Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (10:09:27) — I move:
That this house —
(1) notes the Ombudsman's report on the investigation of a matter referred from the Legislative Council on 25 November 2015;
(2) calls on the —
(a) Premier, ministers and Labor MPs named in the report to take full responsibility for their actions and stop blaming others and to apologise to Parliament;
(b) Premier to apologise to the Parliament for the misuse of the electorate office and communication budgets by Labor MPs and for the government frustrating the process by challenging the motion in the courts, using public money;
(c) ALP to pay an additional 25 per cent of the total amount falsely charged to DPS and to fully repay costs that were incurred by taxpayers on its behalf in its court challenges to the investigation;
(d) government to implement all the recommendations in the report by Tuesday, 19 June, 2018;
(e) government, in consultation with all parties and independent MPs, to strengthen the codes of conduct in relation to MPs and ministers and to establish an independent parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria.
(3) requires the Privileges Committee to inquire into and report, in relation to those current and former members of the Legislative Council named in paragraphs 45 to 50 of the Ombudsman's report, on the following —
(a) whether any members are in contempt of Parliament in relation to the code of conduct in the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978; and
(b) whether any fine should be imposed and the amount to be imposed pursuant to section 9 of the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978;
(c) whether the conduct of any current or former members constitutes any other form of contempt of Parliament and if so, what sanction, if any, should be imposed;
and the committee shall report no later than 19 June 2018.
PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (11:09:42) — I give notice that the Greens may move an amendment later today with regard to qualifying the relationship of the committee with the sessional and standing orders and with regard to the chairing of the committee. I will refer to that again a bit later.
The motion I moved today starts with the house noting the Ombudsman's report on the investigation of a matter referred from the Legislative Council on 25 November 2015, some 28 months ago. It has been a very, very long time between when the matter was referred to the Ombudsman and the tabling of the report this week in Parliament and its release last week.
It was my former colleague Mr Barber who moved a related motion on 25 November 2015. He made really quite a brief contribution in moving the motion. His motion read:
That, pursuant to section 16 of the Ombudsman Act 1973, this house refers the following matter to the Ombudsman for investigation and report:
(1) allegations that ALP members of the Victorian Parliament misused members' staff budget entitlements, against the provisions of the Parliament of Victoria Members Guide, that is, 'Electorate officers are employees of the Parliament of Victoria, and are directly accountable to the member in whose electorate office they work … These positions are provided to support the member in their parliamentary and electorate duties. The Parliament does not fund positions to support the member's political or party duties'; and
(2) any other breach of applicable policies, laws or codes in relation to these allegations.
That was the wording of the motion was passed on 25 November 2015. Mr Barber made the point that the motion required the Ombudsman to investigate and report back on matters that had been, as he said, swirling around for some time in the political domain. Those matters were concerns raised by ALP field officers who had complained — and some had taken their complaints to the media — about the way in which they were engaged by the ALP and their engagement paid for. I will return later to how that has been revealed in the report of the Ombudsman. But at that time we had no idea. We just knew there were some whistleblowers and people who were concerned about what was going on or what had occurred, and we felt it needed to be further looked at. Mr Barber said:
In terms of the particular mechanism that I am proposing here, it is the provision within the Ombudsman Act 1973 that allows either house of Parliament to direct the Ombudsman to investigate a particular matter.
He went on to mention that the Ombudsman looked into the allegations against former MP Mr Geoff Shaw, as did the Privileges Committee of the Assembly.
We were very clear that section 16 of the Ombudsman Act 1973 allows the Parliament to direct the investigation into the matter that was referred to it. Mr Barber said he hoped the matter could be resolved as quickly as possible. He said:
It is an investigation into the allegation that has been aired publicly.
The motion was about to deal with that matter specifically. But, as I said, it took 28 months for it to come to us here in the Parliament.
I have to say it is a great pity that we are even here today dealing with this issue, because it should never have come to this. We should not have had to move the motion in November 2015 because the allegations were being aired publicly. When that was being revealed, in fact what should have happened is that the Labor Party should have dealt with it then by basically admitting to what had been done, which it knew had been done and which the Ombudsman's report, which Mr Rich-Phillips has detailed, points out was led by former member Mr Lenders and was a deliberate strategy. Many current and former members of Parliament have been named in the report as participating in this strategy or program of employing field officers to conduct party work and paying them from electorate office budgets.
