Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:03): I rise with some disappointment and sadness to speak to this bill. It is rushed. I do not feel that the report is actually as compelling as other reports that we have seen when we have been asked to sack an elected government, to sack 11 elected representatives. In fact the report goes to great lengths to tell us that all 11 representatives did not act badly, did not bring the council into disrepute. In fact it was just a few. The monitor does not go to name who they were, but he certainly does not say that all 11 councillors acted so poorly that they should be sacked and the ever-growing constituency of Whittlesea, the quarter of a million people, should be without elected representatives for four and a half years. I think this is entirely unreasonable.
Dr Ratnam did outline the time line of this, and I am at a loss as to why the time line was rushed. The monitor, yes—it was two weeks before Christmas, a few days after a young female was elected as mayor and a young female was appointed deputy mayor, and with such enthusiasm and optimism.
It was a real delight to spend time with those women. I was really looking forward to spending time with them and getting to know them more. They had deep aspirations for their community, which I shared.
But here we have a report from a monitor who was asked to spend six months looking at this council to consider the appointment and oversight of a CEO, and:
To advise on and provide assistance and support to the Council in relation to the Council’s governance and practices, with specific regard to the matters raised in clauses 1 and 2—
which were in regard to the appointment of the CEO. The monitor was also asked:
To monitor any other issues identified by the municipal monitor which could impact on the integrity of Council decision-making and the Council’s ability to provide good governance.
Those 19 pages that he delivered two weeks early were supposed to be an interim report. They decided not to complete the full six months of monitoring. When we had the most recent case of sacking a council, Casey council, there was absolute criminal activity being alleged in that council. In fact I think it is quite clear that there has been criminal activity. That was not the case in this council. There were also reports—and the monitor actually confirms this—that poor behaviour in this council had been going on for years, if not decades.
But the monitor comes back two weeks early with a 19-page report, and I am including the page that has the terms of reference and the contents, to say that this council must urgently be sacked, there is nothing we can do to help this council and its governance is poor—and yes, there are some examples but there are no specific examples. In fact it would appear in my reading—and I have had the opportunity to read it a couple of times, even though we only received this document yesterday—that they had very poor social media skills, and this continues, and that they could benefit from a best practice guide. I think we all could benefit from a best practice guide on how to use social media.
They appear to have some poor social skills and they did not seem to be able to get along with others. They fought amongst themselves. I do not know if anybody has watched us on television, but I think we could be accused of the same. There were poor relationships with staff. Now that I did find concerning, the health and safety of the staff. I have spent a lot of time with the Whittlesea staff. I have regular visits and regular meetings with Whittlesea, and I have found those staff to be passionate. In fact it was only a couple of weeks ago that Mr Ondarchie and I were in Whittlesea for a homelessness inquiry that we had great assistance from the Whittlesea council in coordinating. They provided us with excellent information and they have always done that.
So we are talking about poor social media, poor social skills and poor relationships with staff. The monitor did mention once on page 13 that he made some suggestions on how they could get along better and that the mayor tried that but it did not last long. I certainly think we could have tried a bit harder. We paid the monitor $50 000. We asked the monitor to spend six months there to see how he could improve things. This is not a council that is filled with corruption. This is not a council that is facing criminal charges. This is a council that has been accused of bad behaviour towards each other and bad behaviour towards staff.
As the minister states in his second-reading speech:
Dismissing a council by Parliament is the most extreme intervention by the state and is only undertaken in the most serious cases of governance failure.
I cannot find that in this report. I cannot find the extreme nature here.
I cannot find any reason why we would require the ever-growing City of Whittlesea to be without local governance and to be without local elected representatives for four and a half years.
I am very disappointed. I do not feel that there is any urgency to this. It is not as if someone is about to rob a bank or there is any illegality here, so what was the urgency? The report relies heavily on two other reports that we have not been able to see. We have not received copies of those reports. It relied very heavily on those. I do not think it does provide a compelling case for dismissing a council, and it particularly does not provide a compelling case for dismissing a council within 24 hours of the report being tabled in this Parliament.
I, like Mr Quilty, like Dr Ratnam, would have liked more time to investigate this. I would have liked to have more time to maybe even read the reports that this report relies on to get a greater understanding of this. I do think that there would have been better ways to have handled this. I do think that this has been rushed, and I fear that if this is how we are going to continue—we did this with Casey council as well—is Mornington next? Cardinia? I do not know, but every Wednesday afternoon are we going to spend an hour sacking a council?
I am disappointed with this. At one stage the government was not going to provide much time for debate or for committee, so I am pleased that we will be able to ask some questions of the minister and the minister’s office. I thank the minister’s office because they have been forthcoming with information at late hours of the night last night when we were trying to prepare for today. I thank the minister’s office for that. I will hold my judgement on this bill until after the committee process.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 18/3/20