I lead for the Opposition on the Home Building Amendment (Medical Gas Licensing) Bill 2022. It is an important bill that seeks to address a licensing issue that has already had tragic consequences within the New South Wales public hospital system. The bill seeks to extend the deadline from 30 April 2022 to 30 September 2022 for the introduction of the requirement to hold a specific licence to install or maintain medical gas, as required under the Gas Legislation Amendment (Medical Gas Systems) Bill 2020. The original legislation that passed both Houses included a transitional period for requirements for medical gasfitting work and medical gas technician work, which was meant to conclude at the end of 30 April 2021.

This time frame was put in place to allow workers to transition and ensure they had the correct qualifications, as well as enable the department to oversee a seamless transition to the new regulatory regime. The Government introduced legislation last year, within the COVID-19 Recovery Act 2021 No 5, to extend the transitional period until the end of 30 April 2022, due to issues caused by COVID. Labor supported this at that time and will not oppose this bill, but it is disappointing that the Government is seeking a further extension as New South Wales continues to fall further behind other States. It is important to look at the historical context behind the introduction of the Gas Legislation Amendment (Medical Gas Systems) Bill 2020.

In 2016 the cross‑connection of gas delivery outlets at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital led to two newborn babies being administered nitrous oxide instead of oxygen, killing one baby, John Ghanem, and causing lifelong physical and cognitive impairments to another baby, Amelia Khan. Amelia will have lifelong quadriplegic cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. It is doubtful that she will be able to develop speech and she will be dependent on others for all aspects of her care. At the time these incidents occurred, there was no strict licensing regime in place to oversee the installation and maintenance of medical gas.

Rather astonishingly, we saw no action from the Government to remedy this issue. It was my colleague the Hon. Mark Buttigieg who sought to introduce legislation into Parliament so as to never see a repeat of these tragedies anywhere in our State ever again. The Hon. Mark Buttigieg was only too aware that the tragedy was preventable and that the New South Wales Parliament could legislate to ensure that robust regulation was cemented into our State laws. He knew exactly what was required: a strict licensing regime, proper enforcement, and the implementation of safety, compliance and ongoing training procedures and specifications. He also identified the lack of consistency across the eastern seaboard. Interestingly, though, both Queensland and Victoria responded immediately when this tragic event occurred in New South Wales by implementing similar licensing, enforcement and compliance measures to mitigate any such tragedy occurring in their States.

It is rather stunning that, having waited nearly four years to introduce any legislation to address this problem—and only doing so once the Opposition brought it to the House—the Government is now seeking a further extension. That is disappointing. Meanwhile, both Victoria and Queensland require a licence to complete similar work. The Government will chalk up this delay to the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic, but both Queensland and Victoria have already implemented this requirement despite also having to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. As of 18 March 2022, there are only 143 plumbers licensed to carry out this work in approximately 214 private hospitals, 202 public hospitals, 105 day hospitals and IVF clinics, 7,247 dental practices and 722 medical centres. The Government has to make sure that there are enough licensed plumbers trained to carry out this work. There needs to be proper investment into training so that we can meet that target.

As the former shadow Minister in this area, I can attest to the Government's terrible record when it comes to supporting training in our trades. The Government has a record of cutting TAFE and trades training right across the State. Currently, the only training facility that offers the course for the installation of medical gas is at Glenwood. Clearly the Government has failed to fund the necessary training resources to meet the current timetable. That is just the latest example. It has been six years, and we only have only 143 licensed plumbers. It is just not good enough. It is critical that this Parliament ensures that New South Wales has as strong a legislative framework as Queensland and Victoria, which have already changed their laws to ensure that only highly qualified and trained individuals with tradesperson qualifications undertake this work. That is the right thing to do.

We cannot lower the threshold qualification for any part of this work, as even performing testing, maintenance and commissioning work for an installation requires an extremely high skill set and educational requirements, as it should. Any lowering of the threshold would result in people without adequate experience and qualifications performing commissioning, testing and maintenance of a medical gas reticulated network of which they do not have adequate knowledge, and would risk the safety of the residents of our State. Given that the Government waited four years before introducing its own legislation and is now requesting a second extension, it simply must deliver on the September time line without watering down qualification requirements.

I take this opportunity to thank my colleague the Hon. Mark Buttigieg for his ongoing commitment and the fantastic work that he has done in advocating for these reforms, including engaging with both the Ghanem and Khan families. We owe it to those families to get this bill done and implement these reforms so that no other family has to go through what they experienced. I know that all members share their sympathies with the Ghanem and Khan families for the loss of John and for the devastating impact the accident had on Amelia's life. Labor will not oppose the bill, but I stress that it is disappointing that the Government is seeking a further extension on what can only be described as a critical and most important piece of legislation in the New South Wales Parliament.