When these allegations were first aired is when the matter should have been dealt with. That is when the Labor Party should have repaid the money and apologised to the people of Victoria. Instead it has thrown red herrings into the argument, it has denied what the Ombudsman has found actually occurred and it has mounted court challenges at taxpayers' expense. What should have been dealt with in an honest and open way at the time has taken 28 months, and we now have to deal with the matter brought to this house by the misbehaviour against the Members Guide and against what everyone in this place knows is the proper use of electorate office and communication budget funds — but here we are.
Everyone in this place is now faced with how to move forward from the report of the Ombudsman. The Greens are putting forward the motion I have moved today as a way to proceed. I would like to talk a little bit about the points I have in my motion under paragraph 2. Firstly, paragraph 2(a) calls on the Premier along with the ministers and Labor MPs named in the report to take full responsibility for their actions, stop blaming others and apologise to the Parliament.
I will just go firstly to the foreword that the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, has written in her report of some 200 pages. I have forensically looked through this report, and I confess that I have read almost every word in it. It does make for interesting and quite disappointing reading. The reason the Greens call on the Premier along with ministers and Labor MPs named in the report to take full responsibility for their actions, stop blaming others and apologise is that the members of Parliament who did respond to the Ombudsman have basically all said they did not understand what was going on.
There was a lot of talk about the pooled arrangements, with many of the members named saying that this was all part of pooling, but the Ombudsman found very clearly at page 55 of the report that this was not about pooling and that in fact none of the field organisers were involved in any pooling arrangement. I do not want to spend too much time on the pooling arrangement. That was something that Mr Jennings used in his response to Mr Barber's original motion when he said that everybody does pooling. Well, that was the first we had ever heard of that. There was no pooling arrangement that the Greens knew about.
What the Ombudsman has found and what is mentioned many times in the report is that it was only the Labor Party that had this pooling arrangement, which appeared to be auspiced by the Department of Parliamentary Services. It was quite a surprise to me to read that. I do not want to dwell on it, but the Greens had always been told since we were first elected here in 2006 that pooling arrangements were forbidden and that all our staff had to work individually in our offices under our direction to do work for us as individual MPs in our electorates. Even back at that stage we were discouraged from operating on a portfolio basis, so that was quite a surprise to me.
But the point about it is that it was a complete red herring, because it was nothing to do with pooling arrangements. It was to do with what the Ombudsman describes in her foreword as:
… a well-organised campaign by the ALP to recruit and deploy full-time field organisers in the run-up to the 2014 Victorian state election, of which 21 were employed part-time as electorate officers and paid some $388 000 out of parliamentary funds. A few did, indeed, do electorate officer work and many claimed it was impossible to distinguish between the roles.
… the arrangement to employ field organisers as electorate officers was an artifice to secure partial payment for the campaign out of parliamentary funds, and was wrong.
She went on to say:
The principal architect of the arrangement was the former Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, the Honourable John Lenders. While he … derived no personal benefit from the campaign as he was, in any event, retiring, he carries the greatest share of responsibility for breaches of the guide. There is undoubtedly a blurred line between permissible and impermissible uses of parliamentary funds, and what is or is not political activity … But in seeking to maximise the use of resources available to the party, Mr Lenders crossed the line.
So the Ombudsman has stated that it was a well-organised, deliberate and systematic campaign, and I think the Premier, the ministers and the Labor MPs should take responsibility for that. They all knew. The Ombudsman has accepted that those members may not have known or may have been confused as to the use of their parliamentary budgets to employ these field organisers, but I do not accept that. I believe that everybody knows that that is not permissible and that the MPs knew that.
What is revealed in the report very clearly and mentioned extensively is the fact that the field organisers were not directed by the MPs. They had little or no contact with the MPs who were signing the forms — their pay slips. The pay slips were partially filled in and signed by the field organisers and then distributed later to the MPs to sign. The MPs who did not direct the field organisers still signed their pay sheets. Of course on page 55 of the report there is a table outlining where all the field organisers worked, which was in many cases not even in the electorate of the MP signing the forms. There must have been a very large number of those pay sheets all for one day's work or two days work per week, usually on a Wednesday and Thursday, charged to the Department of Parliamentary Services, but the work was done under the direction of ALP party staff, not members of Parliament or parliamentary staff, not in electorate offices and often not even in the electorates.
