Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:03): I am pleased to rise to the Appropriation (Parliament 2020–2021) Bill 2020. Before I move on to some of the other aspects, I certainly would just like to thank everybody for what an extraordinary year this has been. I know that for our community it has been tough. I know that for many of us in this chamber it has been tough. We have had to change the way we work, and we have had to do things very differently. Our staff have had to do things very differently, and they have had to deal with a lot of new things. This has been an extraordinary learning curve I think for our staff. They have learned to work very differently but to do it very effectively. And in this Parliament, which has been closed to the public, this beautiful building that has been closed to the public for most of this year—
Mr Finn: Closed to us for a fair while too.
Ms PATTEN: Well, Mr Finn, I do not feel like I have missed a moment with you this year. I feel like we have spent plenty of time, probably enough time, together, but—
Mr Finn: Probably more than enough.
Ms PATTEN: More than enough. We can both agree that we will be happy when we have spent some time apart again, I suspect.
But apart from that I think in fact we have sat. It has been a very rare day that we have not sat in the chamber, and our staff here have made that possible. I think that has been extraordinary—even working in team A and team B to ensure that we can operate this Parliament as safely as possible. I really feel that we did do that. For most of us we were in here for all of the sitting days that were on the schedule, but this meant some extraordinary creative thinking and lateral thinking from the staff of this Parliament, and they have done that extraordinarily.
I look at my work in the committees. We have undertaken probably more public hearings than we would have another years. We have enabled the public to share in that. It might have been that in another time for homelessness, for example, we might have travelled to Finland to see how they solved homelessness. But this time we brought Finland to Victoria, and we were able to share the conversations that we could have with the Finns, with people from around the world, via our public hearings that the committee held, and the public could play a part in that. I think the way that the Parliament has enabled us to engage with the public during this time has been very different and something I hope that we do not lose once COVID has passed. I hope that many of the things that we have done well we continue to do.
I am still waiting to see a new website for the Parliament, but I understand yet again that it is on its way, almost there. But certainly the technology and the way that we have been able to work has really been able to be escalated incredibly quickly, so I would particularly like to thank everyone who has made that possible—from the IT crew through to Greg and his team here. To all of the clerks and all of the staff in the table office, who have managed to provide us with the information that we normally would have received face-to-face in electronic ways. I especially would like to recognise the committees and the committee staff. For many of them they have been working from their homes since March. They have almost been under house arrest since March, and I think that has been incredibly tough, so I am hoping they all get a very good break come next week or certainly in January and have some really good time when they can at least get out of their homes and travel around the state and around the country. I would also like to thank my own electorate staff—for not a day did they miss a beat in responding to emails, in working hard, sometimes from the electorate office but more often from home, so I thank them all.
I noted Mr Rich-Phillips at the start of his remarks talked about the appropriation for Parliament and that we are in the same position that we were in 12 months ago. We have come to the realisation that, no, we have not funded the Parliament and particularly the Legislative Council to the degree that it is required. And there is a scrambling in these last few days and few weeks leading up to this debate where that funding is found, where problems are solved, and as I understand today we certainly had a considerable shortfall for the Council and particularly for Council committees. I appreciate the Speaker in the other house and certainly I appreciate the President and the work of Parliamentary Services to enable some fast action in shuffling funds to ensure that the Council and the Council’s committees can operate properly for the next six months. I hope that in the May budget we will be able to ensure that this does not happen again and that there is solid, continuous funding and recognition that this is a house of review.
This is a house whose committee processes are incredibly important. This is a house where the committees process and the committees have resulted in policy change and have resulted in real change that affects people’s lives, and I know many of us who are part of committees understand the importance of that work and, outside this velvet chamber, the collaborative and often consensual approach that we take to problem-solving in that committee process. It is something that I think the community does not see enough, although I think through COVID it has managed to see a lot more of that. I certainly am pleased to see that my concerns about the shortfalls in our budgets have been amended. However, this is something that we need to maintain, and this is something that I will be seeking absolute assurances on—that we know that this Parliament is funded and funded well.
That goes to the other point of this appropriation bill, which is about the other organisations that are the conscience of government. As I said, this is the house of review, and this is where we provide that conscience to the government—the Parliament is not the government. And then we see independent organisations like IBAC and the Ombudsman’s office asking for more money, and it is this bizarre situation where you have got people who are providing that oversight of government behaviour, of government actions, of us in this chamber, and we are deciding if they get paid; we are deciding what sort of funding they will have. I thank the Treasurer’s office. I have had numerous conversations with them over the last few weeks, and they have provided me with, I think, adequate assurance that for the time being, until we get to the next budget in May, IBAC and the Ombudsman’s office will be funded appropriately, will be funded as they desire and in their way. But that raises this important point that the Parliament is not the government. IBAC, the Ombudsman—this is the oversight of government, yet government decides how they are funded. I would like to see that change. I think it is time for us to look at an independent committee, maybe a parliamentary committee, that looks at how we fund the Parliament and what we fund the Parliament for, because I can imagine a day when the Parliament may decide that the parliamentary committees do not need funding. Now, it would be difficult in the current make-up of this Parliament for that type of decision to pass, but there may be a time in the future when governments may not want this Parliament to run as effectively and as efficiently as it does; they may not want it to. So they may reduce that funding, and it would be up to the government and the executive to make that decision. The government and the executive make that decision about IBAC, about the Ombudsman and about this very chamber. Now, I see that in other jurisdictions that is not the case. If you look at Canada, if you look at Scotland, if you look at the UK, there is independent review of the funding of the independent bodies that provide that scrutiny of government. It is something that I will continue to pursue.
In saying that and in finishing, I believe that this is not perfect, but we have scrambled together to find the right funding for this chamber, for this Council, which I am very pleased about—although I believe it needs more, and I will be campaigning and working on that over the coming months leading up to the next budget. The same goes for IBAC and the Ombudsman. I have been given in writing assurances from the Treasurer that both of those organisations will get the funding that they want, and we can reassess and we can work on this to ensure that this happens in May.
I have always said that when I come into this house I am here to push Reason’s policies and the platform that I was elected on. I am not the government, and I am not the opposition either—I am not an opposition. I am here to provide scrutiny, to hold the government to account, but also to advocate for my community and advocate for the platform that I was elected on. So quite often I feel troubled about amending government bills such as this.