The New South Wales parliament has been forced to sit around the clock in a bid to pass a landmark energy bill which the One Nation MP Mark Latham is seeking to block by moving hundreds of mostly procedural amendments.
The Coalition’s electricity infrastructure roadmap promises to cut power prices in NSW and decrease the state’s reliance on coal-fired power generation by creating a $32bn private investment boom in renewables.
The bill sailed through the parliament’s lower house with bipartisan support last week after the environment and energy minister, Matt Kean, managed to secure the support of both the opposition Labor party and the Liberals’ Coalition partner, the Nationals.
But the bill hit an unexpected snag when it hit the upper house of the parliament after Latham announced he would move 249 amendments in an attempt to stop it passing before the end of the year.
Dismissed as a stunt, or “the Legislative Council’s version of a filibuster” by his opponents, many of Latham’s amendments are minor and procedural. They include minor changes to the wording of various clauses, as well as statements about “recognising the particular importance of coal mining and coal-fired power stations” to the NSW Hunter Valley.
The government has indicated it will not support any of Latham’s amendments but, with the government under pressure to pass the bill before the parliament rises for the final time this year on Friday, the upper house has been forced to sit around the clock to work through them.
“It’s still Tuesday in the Legislative Council,” one MP said on Wednesday morning.
Kean was wandering the halls of parliament after midnight on Tuesday, handing out fruit and mineral water to tired upper house MPs who have been forced to sit continuously to pass both the government’s budget and the energy bill.
Because Latham has only four votes supporting him, MPs from the major parties and the Greens have adopted roster systems, allowing some to go home. By Wednesday morning the debate had resumed but there were still hundreds of amendments still to be debated.
The government has described its bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for industry in the state, which would turn NSW into a “global energy superpower”.
Last week Kean said of Latham’s amendments: “Delivering energy policy shouldn’t be about partisan politics, it should be about delivering the best outcome for the people of this state.
“Any members of Parliament who don’t support this bill are voting against jobs, cheaper electricity and the nation’s future.”