MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:57:34): I rise to speak briefly on the Parliamentary Committees Amendment Bill 2019, which somewhat curiously plans to abolish the non-statutory parliamentary joint house committees, as well as providing pay rises for certain government members. I say it is curious because we have got an independent remuneration tribunal bill coming up straight after this one that will talk about independent remuneration, but prior to that we are making our own decisions ahead of the independent tribunal to give pay rises for certain government members. I am not actually suggesting that they do not deserve them. If this brings in a rate of consistency across payments, I do not particularly have a problem with that, but I do have a problem with abolishing the committees. I have read the second-reading speech. I have spoken to government. I have spoken to departments. I still cannot quite see why, when I have found it to be some of the most rewarding and privileged work that I have been able to do in this house and when I look back on the history of these committees. In fact I have been on the other side. I have given evidence to committees and put submissions in, attended hearings in my work representing various communities, so I have seen it on both sides, and I have found both sides of that table to be rewarding. As someone putting submissions into the committees and giving evidence, I felt listened to. I felt that the people I was representing on that side had their voices heard and reported in the final reports that came out of these committees. These committees have done amazing work. You only have to look at seatbelts, and that came out of a Victorian parliamentary committee in the 1970s. We started the process for introducing seatbelts, and we have continued that important work. They really are investigative. We are given the resources to really look at and to dive-deep into an issue, to speak broadly to the community, to conduct wideranging public hearings, to investigate how other jurisdictions are doing things better or worse and to very much hear from the community about important issues that we as a Parliament will consider. Often, as I mentioned, like seatbelts, they direct where we go in the future of governance, where our policies are, where they are directed and how we can get a gauge on where our communities stands on really important issues. I understand that we have upper house standing committees, and I have been part of amazing inquiries there, but they are limited. They are limited by funding, they are limited by resources and they are very often limited by time, where the joint house committees are awarded a much greater range of support, whether that is in staff or whether that is in budget. Maybe I have been incredibly lucky in the committees that I have been part of, but largely they have been consensus driven—that the people on that committee have worked towards finding common ground and finding where we agree and working from those points. I know that there are other committees that may not have been quite so consensus driven, but certainly the ones that I have been involved with did good work and did so largely by consensus. This is something that we do not see, and it is something that the community does not see. The community sees question time. They see us bashing each other’s heads. They see the pointlessness of question time. They understand that question time is not answer time, and that is what they think we do. They do not see the deliberation and the research that goes into some of the investigatory inquiries that we have done, and we and these committees effect change, as I said. They are good for our community. They are a good way for us to learn more as Independents. For me, without the resources of a large party that might be able to have a whole range of advisors and researchers, I learned an awful lot during the committee process and being on those committees. I would have to say that one of the more recent committees that I think has done quite extraordinary work is the one that was in the 57th Parliament where, under Ms Crozier’s stewardship, the Family and Community Development Committee’s Betrayal of Trust inquiry broke significant ground on institutional child sex abuse. It worked towards and it worked alongside the amazing work of the royal commission. That sits well-thumbed in my office. Mr Ramsay led the methamphetamine inquiry, the ice report, which the next government adopted largely, and that became their response to ice in our community. It was the recommendations of that joint house investigatory committee, so these are the areas. I appreciate that sometimes the outcomes and the recommendations of these committees are not comfortable to government, but what I speak about to the community is the amazing work that they do and the time that we get to learn where each other stands and why they stand where they stand. We learn more about each other in this Parliament through those committee processes. I have had the opportunity to get to know people that I probably never would have got to know, because they were in another house, they represented electorates that were far-flung from mine and we would not have crossed paths much, but I got to cross paths and I got to spend quality time and learn from them, and I suddenly had learned a lot. Whether it might have been from former members like Martin Dixon or even Louise Asher, their years and sometimes decades of experience I got a lot from, so I just cannot see what good comes from abolishing these committees. I am at a complete loss. I must say when I talk to the community, as Mr O’Donohue raised, the community does not hold a lot of trust or faith in us. They think that we have our snouts in the trough and that we cannot be trusted, and certainly the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the majority of Australians do not trust their governments. That is sorry and that is sad, and I think engaging our community in our processes is one way to try and earn back that trust. I know I talk about it a lot when I am talking to school groups or I am talking to community groups—that what they see on television is largely not what we do. What we do generally is debate, very often in a civilised manner. We listen to each other. We learn from each other, and during the committee processes we not only learn from each other but also discover and find common ground. Very often, as we saw with the Betrayal of Trust report and the methamphetamine report, committees actually direct another government in their policies as they go forward. So I just cannot see any reason why the government would do this, other than to reduce the influence or the input of the Parliament on the process. To me I think that is cocky or even arrogant. As I mentioned, as for the specific salary increases for certain government members, I think it is very cute that we are doing this. We are putting up an independent remuneration bill that will be given the task of setting the salaries and remuneration for all of us, including some of our electoral budget, and I very much welcome that. But again, when the public sees us introducing an independent remuneration bill on one hand and then introducing a bill that increases the pay of certain members on the other hand, I think they have every right to question how dedicated we are to independent remuneration. I will be sad if this bill does pass. As I say, I have learned a lot from the committee process just in the one term that I have been here, but I have also learned a lot from the committee reports of previous terms, and I have really learned from the people that I have shared those committees and those committee investigations with, so I will not be supporting the bill.
Parliamentary Committees Amendment Bill 2019
by Fiona Patten / Tuesday, 05 March 2019 / Published in
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