In Parliament

Motion: Compel Premier to Appear Before Committee



Wednesday, 18 October 2023.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (18:10):

I rise to speak on this motion and speak with deep concern that the Government would be using its numbers to block what should be an opportunity for the Premier to come clean, attend the Council committee hearing and speak to the truth, speak to what occurred and most of all speak to how taxpayers’ money was spent.

Today in the debate in this Chamber we have heard much from the Government about precedent, so let me start by talking about precedent and Westminster principles, because this is an issue that I have certainly been fighting on weekly in this place and I have never once heard the Government speak to Westminster principles.

The former Labor Government allowed in 2007 one of their Ministers to go to the Council and present, on request of the Council, to a Council committee hearing – a Labor minister in 2007.

So, for the government to come in today and say that there has been no circumstance where the Westminster principle has allowed a member of this place to go to the Council, all that tells me is they are either hiding the fact or they have not looked through the books. It is probably both. It only happened 15 years ago, and it happened when a Labor Minister did it. It was not a Liberal Minister, it was a Labor Minister. The former Government had one of their own Ministers go to the Council, and in that circumstance it was right.

What is interesting in this debate is that Members on that side of the Chamber have spoken about these motions being new, and I have just mentioned one example where a Labor minister went to the other place. There is another example where the Council requested the appearance of a Minister. Who would that have been? Who would that have been some five years ago? The current Premier. And guess what happened in that circumstance? The Labor Government used their numbers to block it. So, this Premier has form, because it has happened twice. This Premier has used the numbers of the Government to stop any sense of accountability about her behaviour as a Minister and now as Premier.

It is outrageous. It is absolutely outrageous to think that a Minister would not want to be forthcoming with how they are spending other people’s money. It is not their money. We always hear Labor talking about how they spend money. It ain’t their money. Someone has worked hard for that money. It has then been taxed. It has then gone into the government coffers. Every dollar that is in a government coffer has the sweat of a hard-earning Victorian on it. It is something that this Government has no idea about. I have never heard the Government talking about that ever. The former Premier – I never once heard him respect the fact that money was earned before it ended up in the taxpayer coffers.

We have a motion that has been put to this House that provides the Premier with the opportunity to show that this new Government will have a degree of integrity, and that, more than anything, is what this is about.

Of course, the details of who knew what when are absolutely critical – of course they are. But more than that, this motion is about one thing: this is a test of the new Premier’s integrity. That is what this is about. This is a test of integrity, and on the first hurdle the Premier has failed.

What is more outrageous than that is that yesterday the Premier dropped to the newspaper the fact that the government would be consulting on new parliamentary integrity measures – 24 hours ago – and 24 hours later we have a test of integrity that the government is using its numbers to block this. It is extraordinary. Here is the first material example of where the Premier can show her integrity. That is all that Victorians would ask for. The committee would of course show the Premier the respect that someone in her position deserves – of course the committee would. The committee would treat her with respect, would consider and raise matters that every Victorian deserves to understand and know about and would ask in a methodical fashion questions you would expect a Premier to have consistent answers to – who knew what when and how much was spent? These are not hard questions. They are not unreasonable questions. Within 24 hours of dropping to the media that this government is consulting on how to have more integrity in this place, they are using their own numbers to block that from happening. It just shows you that actions always speak louder than words.

What is so egregious to me is that it is not the first example of where this Member has used their numbers to block appearing and having a degree of accountability for their work – it is the second. There are so few examples of where the Council considers a Member being called to appear before a committee. It has happened so irregularly in the history of this Parliament – and of course it would, because you would only as a Parliament use that power sparingly.

The Council has considered this matter today and said, by a strong majority – not a majority of one, but a strong majority – ‘Premier, please come to our Place and please answer questions in relation to a matter’. It was a polite request, where the committee will be respectful and would just ask the Premier about their own work and about the work that she did, when she did it, how much money was spent and when the decisions were made. I note the Deputy Premier has come to the table. I am going to be very interested to see if he is the next speaker to defend the Premier. I am waiting to see if he is the next speaker. Will he be the next speaker to defend the Premier?

Let the record show, as I was saying, that there are almost no instances in a Parliament where the Council requests the appearance of a Minister – very, very few examples. There have been three that I am aware of in 20 years – it happens very, very irregularly – and the last two were requests of the same person, the Premier. In the first instance the government used their numbers to gag it – ‘No. Not going.’ Labor used their numbers to gag it, and today we know, the Government has already confirmed, that they intend to do the same.

I would suspect that the Premier is the only person in this Place to have ever denied the request of the Council twice. I could be wrong – I would be happy to be proven wrong – but I am sure that it is the only time a Member has twice refused that request. How extraordinary! What a test, and failed test, of character. What a failed test of integrity. Imagine going down in the history books as twice having failed to be accountable for what you do as a Minister and the way you spend taxpayers’ money.

What a shameful entry into a career. The Premier I would like to think was better than that – a long-term Member of this place. It is disappointing to think that twice now this Member has refused. As I finish my contribution, as I said, I look forward to seeing whether the Deputy Premier will stand and explain and defend the Premier’s character, because this Premier has proven to lack integrity.