In Parliament

Grievance Debate - Member Conduct


Wednesday 11 September, 2019.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (14:32):

I rise today on the grievance debate to grieve for the Labor Party and the government. I intend to set out a number of ways that the Labor Party has condoned unacceptable behaviour and failed to show adequate leadership, and I will start with reference to Labor’s dealing with the member for Burwood. I say this with a heavy heart: the member for Burwood should consider standing down from Parliament. For the good of his health, the member should consider resigning.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! I ask the member for Brighton to resume his seat. The member for Bentleigh can leave the chamber for the period of 1 hour. All members have been warned.

Member for Bentleigh withdrew from chamber.

Mr NEWBURY: After acknowledging that he has had problems with addiction, the member has now been on leave for seven weeks—

The SPEAKER: Order! On a first point of order, the member for Ivanhoe.

Mr Carbines: On a point of order, Speaker, is the member for Brighton referring to notes or is he reading? Because he should understand the practices of the house when it comes to giving speeches in this place.

Mr Wells: On the point of order, Speaker, we saw the member for Melton for 15 minutes read from a prepared speech. We were very tolerant, allowing the member for Melton to read from his notes as much as we did not like it. So I would ask you to show fairness to both sides of the chamber.

The SPEAKER: Order! I can only rule on the point of order before the house. Is the member for Brighton referring to notes or reading?

Mr NEWBURY: Referring to notes.

The SPEAKER: The member for Brighton to continue.

Mr NEWBURY: His addiction has caused him to remain on indefinite leave. His leave has no end date—

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Frankston on a point of order.

Mr Edbrooke: On a point of order, Speaker—and it is quite a serious point of order—I would ask you to caution the member. He is talking about addiction issues. There are also mental health issues here that have been in the media, and they are very sensitive. I think that you know that we should have a good think about other people in this chamber before we start talking about them and issues we might not understand.

Mr R Smith: On the point of order, Speaker, the hypocrisy from those opposite is breathtaking. To have the member for Melton criticise the former Premier Jeff Kennett for his approach to mental health and to have the member for Frankston hypocritically critically stand up—

The SPEAKER: Order! This is not a point of order. I ask the member to resume his seat. There is no point of order.

Mr McGuire: On a point of order, Speaker, the member for Brighton is making a personal attack on another MP. We cannot keep going backwards and forwards across the house, one attack against the other. Can I just put that there are imputations directly about an MP and it is about a mental health issue. So I would just ask you to caution the member for Brighton on where the boundary line is on this matter. I am not arguing one way or the other, but I am saying it should not be a partisan argument at this level on issues concerning mental health. I am not arguing—

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Manager of Opposition Business and the member for Warrandyte!

Mr McGuire: I am not arguing. I am saying: can we lift the debate beyond the partisanship and personal attacks? The Speaker has addressed the previous point of order. That has been—

The SPEAKER: Order! I thank the member for Broadmeadows for raising his point of order. I do not uphold the point of order.

Mr NEWBURY: His constituents have no idea when or if he will return. They do not know when they will have a representative in this place. No other Victorian would have the same right to unlimited paid leave. There should not be one rule—

Ms Addison: On a point of order, Speaker, my point of order is questioning the medical qualifications of the member for Brighton and wondering in what position he is to make any judgements about a treatment plan—

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wendouree will resume her seat. I warn members about utilising points of order—on both sides of the house—to disrupt the flow of debate. I am listening very carefully to the contribution of the member for Brighton.

Mr NEWBURY: There should not be one rule that allows the member for Burwood unlimited paid leave and another for every other Victorian worker. We as a community feel for him personally, but that is not the only factor to take into account. In fact my call for him to resign is partly based on a concern for his welfare, because it appears his addiction is so serious that it may be in his best interests to stand down and heal. My call is based on more than his welfare. A member of Parliament is not only an individual. Each of us in this chamber is the composite voice of our 46 000 electors.

When you stand for election you are accepting the responsibility to remain committed to being their voice in this chamber, and part of that commitment is being present. It appears that the member for Burwood cannot meet that responsibility. It is clear that the Labor Party intends to cut the member loose. In fact we know how Labor intends to deal with him, because it is an open secret around the parliamentary corridors. Labor has discussed calling on the Victorian Electoral Commission to scrap Burwood in the forthcoming redistribution. Until then Labor plans to keep the member under lock and key.

Recently the opposition wrote to the federal Minister for Home Affairs asking why the member had not been charged for violently kicking in a hotel door. When asked about the issue, the Premier battened down the hatches. He refused to answer questions on the basis that the member is an addict. Similarly the Premier has responded the same way when asked about the member being on indefinite leave.

