That this house requires the Environment and Planning Legislation Committee to inquire into, consider and report on the following departmental annual reports, together with the estimates of expenditure, for 2012-13 that are to be tabled in the coming weeks —
(1) Department of Premier and Cabinet;
(2) Department of Sustainability and Environment; and
(3) Department of Planning and Community Development;
and calls on the committee to write to the respective departmental secretaries to invite them and other relevant senior staff to give evidence at public hearings at 8.00 p.m. on Wednesdays of sitting weeks throughout October, November and December 2012 in the completion of its inquiries.
— — —
I rise to speak in support of the motion I moved in this debate. I am chair of the Environment and Planning References Committee and deputy chair of the Environment and Planning Legislation Committee. Mrs Peulich is chair of the legislation committee and deputy chair of the references committee.
Initially all parties in the committee process as well as in this chamber were quite supportive of and optimistic about the new committee system because we knew that it provided a new opportunity for a greater number of people in this chamber to scrutinise and analyse the legislation that would come before the house. It would give us an opportunity to go through and look at annual reports and other areas under the portfolios of the various committees that have been set up, and also, in terms of the references committees, there would be the potential of really dealing with some key issues confronting the community.
The work and the workload of the committee structure is largely dependent on the government and the house endorsing the sponsorship of the work that is generated by the government. I find it unfortunate in terms of the two committees I am on that work has not been provided to the committees. In fact the Environment and Planning Legislation Committee has not met since 21 February; it has not met for eight months. The committee I chair has not met since 3 May this year. We provided a report but have not been given another reference. I should have thought, given that sitting on a Wednesday night is the norm for this house, that any member of the voting public would expect us to sit on committees if we were not sitting in the house. That was the intent of the people who were involved in the negotiation and setting up of the committee structure; that is what they believed would happen.
We can talk about the standing orders and about the word ‘may’ versus the word ‘must’, but quite seriously the people who negotiated the arrangements for the new committee structure believed the new structure was important enough to use the usual time in which Parliament sits to conduct investigations, whether that be proposed legislation or new trends and topics that needed to be discussed. There was also an expectation that the work of those committees would be properly supported. When I say ‘supported’ I also mean that they would be provided with work to do. In certain quarters there has not been enough work given to the committees to undertake.
In terms of the point raised by Mrs Petrovich when she said, ‘We’re not going to have a situation where the committee system is going to be used by Labor to do Labor’s work’, quite frankly I consider that to be an appalling statement.
In all honesty the committee system was set up for really good, genuine bipartisan work to be done, but from my experience it has been a seriously lost opportunity. It was fantastic to hear stories today about at least one committee that works, but in terms of the experience I have had in the environment and planning area it just has not happened. I do not think the Victorian public would seriously accept that it is a good practice that if a committee of eight people has a meeting it means everyone else in the chamber goes home. It is a situation that would not be acceptable to anyone, regardless of their political affiliations.
We need to give due regard to the workings of staff behind the committee structure. They need to know whether they are going to be required to work on a Wednesday night way in advance of what the current practice is.
It is simply not fair to have situations like we have had in the past where we are expected to stay here on business that is not necessarily urgent until all hours — 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning — and then find out that we are not required on a Wednesday night, which is within the so-called normal working hours when Parliament operates.
In terms of the annual reports that are submitted and the opportunity to scrutinise them, it is a concern that when you talk to members of the government about the opportunity to do that in a proper process through a work plan in a committee they say they do not want that to happen because it would be a fishing expedition. If that is the view of members, it is quite unfortunate because there are some real lessons to be learnt about a whole range of things, particularly when there have been significant changes in the machinery of government. It is a very good learning experience for backbenchers to be involved in that process.
Unfortunately my experience has been that people are not even prepared to have a work plan; they are just sitting back and waiting for the government to provide them with a reference. As I said, it has been eight months since the Environment and Planning Legislation Committee met and the references committee has not met since May.