Members knew they were doing that and they knew it was wrong, and they should all apologise to the Parliament for that, particularly the ministers, who bear a special responsibility as ministers and should be setting a better example to other MPs and to the public at large. It is impossible for me to accept that people were acting, as it has been claimed, in good faith. I do not accept that. I believe they all knew that they should not have been doing it. They should apologise to the Parliament.
It is disappointing that yesterday, on the first day of Parliament sitting after the release of the report, there was no statement or explanation or formal apology from the Premier to the Parliament or the people of Victoria for what has gone on. There has been some half-hearted, 'Oh, I'm sorry this occurred', in the media, but what is outlined in this report really requires the Premier to make a statement, an explanation and an apology to the Parliament and the people of Victoria, and I believe the Leader of the Government should have done that yesterday as well in this house. Neither of those things happened, and that is a terrible lost opportunity for them to actually show some leadership and show some accountability for what, if they have read the report, they must know they are accountable for.
They did not take that responsibility, but I still urge everybody who is named in that report to apologise and, as I say in point (b), the Premier to apologise for the misuse of the electorate office budgets by Labor MPs and for the government frustrating the process by challenging the motion in the courts using public money.
Mr Rich-Phillips spent quite a long time outlining the frustrations that the government engaged in by challenging the motion in the courts. It actually began when the motion was first moved and the Leader of the Government challenged the legitimacy of the motion and the ability of the Ombudsman to look into the matter. The Ombudsman then, very shortly after the motion was passed, I think on 1 December 2015, wrote to the government noting that she had noted the remarks made in the Parliament and asserted that she did believe that the act was very clear that the Ombudsman could proceed with the matter that had been referred to her.
The government responded saying, 'No, we don't believe that you do,' so in order to clarify the situation the Ombudsman took the matter to the Supreme Court, said she would remain neutral and invited parties to become parties to the action. The government and the President of the Council did so. The Supreme Court in May 2016 handed down its view that in fact the Ombudsman did have the ability under the act to investigate the matter. The government then took the matter to the Victorian Court of Appeal, which upheld the Supreme Court decision.
Again this is in the context of the government denying that anything had happened, when of course at least 21 members — former members and current members — knew that something had happened. They keep denying it in public. They keep making court challenges. I was amazed to learn that the Attorney-General had taken the matter to the High Court. Mr Rich-Phillips talked about that being summarily dismissed by the High Court in April 2017. I think it is worth reading the actual decision of the High Court, because unlike many other court decisions it is very brief and it only goes to two very short paragraphs, as follows:
1. The application for special leave to appeal discloses no reason to doubt the correctness of the decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Special leave to appeal should be refused.
2. Pursuant to r 41.08.1 of the High Court Rules 2004 (Cth), we direct the Registrar to draw up, sign and seal an order dismissing the application.
And that was it.
The court just summarily dismissed that, but at great public expense.
I think, as I mentioned, the government has put up red herrings, such as pooling arrangements and that people were confused about what the Members Guide said and what the entitlements were with the use of the electorate office and communications budget. I do not accept any of that. The government frustrated the process by challenging the motion in the courts at public expense, and the Premier should include an apology for doing that.
My point 2(c) says the ALP should pay an additional 25 per cent of the total amount falsely charged to the Department of Parliamentary Services and repay the full costs that were incurred by taxpayers on its behalf in its court challenges to the investigation.
We believe just paying back the money is not enough. There needs to be an extra penalty. If any member of the public was to steal money from a person or a company, they would not get away with just paying it back. There would be an extra penalty, that may be incarceration, for a member of the public accused of misappropriating funds — let us put it that way. There should be an extra penalty. We believe 25 per cent is a fair figure, and the ALP should in fact pay 25 per cent of the total amount falsely charged.
I have to say too that the Ombudsman has been thwarted by all of these things I have mentioned and also the claim by the Legislative Assembly of exclusive cognisance, about which there is quite a lot of detail in the report. The Assembly, because the motion originated in the Legislative Council, actually went to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is not constrained by that and can investigate any matter. In fact the Ombudsman can investigate any matter on her own motion as well. That was another red herring obfuscating the whole matter. There was non-cooperation by the Assembly members and varying cooperation by the Council members, but if you read the report there is still a lot of detail in there, and the Ombudsman was able to come to conclusions. If you read through her evidence, you would come to the same conclusions yourself.
