Pay the money back, Premier

Motion – Parliamentary integrity

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (15:55):

I rise to speak on this motion with a real sense of disappointment. In main the Operation Watts report goes to the heart of the integrity and ethical conduct of members of Parliament, ministers and their respective staff.

I would like to read, if I may, a paragraph from the foreword of the ombudsman’s and commissioner’s report. It says:

This report illustrates a catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour and concerning practices, and the environment in which such behaviour was able to flourish. They range from bullying to the hiring of unqualified people into publicly funded roles, using those roles to undertake factional work, rampant nepotism, forging signatures, and attempts to interfere with government grants to favour factionally aligned community organisations—who, in some cases, failed to use the funds as intended.

It goes on to say:

It is discouraging that so little parliamentary time—across parties and houses of parliament—has been devoted to finding a solution to this problem.

On 8 June, in this very place, I put forward a motion that was related to that type of conduct as it relates
to bullying and harassment and to examine what support and oversight was in place. At the time I
reflected that Parliament and its members should be exemplars of best practice.

My motion was amended by the government to exclude the Legislative Assembly, even though the call to Parliament was to include all members, employees and other staff within the Parliament. It now sits with the equal opportunity commissioner for further consideration.

Reading the Operation Watts report further affirms my view that this review of the Parliament as a
workplace is essential. I have hope that my motion will lead to installing the proper oversight that is
clearly required in this place and provide for an external independent body to consider complaints, the
appropriate right of reply and a robust but fair resolution process.

The heads of the highest integrity bodies in our state say that Victoria is now a laggard rather than a
leader in parliamentary integrity and that there is no framework in which breaches of ethical standards
by MPs are investigated in a manner that is consistent or credible, and that is shameful.

I am bewildered how the Premier of this state can say he takes full responsibility for the conduct
outlined in the report and that he supports the 21 recommendations from the report but then says that
repaying taxpayers money, which was clearly identified in the inquiry, is not required because it was
not a recommendation.

It is completely hypocritical to say that your response is going beyond the recommendations when it does not include repaying public money that was blatantly misused. Surely our Premier made a faux pas and meant to say that his moral and ethical duty was to ensure that taxpayers money would be repaid as his first priority and that he does not require a recommendation in a report to make that decision.

So I say to the Premier: pay back the money. You said yourself that you need to do more than just offer words. It has to be about action. Be true to that statement and pay the money back.