Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise briefly to speak to this bill. When I first looked at it I looked up what a private act is. I thought this is a very interesting piece of legislation — a private act — where a private organisation can come to the Parliament and request that it has a private act and a private bill. Generally speaking in previous centuries this was paid for, and it was very expensive. In fact just on the weekend I was looking through some of my family history and found that my ancestors had had to petition for a private bill to get divorced in the mid-19th century in London, England. As an aside to that, it cost them a lot of money and the wife of the person who asked for the divorce lost out on any alimony even though it had been promised to her because the parliamentarians knocked it out of the bill.
Ms Pennicuik — They were all men.
Ms PATTEN — Yes, Ms Pennicuik, they were. These bills were used in the past to provide some regulation and organisation for banks and certain trusts. Now they are predominantly and almost only used for religious organisations. Again I have to ask: why? When you look at the bill, the Parliament does not really have any oversight over the Melbourne College of Divinity, or the University of Divinity as it will soon be called — although it has been called that since 2013. We are having this debate on this bill to change the name of an organisation that changed its name three years ago.
I am certainly hoping that the minister will be able to explain to me why we have waived the fee. This is an organisation that has a $14 million turnover. I understand that putting a private bill up in this house is not cheap. It goes through parliamentary counsel, it goes through cabinet, it goes through the papers office, it goes through the table office — it goes through a whole range of things. It goes through this place, and it goes through the other house. I understand that this runs to tens and tens of thousands of dollars.
Also I wonder about setting up an organisational structure for this university which is different from other colleges. There is the Harvest Bible College, which provides the same instruction on pastoral care and theology. It provides the same levels of graduate diplomas, diplomas and bachelor degrees. It does not have its own private bill, yet it is providing the exact same educational services as the Melbourne College of Divinity.
The Melbourne College of Divinity sits outside the Corporations Act 2001 because it is incorporated under a private bill. I was looking at its website, and the office-holders of the Melbourne College of Divinity are indemnified under the act. You cannot indemnify office-holders under the Corporations Act, so this bill does give it special treatment. I do not particularly care if the university wants to have special treatment, but I do care that this seems to be a real waste of money. It seems to be an archaic throwback to the times when we used to have to petition the Parliament for a divorce, like my ancestors did. This is really a historical relic, and I think we just have to ask: why are we doing this? When the college came to the Parliament, why did we not say, ‘Pop down to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, hand in your constitution and get yourself incorporated there. You can receive government funding’? It is listed on the different education registers — and that is fine — as are many that do not have their own private bill that we pay for.
I just cannot see any practical reason why we have this bill. I do not mind if the University of Divinity wants this, but I do think that in 2016 the time has come for us to move away from these private acts and private bills — and we have done for the most part; there are very few. I was looking at this the other day. We have done a handful of them, and we waive the fee every time. We have waived the fee pretty much since the late 1990s. We do not charge people. We consider them private bills, but then we consider them public bills for the sake of not charging.
My questions are really around this, and to avoid going into the committee of the whole I ask: how much does it cost for the parliamentary counsel to give up time to draft this piece of legislation, for it to go through cabinet, for it to go through the papers office and go through debate in both houses? And why are we waiving the fee for a relatively wealthy organisation? It has a $13 million turnover. As a higher education provider established by an act of Parliament in Victoria, the University of Divinity is already accountable to the Minister for Training and Skills. Does this change because they have this private bill? I would be interested in that.
As I say, I am not going to oppose this, but I do think it is time that we consider phasing out private bills that do not need to be here. We have perfectly good public service infrastructure to allow for these universities and colleges to be accountable and responsible. I just find this to be a fairly pointless piece of legislation.