The Ombudsman has identified $388 000, but I think she is pretty well saying that is the minimum. It is probably an awful lot more. And do you know what? The government will know how much it is. They will know how much and they will know how many of those time sheets were falsely put in by how many field organisers on how many days and under how many MPs' names et cetera. They will know this. They will have that figure. They will also know how much money was spent in the court challenges by them, by the solicitor-general, by lawyers hired by them, by QCs et cetera. They were in all this. They know it. They should come clean about it, and they should repay all of it with a 25 per cent penalty attached.
This is a very serious matter that we have before us. The government has very much tried to play it down, saying 'There's nothing to see here' and 'Oh, it's all very confusing what we can spend our money on'. But every other party in this place checks off all the time with the Department of Parliamentary Services — 'Are we allowed to do this? Are we allowed to do that?'. Everybody is extremely careful. Yet we have it revealed in this report that not only were the ALP not careful, they were deliberately deceiving the Department of Parliamentary Services in claiming funds for party-related work that they should not have been doing.
We say that the government should get on and implement all the recommendations in the report by the last sitting week before the winter break — 19 June. They are reasonably easy recommendations to implement. There are only six of them there. They go to strengthening procedures et cetera, and the Ombudsman also calls for the implementation of a parliamentary advisory standards commissioner. That is one of the recommendations that we do not think is strong enough, so our next point, 2(e), calls on the government, in consultation with all parties and not just on its own:
… to strengthen the codes of conduct in relation to MPs and ministers and to establish an independent parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria —
something more robust than an adviser. Another motion was also moved by my colleague Mr Barber in June 2017. He moved a motion in this place that the Procedure Committee and the Legislative Assembly Standing Orders Committee should meet and establish the parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria. This actually followed on from a recommendation of the Legislative Assembly Standing Orders Committee in May 2014 — almost four years ago — that those committees meet with a view to establishing a parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria following their investigation into Mr Shaw. Four years have passed; nothing has happened. We suggest that is a good way to go.
Without necessarily prescribing what sort of model should be used for a parliamentary commissioner for standards, one could look at the model used in the United Kingdom.
That office, the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, deals with the code of conduct and related rules that apply to members of the UK Parliament. There is quite a lot of information on the House of Commons website regarding this, so I will not go through it all, but the key responsibilities of the parliamentary commissioner for standards are:
overseeing the operation of the register of members' financial interests and the other registers;
providing confidential advice to individual MPs —
so it has an advisory role —
advising the committee on standards about the interpretation of the code of conduct and guide to the rules relating to the conduct of members —
on a regular basis, which I think is every three years —
monitoring the operation of the code of conduct and guide to the rules and, where appropriate, proposing changes to the code to the committee on standards;
providing guidance and training for MPs on matters of conduct, propriety and ethics;
investigating allegations that MPs are in breach of the code of conduct and its associated rules;
where appropriate, reporting her findings to the committee on standards, for the committee to adjudicate and recommend any appropriate sanction; and
presenting an annual report to the House of Commons on the work of her office
If we had had something like that in place four years ago we probably would not be here dealing with this matter now and still trying to resolve it. We very strongly advocate for the establishment of a similar office in Victoria to carry out those functions that I have mentioned are carried out by the standards commissioner in the UK.
The other major part of the motion is that this house:
(3) requires the Privileges Committee to inquire into and report …
(a) whether any members are in contempt of Parliament …
(b) whether any fine should be imposed … pursuant to section 9 of the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978;
(c) whether the conduct of any current or former members constitutes any other form of contempt of Parliament and, if so, what sanction, if any, should be imposed;
and the committee shall report no later than 19 June 2018.
We have thought very deeply about this matter and how to take it forward in the Parliament. I have just been talking about the need for a parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria, which we do not have but we should have. We have the Ombudsman, and we referred the matter to the Ombudsman in the absence of anywhere else to refer the matter to. Despite me personally moving amendments to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) bill many years ago to include members of Parliament, which would have allowed IBAC to investigate allegations of misconduct by members of Parliament, that is not there.
So years and years have gone by where the Greens have been trying to improve accountability standards by moving many, many motions in the Parliament, including motions to get rid of political donations by developers and other organisations such as the gambling industry et cetera. None of these motions have been supported by either side of Parliament, and so we have a situation where we still do not have the most appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with these issues.
The issue that we have before us now is 21 former and current members of Parliament misappropriating their electorate office budgets for work that was not electorate officer work in their electorate office but was field organiser work, as outlined in great detail in the report. I am trying to restrain myself from reading too many parts of the report, but I direct members of Parliament and members of the public to familiarise themselves with the report so that they know what these motions are about and understand the matters that we are dealing with.