I also take this opportunity to talk about the committee itself. I do not want to go into the dysfunctional elements, even though I have been quite provoked today by comments made by Mr Elsbury in another debate. A number of other comments have been made by committee members that are reported in Hansard, but as I have said on previous occasions, I am simply not going to feed into that frenzy, because what I am interested in are the actual issues dealt with and the content of reports, not all the other accusations about people operating within the standing orders and other such things.
In terms of the latest reference the committee I chair reported on, a minority report was attached. The terms of reference were strongly sponsored by the minister, and I recall him — —
Hon. D. M. Davis — Ministers.
Ms TIERNEY– As I understand it, though, Mr Davis was the lead minister. Yes, I understand Matthew Guy as Minister for Planning was part of it, but Mr Davis was the lead minister. I recall that most of the committee members attended the launch of the state conference held by the Planning Institute of Australia. We also had an opportunity to talk to a whole range of stakeholders about the terms of reference. There was an upbeat attitude in the room; almost everyone said they were very happy with the terms of reference and that they would be participating.
It is fair to say it was a fairly trying exercise. This committee did not meet just on Wednesday nights, because we thought it was unfair for community groups, not-for-profit groups and individuals to have to come to public hearings on a Wednesday night. Of course those who wanted to had that opportunity. Departmental secretaries and senior bureaucrats who are used to doing those sorts of things did come in, and other machinery matters were dealt with on Wednesday nights too. We had full-scale public hearings here as well as on site. A lot of energy went into that inquiry. There were a lot of written and verbal submissions, and there was a lot of media coverage as well.
I was quite surprised when I finally got a response this morning to an adjournment matter which essentially said the standing orders do not require the government to respond to upper house committee reports.
We know that, but in terms of this being a clear government reference, and given the activity around this inquiry, the minority report from government members and the very large stakeholder community, I would have thought that at least the minister would have responded to the stakeholders — in his own time frame, but one that he could at least have alluded to.
But that time frame is not contained in the adjournment response I received today, which essentially says the government will take it on board and it will use it to inform their positions when they deal with certain matters, and there you go. That is not a good enough response for all the people who took an enormous amount of time and energy to make submissions to the inquiry. Stakeholders really want to know where the government is going on this. While it is a multidisciplinary area, it is an area on its own and it can inform other areas. It really needs the direct attention of the government.
It would be interesting for the stakeholders to understand the views the ministers — both of them, Mr Guy and Mr David Davis — have of the minority report. Stakeholders should know what the views of the ministers are with respect to the majority report and the minority report. As it is the one reference the committee has had, it has been quite disappointing in a whole range of ways. I do have to say that it was a good reference and a very interesting reference, but in terms of almost everything else it has been extremely disappointing.
It is unfortunate that I have had to move this motion today, but when people realise that our committees have just not been meeting they will understand why we have had to go to these lengths. We have raised it at our committee meetings, and we are not getting anywhere. At the end of the day the Victorian community expects a lot more of us than what they are getting at the moment.
It is particularly easy for people to come to the conclusion that this government does not want to be held accountable or to have transparency. From my perspective, it seems the government, by not making sure there is a collaborative approach, is not really interested in having the committee system work at an optimal level or in pulling people into line. When there is a collaborative approach we can move mountains. We have lots of evidence of that. But when there is not a collaborative approach it is very difficult. I have tried. I have even allowed government members to have caucuses during committee meetings so that they could come to a position. Everything has failed.
Mrs Peulich interjected.
Mrs Peulich — You are the most uncooperative, uncollaborative person I have ever worked with in my 17 years in Parliament.
Ms TIERNEY — Acting President, I do not think I need to say anything more. Mrs Peulich continues to demonstrate not just behind the doors of the committee room but also in this chamber how disruptive she is and how difficult she is trying to make the work of this committee. I request — —
Honourable members interjecting.