Motion: Legislative Council regional sitting | Sue Pennicuik

Motion: Legislative Council regional sitting

The most recent regional sitting that the Legislative Council undertook was in September 2012 when the Legislative Council went for one day to the City of Greater Bendigo for a regional sitting. We really moved the whole of the Legislative Council to Bendigo and the Legislative Assembly to Ballarat at the same time.
Wednesday, May 9, 2018 - 9:30am
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I am very pleased to speak on this motion moved today by Ms Lovell, requesting:

That this house —

(1)   recognises the significance of the City of Greater Shepparton as one of Victoria's leading regional cities;

(2)   meets and sits in the City of Greater Shepparton on Tuesday, 11 June 2019, at 12.30 p.m. —

which is a very precise time and not a usual time for a sitting of the Council —


(3)   authorises the President to do all things necessary to facilitate the Council sitting in the City of Greater Shepparton.

I am pleased to say that I do recognise the City of Greater Shepparton as one of Victoria's leading regional cities. Although I have not been to Shepparton recently, I have been there many times in the past and it is a great regional city. Of course many of our regional cities are great regional cities. I will just take a bit of time to respond to Mr O'Sullivan, who seemed to think that just because a member represents a metropolitan area for some reason they never go to the regional areas and do not know anything about regional areas, but I visit the regional areas of this state quite often and have done so all my life and I know a lot about many of them, probably a lot more than he would perhaps assume and certainly more than he does assume.

The most recent regional sitting that the Legislative Council undertook was in September 2012 when the Legislative Council went for one day to the City of Greater Bendigo for a regional sitting. We really moved the whole of the Legislative Council to Bendigo and the Legislative Assembly to Ballarat at the same time. I looked at the Parliament's website, which says that on that particular day the Council conducted normal parliamentary business. To some extent it did in that there was question time, there were members statements et cetera, but the actual business that we conducted on the day was, firstly, a motion that gold would become the state mineral emblem, and that motion was also moved and debated in the Ballarat sitting of the Assembly.

It was followed by a motion noting the strong support provided to Bendigo and Northern Victoria Region by the Baillieu government. During debate on that motion my former colleague Mr Barber raised a lack of public transport, with buses stopping at 6.30 p.m. and few if any available on weekends or Sundays in the City of Greater Bendigo and that there had been no increase in V/Line services either under the Baillieu government. Those two motions were not what I would call the usual business of the Parliament. I would have thought they were quite unusual motions. We debated those motions, we did members statements, we did questions and we did the adjournment.

That was not very many years after the disastrous market contestability policy was introduced by the Brumby government, the folly of which that government was warned about and which we can all see now. At that time Bendigo TAFE was facing a $9 million budget cut under the Baillieu government and had lost 100 staff and 39 courses, and the Kyneton campus had closed, so we were not really on the same page with the Baillieu government's 'strong support' in the motion put up by the Leader of the Government at the time, Mr Davis. So it was not what I would call a normal day in terms of the parliamentary business that was conducted that day. That was just one day on which we moved the whole Council, all the Council staff and Hansard and everyone up to Bendigo.

The other regional sitting that I attended was at Lakes Entrance on 15 and 16 October 2008. The first motion on that day concerned the closure of the wholesale fish market and we also debated a motion on the timber industry in East Gippsland, and we were in East Gippsland. It was quite weird I think that we were actually in Lakes Entrance. It is not really a regional town of the standing, for example, of Shepparton, Bendigo or Geelong. It is more a tourist town.

Ms Lovell — Nevertheless it is important.

Ms PENNICUIK — An important town but I would not call Lakes Entrance a regional centre, probably Bairnsdale is more like the regional centre in that area of the world. We discussed the timber industry in East Gippsland, and again Mr Barber pointed out that half of the timber that was being logged in East Gippsland at the time was going to woodchips and out through the Eden chipmill in south-east New South Wales. He raised the point, which we continue to do in this place, that tourism is really the future for that area.

Mr Kavanagh, who was a member of the Parliament at the time, put forward a motion on government services and there was a documents motion calling for health reports debated on 15 October. I raised the issues of the pay and conditions of TAFE teachers who were under contracts and the increased TAFE fees for courses on the adjournment to Minister Allan. On day two the Greenhouse Gas Geological Sequestration Bill 2008 was introduced but not debated. We did debate the Energy Legislation Amendment (Retail Competition and Other Matters) Bill 2008, and again my colleague Mr Barber raised issues that we are still talking about today, which are the prices of electricity and the problems you have with faux competition in what is actually a natural monopoly, and things have got a lot worse. He talked about how retailers went around harassing people, knocking on their doors and trying to get them to change to their retail company from another retail company with all sorts of offers to people who did not really understand how the energy retail business operates. We are still dealing with those issues today.