The Privileges Committee is an existing committee of the Parliament that could follow up from the report of the Ombudsman and the quite extensive information in there. It could determine whether, based on that information, members are in contempt of Parliament in regards to the code of conduct and whether any fines or sanctions should be imposed. We think there should be a fine imposed, but after investigating the matter with the clerks it really is a matter for the Privileges Committee to recommend that under the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978. That is the pathway by which that could happen; it cannot actually happen simply by a motion of the Parliament.
Mr Rich-Phillips said in his contribution that the Privileges Committee cannot look into this matter. Well, it can look into the matter. It looked into the matter of Mr Shaw, and it was able to impose a fine on him following its findings in relation to his conduct with regard to misuse of his electorate vehicle.
We think the motion as worded will take matters forward, and that is what we want to do. There is another motion that has been moved by Mr Rich-Phillips to establish a select committee, and the matters Mr Rich-Phillips has put forward for the select committee to look into and report on by 30 June 2018 include:
the misuse of electorate office staffing entitlements by certain current and former Labor MPs identified in the Ombudsman's report, including in particular obtaining and considering evidence that was withheld from the Ombudsman …
Our view about that is it is basically reprosecuting the investigation that has already taken 28 months for us to get a report from the Ombudsman. I have read the Ombudsman's report, and in terms of the gaps she does mention that the Assembly basically refused to cooperate but enough information had been passed on to her from the police investigation. She actually waited seven months after the receipt of the motion to the completion of the police investigation, and she received a lot of information from them. It is all detailed in the report. She did interview some members of Parliament, including me. She wanted to interview people who were not implicated but were in the Parliament at the time. Some MPs were interviewed; some provided written explanations or statutory declarations. I am satisfied that the Ombudsman had enough information before her from the police investigation and from her own investigation to come to the conclusions that she has.
What we actually need to be doing now is getting some redress, some reparation — as I have spoken about — some apologies, the repayment of money and penalties et cetera. I feel that the two points that Mr Rich-Phillips makes in his motion basically just prosecute the evidence.
With regard to the gaps, the Ombudsman actually refers to the gaps and says she has referred the gaps to the Parliament to get our affairs in order. She is not necessarily saying it is to find out more information; she is basically saying that there is enough information to know what has happened. What we need to do now is to move on and to get our affairs in order. That is why we are moving a motion for an apology, the repayment of all moneys, penalties and the establishment of a commissioner for standards in Victoria. That commissioner can oversee the codes of practice and the rules for members of Parliament, monitor them and investigate any breaches of them. That is what we need in this Parliament; that is what we have been calling for for years, and the absence of it has left us in a position where we cannot deal with these issues properly. A select committee is not necessarily going to take us any further.
With regard to the second point that Mr Rich-Phillips put forward, which is that the select committee should look into:
the expenditure of public money by the government in actions in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court in an effort to prevent the Ombudsman's investigation …
that is also covered in our motion. They should be apologising for frustrating the investigation, completely inappropriately. We say they should be repaying the full amount, and they know what that amount is.
An honourable member interjected.
Ms PENNICUIK — We should not even need an inquiry. The government should be completely accountable now that it has been found to have engaged in this systematic and deliberate attempt — it was not even an attempt — this successful attempt to misappropriate funds.
Our motion, we believe, is the correct motion — to set up a commissioner for standards, to call for an apology from all members involved — from the Premier, from the Leader of the Government — for a repayment of the money, for a 25 per cent penalty and for the Privileges Committee to look into whether there is any further contempt of the Parliament in regard to the code or any other actions by the members or ministers. This is another form of investigation, but it is an investigation that to take us forward from where we are now and includes whether there should be a fine imposed. We believe there should be. The Privileges Committee is able to come to that determination.
Our motion seeks redress from the Labor MPs involved and from the Premier. It seeks to use the processes available to impose appropriate sanctions and it seeks to set up a robust system of parliamentary standards in this place, which we have been calling for for a very long time. It does not preclude other things that we have also been calling for, including the ability for IBAC to inquire into misconduct by members of Parliament. That should also be included.
Just going back to what we are dealing with, the Ombudsman found that this was:
… a well-organised campaign by the ALP to recruit and deploy full-time field organisers in the run-up to the 2014 Victorian state election, of which 21 were employed part-time as electorate officers and paid some $388 000 out of parliamentary funds.
