In Parliament

Bill Debate - Parliamentary Workplace Standards and Integrity Bill 2024



Tuesday, 18 June 2024.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (18:28):

I rise to speak on the Parliamentary Workplace Standards and Integrity Bill 2024.

I do only intend to make a number of comments. The community have and should have an expectation that their Members of Parliament behave appropriately and with the highest standard of behaviour – of course they should – not that everybody expects Members of Parliament to be perfect, because nobody is.

When Parliaments were formed, when Parliaments were created, it would be fair to say that the behaviour of Members was primarily governed by a set of rules, or Standing Orders in our case, that set out how members should behave, and if they did not behave in that way, the House would deal with them for breaching those standards.

We have seen over time laws come in to assist and provide more guidance around Members’ behaviour, and some of the driving force of that is, frankly speaking, because Members of Parliament, as the former Speaker rightly said, from all sides of all Chambers have not upheld the compact they have with the community on behaviour, and the community expects more.

You can see, certainly not just in this country but across the world, that communities are fraying in terms of their views of how their elected leaders behave. Partly that is because of a greater deal of scrutiny and probity, which is seeing behaviour in a far closer way, but it is also because the community will always have a very strong expectation of their elected representatives – and so they should.

This Bill I think adds to that work by ensuring that there is a framework that provides appropriate protections and appropriate ways in which this workplace works but also in how Members work more broadly. That is why I do want to put on record a number of things.

The Government has, in my view, on this bill, worked outside of their own Party in a way that I have not seen before, and I think that that is worth acknowledging. The Government has definitely engaged with and amended a proposed Bill in a way that I have not seen before. They have worked on a draft, and you can see in a number of areas, including areas where I did not think there would be compromise. On things like the scrutiny of Ministers, the Government have certainly amended the framework to come into this place in a way that I think the non-Government Members will feel more come comfortable about considering. I think that it is important to acknowledge the Government’s work on that.

But there are other areas that have not landed yet. I know the Shadow spoke about this in relation to legal costs and the litigious nature of the community more generally. There is an allowance for a mechanism by which Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries have access to legal costs in terms of dealing with matters in this process. The Shadow did make it clear that when this Bill comes before the Upper House we will need to land on an outcome on that policy issue. The Shadow I think made it very, very clear that he has accepted in good faith the Premier and the Government’s commitment to look at that policy issue before that is considered by the Upper House. We take the Government at their word, because we have certainly approached this Bill in a way that is in my view collaborative. Having been part of many conversations around the work that has been done on this Bill, we have certainly approached this Bill in a collaborative way, as have the Government.

I think what has come before this House shows, frankly speaking, that sometimes when Governments put Bills to the crossbench the crossbench can improve the Bills and make the Bills a better joint outcome. There is no doubt that that is the case, so I restate that there have been a number of amendments that have been made around the way privileges work, the way that Ministers are held accountable and the way that certain position-holders are appointed. All of these things have, over time, improved. That is not to say that the Government have compromised where they intended to go; I do not mean to say that at all. Often times the Opposition has been able to talk through some of the specifics and worked to a point where what has come before this place is, in my view, a better outcome. It does not mean that they are perfect, and I mention the issue of legal costs and again implore the Premier that that policy issue does need to be resolved. I just would not want to see a debate in the Upper House have to focus on that if that issue were not resolved by the time it was debated.

Many Members in this place of all sides have mentioned the frivolous complaints or the vexatious complaints and the capacity for the weaponisation of the complaints system. I have come to the view that there is no doubt in my mind that this system will be weaponised. I do not think it is possible for it not to be. I think that it is just not possible for it not to be, in that there will always be someone who misuses a system to undermine Members of Parliament they do not like. That unfortunately will form part of this system. We will see unfortunately complaints which are found to have no basis reported to the house, as is required by the Bill, even where there has been found no substance. Those reports will land in the Chamber, and all media outlets will write about them despite the fact that there has been no finding of substance. Unfortunately, that is going to happen, both in relation to Members and also Ministers. It will feature as part of the process, and there is no full protection from that. I think it would have been possible to slightly tweak the process to probably protect a little more from that; however, I accept that the Government has taken the view that everything in relation to these issues is about balance at the end of the day. To ensure there is a full framework of protection, you sometimes need to probably lean in, and that certainly is the case in relation to that element.

I wanted to put those particular matters on the record along with the hope that by the time this Bill gets to the Council, that final policy matter especially is dealt with, because the community deserves members who behave in the best possible way, and we have seen instances where that has not occurred. I think it would be fair to say things that we saw in the last Federal Parliament shocked the community to its core. That is just a fact. I think that the framework that will be in place will certainly enhance how the community expects, but also what they can expect – because this is in place. With that, I will leave my comments there.