the road freight sector, including minimum periods for contract termination.
Finally, there’s a bill to allow for the construction of a number of Metronet projects along the Armadale Line, including removing level crossings and raising tracks, and extending the line to Byford.
Opposition piles pressure on ministers
While that is what the government wants to focus on, the state opposition is keen to keep the pressure on a number of ministers who have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons over the winter break.
Among them is Alannah MacTiernan, who apologized after what she described as “clumsy” comments about foot and mouth disease, including that if it landed in WA it could make domestic milk and meat cheaper.
Then there is Mr Quigley, who had to correct evidence he gave in the defamation case between Mr McGowan and Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer earlier this year.
It led to Justice Michael Lee describing Mr Quigley’s evidence as “all over the shop”, although he did make the point that “being a confused witness is a quite different thing from being a dishonest one”.
Even still, it prompted Deputy Liberal Leader Libby Mettam to yesterday label Mr Quigley a “lame duck.”
“But fair questions could be asked of other members and ministers in the McGowan government cabinet,” she said.
Opposition Leader Mia Davies also piled on the pressure.
“The Premier has an Attorney-General that is confused and confusing, an Agriculture Minister who has lost the confidence of the industry, a Health Minister that has overseen the highest ever ambulance ramping in the state, and a Housing Minister with no housing,” she said.
“It just doesn’t add up when you consider the strength of numbers Labor have in the parliament and the wealth the Premier has at his fingertips as Treasurer.”
Metronet ‘behind schedule and over budget’
Ms Davies said the opposition would also “maintain its focus on a Labor Government that is failing to deliver on promises made to the people of Western Australia”.
“Their major project, Metronet, is behind schedule and over budget, and the cracks are starting to emerge in cabinet as the emergency of COVID diminishes and the spin and rhetoric from the government starts to wear thin with the public,” she said.
But the opposition will also have to contend with its resources being pulled in multiple directions, as the North West Central by-election to replace former Nationals MP Vince Catania approaches.
Now that he has officially handed in his resignation, a date for the poll will be set — expected to be sometime in mid-September.
It creates a tricky situation, with both opposition parties competing for the same votes.