She goes on to say that:
… the arrangement to employ field organisers as electorate officers was an artifice to secure partial payment for the campaign out of parliamentary funds, and was wrong.
The report indicates that 19 Labor MPs breached clause 9 of the Members Guide and:
… 21 members of Parliament who signed time sheets authorising DPS to pay 20 field organisers from their electorate office and communication budgets … failed to comply with the certification requirements of clause 8 of the Members' Guide.
The MPs to be referred to the Privileges Committee are named on pages 45 to 50 of the report.
Pages 44 and 45 of the report, and other pages too, detail many of the activities that these field organisers were involved in. The report also details that when these field organisers were engaged by the Labor Party they were given sign-up forms to be employed as casual electorate officers. They were given partially filled-out time sheets. They were not given the electorate officers code of conduct or any other documents related to their supposed, mythical and non-existent work as electorate officers. The field organisers interviewed for the report also confirm that they were given none of that.
They also confirmed that they did little if any work in the electorate offices of the MPs by whom they were supposedly employed and that they reported to the Labor Party regional field directors and not to the MPs who they were supposedly employed by. They said that they had very minimal if any contact with those MPs who were actually signing the time sheets through which they were paid by the Department of Parliamentary Services. The Ombudsman found that:
The available evidence indicates that, from 10 March 2014 —
and up until the election in 2014 —
most field organisers began working from an ALP member of Parliament's electorate office. In some cases, this was not the electorate office of their nominating member.
She goes on to say:
Most field organisers interviewed stated that they relocated to campaign offices during their work in the Community Action Network. These arrangements were not uniform. At least two field organisers worked from Trades Hall premises from 10 March 2014, with one field organiser doing so until the election. At least two other field organisers never relocated to a campaign office, and worked from electorate offices until the election.
Page 51 of the report details 'A day in the life of a field organiser', which is all about the recruitment of volunteers to work on the ALP's re-election campaign, or the election campaign of the candidates mentioned on page 55 of the report, which I referred to before.
One of the field organises says that they:
… were given new starter documents to complete. This … included two sets of tax file number declaration forms …
… a lot of blank casual electorate officer payment time sheets for the Parliament of Victoria.
With regard to the pooling arrangements, as I mentioned, the Ombudsman found that field officers employed as casual electorate officers were not assigned to the ALP staff at any time between 3 March 2014 and 29 November 2014.
We call on the ALP to come fully clean with the amount of public money that has been rorted by the 21 members of Parliament, because the ALP is in possession of this information — all the moneys that have been misappropriated by every member of Parliament — and that they come clean with the amount of money spent on their futile and ridiculous court challenges. We ask that this money be repaid, that the Premier and the Leader of the Government apologise to the Parliament, that all the members apologise to the Parliament and that the motion to refer those members named in the report to the Privileges Committee be agreed to.
We advocate very strongly for our motion. We believe it takes things forward. With regard to Mr Rich-Phillips's point about members of the Privileges Committee, clearly any current members of the Privileges Committee who were named in the report should be substituted by other members and not be involved in any ongoing investigation into these matters.
Further in debate:
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (14:09:07) — If I could turn now to paragraph (2)(d) in the motion, which is in regard to the recommendations of the Ombudsman's report. We are calling for the government to implement them as soon as possible, actually by the last sitting week before the winter break, on 19 June, and also to report to the Parliament by that date as to what they have done.
Recommendation 1 is to:
Revise the limitations in the Members Guide on electorate officer duties to:
1.1 remove the prohibition on political activity but emphasise the prohibition on party-specific activity
1.2 provide guidance and examples to members about the types of activities which electorate officers may not be directed to perform
1.3 include a statement about the effect of section 30(4) of the Parliamentary Administration Act 2005 (Vic) (see Recommendation 2).
Recommendation 2 is to:
Review section 30(4) of the Parliamentary Administration Act.
This was referred to quite extensively in the report by the Ombudsman, by the members of Parliament who were interviewed and also by the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services as being a source of confusion as to the responsibilities of members of Parliament with regard to the use of their electorate office and communications budget and the way they direct their staff. I have to say that I do not agree with that view. I think that that section of the act pretty clearly just codifies that while electorate officers are employed and paid for by the Parliament of Victoria, they are directed by their MPs but not directed to do party-specific activity. I just wanted to raise that because I think that that section of the act has been falsely used to cover up and explain away the misappropriation of funds by MPs. I do not mind it being reviewed, but that is my view on that section. There are people who claim otherwise, including Mr Pallas, who again raised the view of the government on this in an interview on the Jon Faine show last week and said that the Ombudsman agreed with that view. I do not believe that she agreed with that view in her report; she raised it as an issue that other people have raised, I think, incorrectly.
