Receipt and First Reading
Bill received from the Assembly; and, on motion by Hon Sue Ellery (Leader of the House), read a first time. Second Reading
HON SUE ELLERY (South Metropolitan — Leader of the House) [9.21 am]: I move —
That the bill be now read a second time.
(Comments and speeches from various members)
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.41 am]: I rise as the lead speaker for the Greens on the Lotteries Commission Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020. I indicate from the outset that the Greens will support this legislation. However, I also feel that I once again need to get on the record that our opportunity to be able to apply our normal level of scrutiny to legislation has been severely truncated. It is really important for me to put that on the record, because if people come to me at a later date to complain and say, “Why didn’t you pick up on X, Y or Z?”, my explanation to them will be that we did the best we could under very trying circumstances. I think it is important to get on the record that we have not been able to avail ourselves of the usual processes for scrutiny of this legislation.
What the bill is anticipating and is clearly seeking to address is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Lotterywest players and retailers. We know that the social isolation measures and the possible closure of small retailers are likely to make it difficult for people to claim lottery winnings, because they are currently required to present the physical ticket. To address the issue, the bill seeks to extend the 12-month payout period by an extra 12 months, and to also allow Lotterywest to accept a copy of a winning ticket when a person is not able to present that ticket in person. I acknowledge that many Lotterywest retailers, like many other small businesses, are really struggling at the moment. I, of course, welcome support being provided to help them deal with the impact of the current restrictions on their cash flow. I also note that the provisions in this bill are time limited, which is an important component of the legislation.
The bill also contains provisions relating to the recently announced $159 million COVID-19 relief fund. We are already seeing significant hardship in our community from the impacts of this crisis. Unfortunately, that hardship is anticipated to grow. The Greens absolutely support the intent of the bill to make it easier for Lotterywest to use its grant process to provide relief funding and hardship packages to the community. Other money from the relief fund will provide financial relief for not-for-profit sports, arts and community organisations that are also experiencing financial hardship as a result of the across-the-board cancellation of events.
Lotterywest has an excellent and very well deserved reputation for supporting Western Australian community groups and organisations for over 80 years. It is a structure that we in Western Australia are rightly proud of. It funds around 700 wideranging community projects each year, distributing about $100 million through its discretionary grants. On behalf of previous organisations, I have availed myself of many of these grants. Importantly for the purposes of some of the comments I am about to make, Lotterywest has a reputation for administering these grants without fear or favour and is very well placed to provide quite robust and well-established grant processes to ensure that funding from the COVID-19 relief fund will be well directed.
This bill will amend the Lotteries Commission Act to allow Lotterywest funds to be distributed to public authorities for such purposes as Lotterywest thinks fit, whereas the act currently allows distribution only to eligible organisations and for approved purposes. Under this amendment, “public authorities” includes ministers, public sector agencies, local governments and statutory bodies. This will enable Lotterywest to fund another public authority to undertake a grant program during the emergency period, when such a grant program is beyond Lotterywest’s usual distribution powers. I understand from my briefing that the usual approval processes will apply to how the money is to be spent, including a recommendation by the Lotterywest board and approval by the minister. A specific example that was given to me during the briefing was that of sports organisations that might be suffering significant hardship because of the pandemic. They will potentially be able to be supported with this funding through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. There is a willingness across the chamber for the intent of this to be implemented, but some transparency is perhaps required around that. Furthermore, some projects may not fit the current approved purposes definition. An example that I was given during the briefing was a small rural not-for-profit childcare centre. I also understand from the briefing that any groups that are supported, either directly or through a grant via a government department, must be not-for-profit and have a strong community focus.
Other provisions will allow Lotterywest to utilise its expertise in grant administration to assist other public authorities to provide grant programs during and after the emergency period. I understand that Lotterywest already fulfils this function—for example, with Healthway—but this amendment will provide a more sound legislative basis for this work, which is particularly important if this role is being expanded to support other agencies and organisations during the COVID-19 crisis. I anticipate that there will also be a benefit in avoiding duplication when Lotterywest helps to administer grants for other bodies. These provisions will of course apply only during the emergency period, for six months from 16 March 2020, which was the date of the emergency declaration. I note that the minister can vary the emergency period more than once, but will be able to exercise this power only during the emergency period. I was pleased to be advised that normal approval processes will apply to grants from the relief fund.
I welcomed the advice during my briefing that former Auditor General Colin Murphy is looking at the governance of the fund and providing oversight of the board, and will then be reporting directly to the board. I hold Mr Murphy in very high esteem. He is extremely well qualified for this role. However, I do have some concerns about the nature of the reporting. Obviously, we know that the COVID-19 crisis necessitates an extraordinary response. We are trying to protect the health and livelihoods of all Western Australians. Nevertheless, I do not believe that COVID-19 relieves the government of the responsibility to be transparent and accountable about how that money is spent. In fact, in these incredibly challenging times, we probably need this more than ever. It is our responsibility, as a Parliament, to scrutinise how those moneys will be spent, and it is the responsibility of those of us who are not government parties to hold the government to account. The primary act requires Parliament to be provided with a list of the recipients of grants and how much they received each year, and that information is provided through Lotterywest’s annual report.
