I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Amendment Bill 2011. There has been a lot of talk — a lot of hot air, if I may say so — from those opposite about the merits of this bill. They claim that the provisions of the bill represent what a responsible government would do. How misguided, full of spin and off the mark members of this government are. A responsible government governs, and this government should govern, for all Victorians on the basis of a substantial policy agenda and vision for the state. A responsible government is not, unlike those opposite, consumed by cheap political stunts, and it certainly does not start misusing its power as soon as it gets it to squash democracy.

Mr Watt interjected.

Ms GARRETT — I am glad the member for Burwood is listening to my speech.

I am sure many Victorians, if they were stirred from the slumber-inducing tempo of this government, may be sorely tempted to stamp their feet, crack a tantrum and perhaps use some unparliamentary language. As this initial parliamentary session draws to a close and we push ever closer to the first anniversary of the Baillieu-Ryan team — I use the word ‘team’ loosely, because you would be hard pressed to find a more fractured and jittery group of individuals on a leaky boat — we are forced to ask: is this the best this government can serve up for debate, or not, as the case may be, in this house? Clearly it is.

It is worse than that, because this little gem of a democracy stifler was just about the first bill that the government mooted it would introduce way back at the start of its term. It did so without the Speaker even being informed of the idea and without even a whiff of legislation prepared. There was fanfare, trumpeting, the obligatory leaks and excitement in the conservative ranks at coming up with such a cute little stunt. It was an enticing smokescreen behind which they could hide their abject lack of a policy agenda. I am sure there were backslapping, laughs and comments such as ‘Imagine where we can plonk the fines of our political opponents’ among giggles in the corridors of power. Unfortunately this whole mess is not the slightest bit funny. It is sad. It is sad for the standards of this house, sad for open and democratic debate and sad for the people of Victoria.

The fact that this government is focused on cheap stunts rather than on the health, education and wellbeing of our community is distressing enough, but the fact that it has taken this government so long to bring this little stunt to a stuttering legislative start fundamentally calls into question its competence and capacity to deliver on any of the major and mounting issues facing the state. It is not as if we needed any more reminding of its lack of capabilities, after its embarrassing performance during the debate on its own matter of public importance this morning. It was embarrassing. Its attempts to backslap itself were as clumsy and as hollow as its failure to deliver on any of its election commitments.

We all know that when the government said prior to the election that it would not increase the state’s debt by one dollar it was telling the truth, for it was clearly determined to increase the state’s debt by $23 billion.

When the government said prior to the election that it would deliver 940 protective services officers on train stations across Victoria, who knew this actually meant having its own backbenchers moonlight as special railway station enforcers, as renegades, saying, ‘I’m an MP; you must show me your ID’, while it jerked all over the place trying to unravel the bowl of spaghetti that this ill-thought-out policy has created?

More than anything we now know that when the government promised to be open and transparent, it actually meant quite the opposite. Touching on just one example, it actually meant that it was going to have its political staff — I repeat, its political staff — making determinations on FOI applications. It is no wonder Officeworks is reporting a sudden shortage of stock in its thick black — —

Mr Clark — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, you have allowed considerable latitude to the member in digressing from the bill.

The normal practice of the house is to allow a fair degree of latitude to lead speakers but to expect the other speakers to relate their remarks to the bill. The member for South Barwon certainly did that in his contribution. The honourable member for Brunswick is straying far and wide on a wide range of topics other than the bill, and I ask her to address her remarks to the quite narrow and specific provisions of the bill before the house.

Ms GARRETT — On the point of order, Acting Speaker, I think I am being entirely relevant to the bill before the house, because this bill is yet another example of the fact that the only time — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! I will rule on the point of order. I do not uphold the Attorney-General’s point of order at this point in time. We have had some wide-ranging debate on the bill, although I must make the comment that I was almost going to interject to bring the member back to the bill before us.

Ms GARRETT — The bill has been central to my entire contribution, because this is another example of the fact that the only time this government seems to get a bit of wind in its sails and a bit of colour in its otherwise pallid cheeks is when its members are stuffing around with democratic rights and freedoms. Who can forget, by way of just one example, the time that a senior minister failed to answer the call of the pesky but oh-so-loud bell to attend the chamber and cast her vote at a crucial moment? Or the time another senior minister fell asleep on the job — fell asleep on the job! But everyone on that side of the house was wide awake and positively fizzing when the standing orders were disgracefully suspended and the legislation that eroded the protections of the equal opportunity legislation was rammed through. Cheers erupted from that side of the house when notice was received that the equal opportunity bill had been passed by the Legislative Council, and they looked positively alive.

Mr Watt — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, clearly the member for Brunswick has strayed very far from the bill, and I would ask that you bring her back to the bill.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! I do not uphold the point of order.

Ms GARRETT — I am back — and once again, this is a case in point.

Members opposite are only animated when there is something before the house about quashing the rights and freedoms of people — they are alive, they are chirpy! My goodness, they are conscious! There is nothing like it. Certainly based on today’s reactions of members opposite, senior ministers trying to pad out an hour talking about non-existent achievements of a dithering government does not do it for the team. Here we are again with this bill, which is designed to quash legitimate debate. It is a bill that gives wide-ranging and unchecked powers to the Speaker. Maybe the streamers will pop when this one passes, because far from adding to the standards or conduct of this house, this bill will undermine — and at its heart it is designed to do so — the capacity of MPs to effectively speak their minds on behalf of their constituents.

The bill gives the important office of Speaker the role of judge, jury and executioner. It allows the Speaker to say ‘I name you, I kick you out and now I fine you a whack of cash, which will be sent wherever I choose’.

How do you use your power when you have it? Do you respect the solemnity of that power? Or do you rub your hands in glee and seek to exploit it unfairly? This is the latter — this bill is the latter — and it is a one-way ticket on the arrogance express. It is of particular concern that this bill gives the Speaker or President the sole discretion to determine where the fines imposed will be directed. This could include a party political organisation or a charity not registered in this state. This is not good enough.

When we look around at what happens in other jurisdictions in our neighbourhood or in our country, we see that no other jurisdiction has chosen to go down this path, or where a jurisdiction has been down that path previously it has since abolished such a scheme. In Tasmania there did exist in 2002 the capacity for the presiding officer to impose a small fine of $40, but our friends in the south clearly cottoned on to the inherent problems of this sort of a scheme and abolished it.

Yet here we are in Baillieu-Ryan Victoria in 2011 introducing the power to impose a fine — and it is a significant fine, I might add, of nearly $400 — and giving the Speaker the sole discretion to decide what to do.

As a part of their core responsibilities, members of Parliament should be able to vigorously stand up on behalf of their constituents. This representation often includes robust criticism and analysis of the decisions of the government of the day, and that is how it should be. To introduce a system that allows a Speaker, who is a member of the government of the day and not a tenured judicial officer, to preside over the suspension and fining of an MP fundamentally undermines the core responsibilities and rights and role of MPs. We oppose this bill, and we call on the government to remove its ever-thickening cloak of secrecy and get on with governing for all Victorians.

Hansard, 2011