INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012

I am pleased to rise to make a contribution on the Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. It is clear that there is an enormous amount of passion in the house this evening as this important piece of legislation is being debated. There is passion in the house for many reasons, not the least of which is that this was a central, flagship and much-lauded promise made by the then opposition as it transitioned into government. There was no end to the amount of hubris, puffing out of chests and words used stating that this was going to encompass all the bells and whistles of accountability, integrity and corruption institutions across the land.

The government was going to take the best elements each jurisdiction had to offer, both in Australia and around the world and make them into a whiz-bang creature that would be a corruption buster in this state. Public servants, politicians, judges or police officers — this would cover them all.

The reason why people are particularly passionate tonight is because this eighth piece of legislation in the matrix of legislative responses the government has served up to the Victorian people is a disgraceful let-down. What a cynical, slippery, embarrassing, utterly disgraceful and disingenuous piece of legislation we have before us. Not only is it 18 months late and a maze of complexity that moves and shifts things around, but when we shine a spotlight on the bill to see what it actually does, we see that it is a fraud on the Victorian people. It does not do what this government said it would do.

Not only has it been a slow, stuttering process to get to the point of us debating it in the house — at night-time, I might add — it is also a reflection of the slow, stuttering path taken by this government, a government that has been plagued by scandal and serious integrity breaches from the get-go. As other speakers have said, we know why the bill looks this way, we know why these eight pieces of legislation add up to this particular outcome. It is because this has been a scandal-plagued government.

I cannot go past the contribution made by the member for Prahran, who spent 10 minutes not discussing the provisions of the bill, and I do not blame him. As a barrister and a lawyer I do not blame him for not discussing the provisions of the bill. I do not think he went to a single provision of the bill. In fact he made a range of baseless, unsubstantiated and sleazy allegations against members on this side of the house.

The irony is that none of those allegations, even if they were true, could be investigated by this IBAC (Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission). What a disgraceful embarrassment of a speech, what a disgraceful smear on members opposite and what an absolute reflection and indictment of the terms of this legislation. The very examples to which the member for Prahran pointed to explain why we need this piece of legislation will not be covered by this bill.

Turning to the issue of the member for Frankston — and I do not wish to traverse this again as it has already been done — but the member for Frankston was investigated by the Ombudsman — —

Mr Watt — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, standing order 109 is quite clear about sticking to issues that are part of the bill. The member for Frankston is not part of this bill.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Morris) — Order! I do not uphold the point of order but I do remind the member for Brunswick that the matter concerning the member for Frankston is before the Privileges Committee, and it is not appropriate to raise that matter in this context.

Ms GARRETT — Moving on, Acting Speaker, although it is segueing in an appropriate way, the Ombudsman did investigate certain matters involving members on the other side of the house. Let us see what the Ombudsman says about the particular legislation that we are debating today. Let us see what the authority which has oversight of the community’s conduct said. The Ombudsman said that it:

… prevents matters that appear to involve corrupt conduct from being investigated by the Ombudsman, while not empowering IBAC to investigate the majority of those matters due to the high threshold that needs to be satisfied …

Is that what the Victorian people were expecting from this government’s hubris? Is that what the Victorian people deserve from the promises that were made by this government about high standards and a corruption-busting unit? We know what really matters to the government is protecting its own. We know that this legislation is a big gummy shark. It has no teeth except if you happen to be a poor punter who pulls on a police uniform every day and goes out, day in, day out, to serve the community. In that case the tentacles of this bill reach right out there.

But if you are a politician, the threshold, as the Ombudsman has said, is so high that it will not cover misconduct — —

Dr Sykes interjected.

Ms GARRETT — I understand why the member for Benalla is hot under the collar.

I would be hot under the collar too if my masters had served this up instead of what they had promised. I imagine that the member for Benalla’s constituents in regional Victoria would be devastated to learn that the only class of people this bill goes after is the men and women in blue, which brings me to how the men and women in blue feel about this bill.

We were debating some police issues regarding promotion and transfer the last time the house was sitting. It was important legislation, and I think that London to a brick every government member stood up and mentioned the fine relationship this government had with the Police Association, how it worked hand in hand with it in dealing with law and order and walked as one with its secretary, Greg Davies, and his men and women. They were all proud of that fact.

I think, as the member for Bendigo East pointed out, these are quotes that need to be put on the record in this debate time and again. Senior Sergeant Davies said:

Why they would now deliberately single out police and in doing so say to police officers, ‘We don’t trust you’, is beyond me. And it is bitterly disappointing that they would think that way.

When asked about the consultation that this government has had in its supposedly very friendly relationship with the association and the men and women in blue, the answer was that there was no consultation with the association, despite the fact that the major aim of this piece of legislation is to reach in and monitor the conduct of police officers. There was no consultation with the association that two weeks ago the government was proudly claiming as its best buddy.

This bill and the eight that preceded it have no friends. The jewel in the crown of the government’s election strategy and supposed delivery to the people of Victoria is as tarnished as a jewel could possibly get.

I do not know if members opposite had the opportunity to hear their Treasurer this morning on ABC radio 774. The Treasurer, Kim Wells, was on 774 explaining the nature of the provisions of this legislation, and let me tell you his performance on this issue reflects just how seriously flawed this government’s approach to corruption has been and how seriously flawed this legislation is. He could not explain it, he did not understand it, and my goodness he certainly could not defend it.

Why could he not defend it? The reason this government did such an appalling job defending what is supposedly the centrepiece of its legislation is that it has a soft approach to politicians when it comes to the threshold that needs to be met before IBAC can look at the conduct of politicians.

Dr Sykes — Careful what you ask for.

Ms GARRETT — That is very interesting. I would not usually take up interjections, but I think the member for Benalla’s interjection is very telling. I think those opposite came in and realised that they needed to be very careful about what they had promised because the mirror was firmly in their own sights. They have served up a soft piece of legislation that does not do what it promised in order to cover their own highly exposed rear ends. This bill does not deal properly with the issue of misconduct. It severely limits the new body’s capacity to investigate matters. As we know, intelligence-based investigative work is the way of the future, but this body will be largely reliant on complaints being referred to it. The secrecy issues regarding this supposed new integrity regime are enormous, exempting government departments and departmental secretaries from mandatory reporting obligations. That in itself drives an enormous black hole through what this legislation was supposed to do, what it was designed to do and what the people of Victoria were told it would do.

We have heard about the issues regarding the inability of the Auditor-General to follow the dollar powers. We have massive concerns about oversight, but most of all we are massively concerned about the fraud that has been inflicted on the Victorian people by this piece of legislation. It does not live up to its name. It does not live up to the promises that were made. It will not be the corruption-busting machine it was said it would be, and the only people it will reach into are the men and women of the force.

Hansard, 2013