In Parliament

Motion - Parliamentary Committees



Thursday, 23 February 2023.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (09:36):

I wish to move an amendment. I move:

That after the word ‘Committee’ in paragraph (6) the following words be inserted: ‘and the House requests the Committee elect a non-government member as its Chair’.

It is a dark week in Victoria, and we move an Amendment today not in our own name but in the name of Victorians and in the name of integrity experts, integrity committee members and the integrity field in Victoria. We are speaking on their behalf.

Today the government has moved to appoint Members to a number of Committees, one being the Integrity and Oversight Committee. We saw the Integrity and Oversight Committee in the last term operate in a way that caused deep distress to all Victorians.

Over the time of the last term, we saw a Committee that refused to hear the testimony of integrity agencies. There is nothing worse that a Committee can do than refuse to hear the experts in the field who are attempting to appear before them. What did we see during those Committee hearings? We saw feeds cut. We saw the gagging of integrity experts from speaking to that Committee.

But I do not move this Amendment this morning in my name; I move this Amendment in the name of the IBAC Commissioner, Robert Redlich. Robert Redlich was asked in December what he would want changed in Victoria to assist with integrity in relation to the operation of the Committee, and he said:

… that it no longer has a majority of members who are members of the party in government, and that the chair of the Committee is not from the party in government. So, the decisions made by the Committee cannot carry with them the perception that the decision was made for a partisan reason.

These are his words that he has put on the public record. Let me repeat the poignant point: that the Chair of the Committee is not from the party in Government, because of the perception of decisions being made for partisan reasons.

This is an important Amendment, an important enhancement to the operation of Government, and had we seen a Committee operate in a way that you would expect, in a way that this place has a tradition of doing – the great history of this place, the great history of the operation of Committees in this place – we would not need to be moving this Amendment.

Danny Pearson interjected.

James NEWBURY: It strikes me as more than passing strange that we hear interjections from the Assistant Treasurer, who has done more to undermine integrity in this place than almost anybody else.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! Speak to the motion only.

James NEWBURY: I appreciate, Speaker, that I should not have been distracted by the interjection. I apologise.

In relation to the Amendment, Robert Redlich spoke in depth about the reasoning why he proposed a non-government Member as Chair of the Committee, which goes to the heart of the Amendment, because he said in his experience, his wealth of experience:

… which I’ve learned of as a result of the investigations of IBAC, the experiences of my fellow commissioners interstate –

this is not just his experience he is speaking from, it is from around the nation –

… during which, when we meet, we share our experiences, the reviews that have been conducted interstate, the federal environment tells me that around Australia

… the way in which decision-making now occurs within executive … gives rise to much greater latitude for soft corruption.

These are deeply, deeply disturbing issues raised by Mr Redlich. We as a Parliament should take his wealth of experience seriously. We should be listening to him, and I see no reason why anyone of good conscience would not be listening to the experience of Mr Redlich and those experiences he has drawn upon from around Australia, which is why we have moved this Amendment.

As much as it disappoints me to say it, it is not the only issue we see in the motion today. I note that section (8), the creation of the Privileges Committee, includes the Member for Essendon. I note that, and I think the House should reflect on that: that the Government has proposed to put the Member for Essendon – and I am making no reflection other than to say –

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order!

James NEWBURY: I have made the simple point that he has been proposed –

The SPEAKER: I ask the Member to come back to the Amendment.

James NEWBURY: for that Committee.

We have moved an important Amendment today that would ensure that we have an independent chair of a committee in line with the proposal put forward by Mr Redlich after engaging with and discussing these issues in depth with people around the nation. I am certain Mr Redlich did not make these comments about the need for greater integrity and the fear of soft corruption lightly. In fact, I am certain of it. I am certain a man of that standing does not provide a public interview without having thought through at great depth and probably at some pains as to whether or not he should make those comments in the way that he did.

So, what strikes me is that when he made those comments, he did it with purpose, and he would have done it with a very heavy heart, I am sure. We should be listening to his words, because he, unfortunately, was the man that tried to appear before a committee in this place and whose feed was cut – someone who turned up to this place to provide his insights, which we should be appreciative of. And yet that testimony was cut on a committee that, frankly speaking, over the last term saw five chairs.

I find it difficult to think of another example of where a Committee has passed through so many chairs in a single term, which tells you something in and of itself: the member for Melton, followed by the former Member for Altona, Ms Shing in the other place, the former Member for Ringwood and finally the Member for –

A member: Narre Warren South.

James NEWBURY: Narre Warren South, who lives a lot closer to my electorate than his, Mr St Kilda.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Brighton! I ask the Manager of Opposition Business to come back to the Amendment.

James NEWBURY: I do apologise, Speaker – again distracted by the interjections.

There are a number of people I am sure in this Chamber who would like to make a contribution on this issue, because this is an important issue. This is an important issue for the future of Victoria and goes to the heart of the integrity of this Parliament.

This amendment says to Victorians, ‘We will operate in a way that you would expect us to.’ Victorians and Australians expect their community leaders to have integrity, to behave with integrity and to listen to people with integrity.

Unfortunately, that is not what we have seen, especially in relation to this committee, so we move this amendment not only in our name but in the name of Victorians and also in the name of experts like Mr Redlich who have put this good proposition forward.