Recommendation 3 is to:
Ensure the proposed parliamentary integrity adviser has a training and guidance function that is appropriately supported by the Department of Parliamentary Services.
Again I say that recommendation could be subsumed in our motion, and in the motion moved in this place by Mr Barber on 17 June last year calling for the establishment of a commissioner for standards in Victoria. That commissioner could be something similar to the UK model, which includes an advisory function, an educative function, a monitoring function and an investigatory function. The model that the Ombudsman is referring to is that put forward by Mr Jennings on 13 December, which does not include the monitoring function or the investigatory function; it just includes advisory and education functions and the requirement to report to Parliament. That is not going to get us past where we are now. If we want to avoid this sort of situation in the future, we need to put in place a parliamentary commissioner for standards that operates across the Parliament, not just in one house, and monitors the activities of all MPs and ministers to ensure that everybody is complying with the standards. In terms of recommendation 3 the Greens would be saying, 'Yes, implement it, but beef it up to the level of a parliamentary standards commissioner, not just an adviser'.
Recommendation 4 is to:
Adopt the recommendation of the Hazell review to create a separate allowances and entitlements handbook, publicly available and kept up to date.
That should be done and should have been done already. In fact I think the Hazell review was undertaken some five years ago. One of the reasons we are in this particular situation is that the Parliament has been bereft of proper accountability measures. I have been a member of Parliament under both governments, and both have refused to move these things forward. This is the time we should do it, and it should be done posthaste.
Recommendation 5 is that:
The Department of Parliamentary Services review current pooling arrangements and propose guidance for the consideration of the Presiding Officers.
As I mentioned there have only been pooling arrangements overseen by the Department of Parliamentary Services — that I know of — for the Labor Party. This was something completely unknown to the Greens. We were always told that as it is plainly said in clause 9 of the Members Guide, pooling is not allowed, and yet pooling was allowed for one party in the Parliament.
One of the things that should be addressed here is transparency unfairness around any pooling arrangements, because that has not been the case hitherto. While the Ombudsman appears to believe that the existence of pooling arrangements in the ALP led to some of them being confused about their responsibilities, I do not accept that. The Ombudsman does state emphatically that the arrangements put in place with the Community Action Network, instigated by former member John Lenders, who I think is known very intimately by the leadership of the Labor Party in both houses and by those MPs who participated, had nothing to do with pooling and everything to do with another systematic, deliberate campaign and program.
Recommendation 6 states:
Establish clear investigative capacity and pathways to refer alleged misuses of parliamentary resources for examination by an independent agency as appropriate, with information available on Parliament's website.
Again, I think that particular recommendation can be fulfilled by putting in place the parliamentary commissioner for standards in Victoria, as I have mentioned already in my contribution. That exists in many other jurisdictions with those functions of education, advice, monitoring and also overseeing and updating codes of conduct and rules in a regular way. I think this is one of the most important parts of the motion that we are moving today — to actually put this in place as soon as possible to prevent anything else like this happening again and to have an independent parliamentary commissioner for standards in place in Victoria.
The model in the United Kingdom — I am sure everyone realises — was put in place after scandal after scandal and at the end of the day they had to address it. Actually, in this place we said the same thing when we came in here in 2007. We said we needed what turned out to be an IBAC many years later. The reason we got the Crime and Misconduct Commission — the CCC — et cetera in other jurisdictions was due to the many scandals. Now we find ourselves in this position of having a major scandal where members of Parliament have misappropriated funds for party-related activities, which is clearly not allowed in the Members Guide. Everybody else adheres to that — and strictly adheres to that.
The Ombudsman also said that the Department of Parliamentary Services holds a lot of information, and I suggest it should look through its records and release the full information about the other falsely signed time sheets. Our motion will move things forward. It aims to get redress and reparations for the Parliament and the people of Victoria.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Morris) — Thank you, Ms Pennicuik. I am aware there may be some amendments. Are they to be circulated by you or by others?
Ms PENNICUIK — I did refer to them, but they are not finalised. I just wanted to foreshadow them.