Strangely, our standing orders do not include a requirement to attend Parliament. In fact standing order 26 only requires that a member write to the Speaker after nine sitting days to inform him of his absence. I would ask the Speaker to take on notice whether the member for Burwood has complied with standing order 26. I note that the federal Parliament has a much more transparent approach. Their standing orders require that a leave of absence be moved by substantive motion, and the house is given an opportunity to debate the issue.

We know that the reason why the Premier refuses to answer questions about the member for Burwood is that the Labor Party are culpable. Labor members have admitted to me they knew that Mr Fowles had a problem before he was elected, yet Labor allowed Mr Fowles to stand for election and be elected into this place. But that is not all the Labor Party has known or accepted. Several months ago in this place I raised serious allegations against Mr Fowles. I raised that before entering Parliament his business went into receivership and reports from the time state that staff employed in that business were not paid employee entitlements due to them. To—

Ms Addison: On a point of order, Speaker, may I request that the member for Brighton refers to the member for Burwood by his correct term.

The SPEAKER: I uphold that point of order.

Mr NEWBURY: To use the language that the Labor Party would use, it is alleged that Will Fowles ripped off his workers.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr NEWBURY: Member for Burwood, yes. If that allegation had been raised about any other employer, the full force of the labour movement would have swung in. But because these allegations were made about one of their own, the Premier has shut down debate. In fact the government has told journalists that their questions on the issue will not be answered. Why? Because the member for Burwood is a member of the Labor Party who has violently kicked in a door and who has been accused of ripping off workers. Through these incidents the Premier has proven that he will cynically use the member for Burwood’s addiction as his own political shield.

Sadly not only has the Premier remained silent about the member for Burwood, he has also refused to answer genuine questions about Labor’s new member in the other place, Mr Erdogan. Over recent weeks a number of eminent people in the Jewish community have raised with me their concerns over the appointment of northern suburbs-based Mr Erdogan as a member in this Parliament. They have expressed their profound concern that Mr Erdogan has anti-Israeli views and is not an appropriate choice to represent the Southern Metropolitan Region, home to much of Victoria’s Jewish community. In fact not only has the choice of Mr Erdogan been raised with me by the Jewish community, a Labor member in this Parliament recently said to me, ‘I cannot believe that we have preselected an anti-Semite from Coburg to represent areas like Caulfield’.

Another Labor member has been quoted as saying Mr Erdogan is someone who ‘has no connection to the Southern Metropolitan Region’. And you need look no further than his first speech in Parliament to see that lack of connection. But it is his views that are of real concern. As a councillor Mr Erdogan moved a motion condemning Israel—a motion that condemned, and I quote, ‘Israel’s massacre in Gaza’. Mr Erdogan reportedly moved the motion on the basis that, and again I quote, ‘A few people called me up’. It is disturbing that such a profoundly misguided motion—a motion based on anti-Israeli sentiment—would be moved after receiving a few phone calls.

When recently asked about the motion, Mr Erdogan said that his views had evolved since then and that he now believes that Israel has a right to exist, which categorically confirms that Mr Erdogan once believed that Israel—

Ms Allan: On a point of order, Speaker, I refer to Rulings from the Chair. I have a December 2017 copy, page 60, which refers to ‘attacks on Council members’. And it states that: The Chair will not permit the House to be used as a forum for an attack on members of the Council who have no right of reply. I would suggest the member for Brighton, who is not even worth the mention of that title given the previous incumbents of that office, should be called into account and his diatribe against the newly elected member in the other place be pulled up and ruled out of order.

Mr R Smith: On the point of order, Speaker, the member is doing nothing more than canvassing issues that have already been made public in the Australian newspaper, once on 2 July and once on 4 June. These issues are already out in the public domain, and as such he is quite entitled to canvass them as the public are quite across them and people are very aware of Mr Erdogan’s views on a certain portion of our community.

The SPEAKER: Order! I do uphold the point of order that has been raised by the Leader of the House. The previous rulings of Speaker McDonald and Acting Speaker Perton quite clearly indicate that the Chair will not permit the house to be used as a forum for an attack on members of the Council who do not have a right of reply. So I ask the member for Brighton to continue his address but move on from the said member of the upper house.

Mr NEWBURY: Sadly Mr Erdogan is not the only member who has a tenuous connection to the electorate he claims to represent. Labor members are notorious for living outside their electorates. I believe very strongly that a member should live in their community, the exception being if a redistribution moves the boundary of a sitting member. I note that there are a handful of members who fall into this category, including the member for Albert Park, who now happens to be a constituent of mine in the Brighton electorate. Words cannot fully describe how much it warms my heart to know that I represent—

Ms Allan: On a point of order, Speaker, I would ask the member for Brighton to cease attacking the member for Albert Park, given that I believe the member for Albert Park’s residential status may indeed have been affected by the criterion the member for Brighton says is okay given there has been a recent redistribution.

The SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.

Mr NEWBURY: I just said exactly that. I will admit that the member for Albert Park has not yet dropped into any of my listening posts or my electorate office for a chat. But I do live in hope. Living in your community does matter, not only because it ensures that you are plugged into the pulse of your community but also because it is the best accountability mechanism for your community.

When you live in your community, you have to look at each of your neighbour’s faces as you walk down the main street or as you wait in line at the main street shops. I have found that when you are in your community and part of your community every day, it ensures that you are grounded and immediately available to your constituency, which is why voters should have greater transparency over what suburb each candidate lives in, information that should be more readily available in a manner that balances the genuine safety concerns of members.

For example, the member for Keysborough, who could more accurately be described as the bayside member for Braeside, is a bayside resident. The member lives in the Sandringham electorate, and with a strong representative like the member for Sandringham I can understand exactly why the member for Keysborough has chosen to live there. It is worth noting that he lives some 15 kilometres away from the electorate he has been elected to represent. Similarly the member for Altona lives some 10 kilometres away from her electorate, living in the Footscray electorate and, famously, the foppish member for Narre Warren North lives in Fitzroy, a staggering 50 kilometres away from his electors.

But Speaker, I would not want to leave you with the impression that the tradition of living across Melbourne is confined to the old warhorses of the Labor Party. Indeed, no. Speaker, I can assure you that there are a number of new Labor members in this place who turn their noses up at their electorates.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! I ask those at the table to cease the vigorous conversation that is going on. They can carry on the conversation outside if they wish. The Leader of the House and the member for Warrandyte—please, come to order. The member for Brighton has the call.

Mr NEWBURY: The marginal seat member for Box Hill lives in Camberwell; the member for Narre Warren South lists his residence as being in St Kilda, some 40 kilometres away—another Labor member living a stone’s throw away from my electorate. What is it with Labor members for Narre Warren? Both are living as far from their electorates as they can, but the award for new members who do not even pretend to live near their electorates is taken by the member for Melton, who lists his residence as being in Buninyong, a staggering 80 kilometres away, and there are many, many, many more.

Labor has been very sneaky with their politics and their protected behaviour that the community rightly does not accept.

Ms Allan: On a point of order, Speaker, I was reluctant earlier to interrupt the member for Brighton when he was giving his criticisms of the member for Burwood, because I think having those comments on the record says so much more about the member for Brighton than they do about the member for Burwood. However, I would seek your guidance, Speaker, and in Rulings from the Chair— I have the October 2018 version available to me—there are a number of references in here about how the grievance debate should not be used in place of a substantive motion debate and that there is less latitude on what members may say about other members of Parliament. I refer you to page 61. There are also a number of references here in terms of reflections on members, and I simply seek, Speaker, that you perhaps review the member’s contribution and, if you were to be so minded on reflecting on his contribution, to perhaps counsel him in terms of the proper forms of this place. His contributions and reflections on the member for Burwood are beneath this place and I would suggest that you reflect on his contribution and counsel him accordingly, and every single member of the Liberal and National parties who sat here as cheerleaders for this contribution will also be reflected upon in the same way.

Mr Wells: On the point of order, Speaker, it is a pity the manager of government business was not in here to listen to the contribution by the member for Melton, because if you are going to do a comparison between what was said there and the cheerleading that went on supporting some of the attacks on a former Premier, which is specifically in the guidelines of what you cannot do, it is a bit rich for the manager of government business to then come in and be hypocritical in attacking the member for Brighton—for example, to blame Jeff Kennett for Black Saturday and to criticise his commitment to mental health is nothing more than a disgrace.

Mr R Smith: Further on the point of order, Speaker, the manager of government business might be excused for not hearing the member for Melton, but she has I am sure heard many times the former member for Melton’s dissertations in this house and the way he conducted himself. I also remind the manager of government business of an individual in this place who certainly reflected on Speaker Smith for an extended period one fiery question time. So perhaps the manager of government business should be aware of the fact that hypocrisy is making itself a big, large issue in this place.

The SPEAKER: Order! I listened carefully to the contribution of the member for Brighton—

Mr Wells interjected.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Manager of Opposition Business can leave the chamber if he wishes to have the conversation across the Chair. I listened carefully to the contribution of the member for Brighton. Other than the issue that the Leader of the House raised at the time in relation to a member of the other house, I do not think that he infringed on the rulings in the current Rulings from the Chair.