We also debated the Major Crime (Investigative Powers) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2008 and the Local Government Amendment (Councillor Conduct and Other Matters) Bill 2008 on those days. One of the issues we raised was that we should look at legislation for its impacts on local government, and since then of course we have had rate capping and more and more impacts on local government from state legislation. The other bill we debated that day was the Racing and Gambling Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. Ms Hartland moved to refer it to the Legal and Social Issues Committee but that was not supported. That was among the more than 50 bills the Greens tried to refer to the Legal and Social Issues Committee during the time of the Baillieu-Napthine governments and the leadership of Mr Davis, and the government refused to allow any of those bills to go to the committee. The only references that went to our three standing committee were references from the government. That is what happened in a nutshell at those regional settings that I attended. I know there have been some others. The Legislative Council has also visited Ballarat, Benalla and Colac, but they were before my time.

In principle, Acting President, I actually think regional sittings are a good idea and I think perhaps they could happen every second year, in, say, the first and third years of a four-year term would be good. Except that my experience of them is that, for the effort that everyone goes to to move the Parliament to a regional centre and staff the Parliament et cetera, not enough has been gained out of them. I think it would be different if the Parliament moved for a full three days, like a week's sitting, and an awful lot more effort was put into involving the community — really involving the community — in that visit through meetings with MPs and with parliamentary forums about how Parliament works. All sorts of things could be done. None of these things were done on the two occasions I attended a regional sitting, and I think that was a lost opportunity. So unless they are actually going to be conducted in that way, with a lot of forethought, planning and involvement of the local community — I know Ms Lovell mentioned local schools, but there was not much visitation from local schools at either of those events.

In fact the public gallery at the Bendigo sitting was virtually empty most of the time. So if that is the model, then I do not support that model. If you are going to move the Parliament and the staff for one day, you might as well move them for a full week, because in fact —

Ms Lovell — It is for a full week.

Ms PENNICUIK — I am reading the motion and it does not tell me that it is for a full week.

Ms Lovell — Commencing on that day.

Ms PENNICUIK — The word 'commence' is not there. It says 'meets and sits' on 'Tuesday, 11 June 2019'.

Ms Lovell — The commitment is for the three days.

Ms PENNICUIK — The motion does not say three days; it mentions one day. I would not support one day. I think it would be a good idea for the first and third years of a parliamentary session to do this. I think it does involve the community more, as long as that is what it does, and it really sets out to do that in a proper, engaging and comprehensive way.

Mr Gepp spoke at length about community cabinets et cetera. Community cabinets are fine but a community cabinet is not the Parliament. The Parliament is a different thing from the community cabinet.

Mr Jennings — One works and the other barely does.

Ms PENNICUIK — Taking up the interjection of the Leader of the Government, it would be true to say that what I am putting here is the ideal situation, which is to move the Parliament for a week and involve the local community in as full a way as possible. So that is not what this motion says. This motion says that the Parliament:

meets and sits in the City of Greater Shepparton on Tuesday, 11 June 2019, at 12.30 p.m.

It does not even say for how long. I think my main problem with the second part of the motion is that I cannot see how we can agree to a motion before an election in November 2018, suggesting that there be a sitting in the following Parliament — which will be a different Parliament — and authorising the President, when we do not know who the President will be in the next Parliament. Perhaps we could authorise or request the President who is sitting now to do something, but I am not sure if we could for a future unknown President. So I have a few queries about whether this motion is able to be agreed to by this house at all.

Even if technically the Clerk or the President say we could, I feel that it would not be correct for this Parliament to suggest that on this particular day the Parliament will move, even though, as I have said, I support the idea in principle of full and comprehensive regional sittings involving the community and allowing them the opportunity to really learn how Parliament works. That has not happened, as I said, on the two occasions that I have attended regional sittings, even though there were some good things attached to both of them. There was some community engagement. I am not saying there was none, but it was not anywhere near as much as it could have been. So I think both of them were a lost opportunity in that regard. I am not sure we are even able to agree to this motion.