My concerns are not with Lotterywest but rather with the transparency and accountability of any grants that are given by Lotterywest to government departments. I understand, and look to the minister to confirm whether I am correct, that the current bill, without amendment, would require Lotterywest to report only the amount that is provided to a government agency and the agency it is provided to, but it does not specify what the money is to be used for. I want to know whether in its current unamended form the bill would provide any other breakdown of the expenditure of this money through annual reports or, potentially, through the budget papers because, as has been said by other individuals in this chamber, the budget papers themselves are becoming less and less detailed and often it is very difficult to get that type of information. I have circulated an amendment for members that seeks to provide greater transparency and accountability about how an agency allocates any relief fund moneys that they are granted by Lotterywest. I note also that the government has circulated its own amendment that tries to address similar provisions, although not in as much detail as my amendment. I note that whichever amendment gets up, I believe it will be an improvement on the bill, but we will talk about which amendment may be more fit for purpose when we get to the committee stage.
Traditionally, Lotterywest is very transparent in how its money is spent. This tradition must not be undermined through these provisions, albeit they are temporary and I acknowledge that they are necessary. I welcome the indications that the money will be distributed quickly and I hope that the minister can provide information about what specific actions have been taken to shorten the time it takes for approvals, because I know a lot of community groups are desperate for that information. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that a lot of groups have contacted my office and are disappointed they will not get their projects funded this year because they do not fit the new criteria. I understand that it comes down to a limited pool and a priority of need. I am not suggesting that the new criteria are not appropriate in this incredibly challenging time, but we also need to acknowledge that these community groups do really important work. We need to be careful not to undermine them. Lotterywest is a very important source of grant funding. In fact, it is one of the few sources of grant funding for communities and in particular for small community groups. We are going to need these community groups, certainly after, if not during, the recovery. The Greens have a particular interest in grassroots organisations and environmental groups. I imagine that many of these will struggle to meet the COVID-19 criteria. I understand that the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, which manages Kings Park, has been told it will not get a grant this year and community resource centres have lost potential funding. I am personally quite concerned about the Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre. It was awarded a Lotterywest grant to cover the project officer’s salary and the cost of upgrades to create the new discovery centre. I hope there will be enough flexibility in the new funding arrangements so that the money can be used to help it stay financially viable until it can reopen. I understand that local governments have been directed to bring forward capital spending and that this will be an important part of our economic recovery, but the new Lotterywest criteria will result in funding for all small capital projects being declined. I hope the government will look at another funding stream for these really important small projects that provide local employment and much-needed facilities for community groups to use, because we will not be in lockdown forever.
To wrap up, I am extremely supportive of Lotterywest. It does fantastic work and has an excellent and well-deserved reputation. I am particularly supportive of its efforts to ensure that the money will be rolled out quickly to address the need in the community. My only concern is that we ensure transparency and accountability so that we can be absolutely crystal clear about where the money is going.
(Comments and speeches from various members)
Clause 8: Section 24A inserted —
Hon ALISON XAMON: I suggest that it is probably useful for us to have the debate around my proposed amendment and the government’s proposed amendment simultaneously, because they both try to address the same thing, albeit with different approaches. I appreciate the government’s amendment. The minister spoke to the substance of the two amendments on the supplementary notice paper during the course of the second reading reply. I recognise that the scope of my amendment is far broader. I am concerned that the government’s amendment is, perhaps, too narrow for my liking, although it will be up to the chamber to determine how it feels about that. Albeit I recognise that the government’s amendment is absolutely an improvement to the legislation, I am concerned to ensure that, in the lead-up to an election year, we have as much transparency as possible around how expenditure is undertaken. I am thinking particularly of sporting organisations. We want to make sure that there is as much scope as possible for light to be shed on how moneys are being expended. I move —
Page 8, after line 19 — To insert —
(6) The Minister must —
(a) at the end of each year, present to each House of Parliament a schedule setting out the names of all eligible organizations and public authorities to which money has been distributed under subsection (3), and in respect of each eligible organization or public authority —
(i) the amount of money distributed; and
(ii) the purposes approved by the Minister under subsection (4) or (5) for application of the money; and
(iii) how much of the money has been expended; and
(iv) how the expended money has been applied,
(b) publish that schedule on a website maintained by, or on behalf of, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
(7) An eligible organization or public authority receiving money distributed under subsection (3) must give the Minister any information the Minister requires for the purpose of performing the Minister’s functions under subsection (6).
(8) The operation of subsections (6) and (7) will cease when all money distributed under subsection (3) has been —
(a) expended by all recipient eligible organizations and public authorities; and
(b) included in a schedule presented to each House of Parliament and published on a website pursuant to subsection (6).
Hon SUE ELLERY: I have indicated that the government is not supportive of the amendment standing in the name of Hon Alison Xamon. If members will give me a minute, I will get a little advice and we might be able to move on.
I am still not in a position to support the honourable member’s amendment, as it goes beyond what I am able to agree to. I can, however, give the chamber a commitment that Lotterywest will publish on its website, with a two-month lag, information about each public authority receiving money under proposed subsection (3) and a statement of the purposes to which it is applied or is to apply that money. I can give the chamber that commitment. That will be done administratively. It is not our view that that can or should be accommodated in the legislation.
Amendment put and negatived.
(Comments and speeches from various members)
Title put and passed.
Bill reported, with an amendment, and the report adopted.
Bill read a third time, on motion by Hon Sue Ellery (Leader of the House), and returned to the Assembly with an amendment.