Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:34:32):
I rise to speak to the Public Administration Amendment Bill 2019. This is a bill designed to clarify the standards that apply to public sector bodies in relation to the publication of public sector communications.
Effectively this is designed to look at the types of advertising that the state government may run during election periods and whether it meets the existing regulations and whether those regulations are fit for purpose or whether they need to be tightened.
I listened to Mr O’Donohue’s second-reading speech the other week, and it is very plain that this bill is very directed at the Victorian government’s ‘fair share’ advertising campaign during the last federal election.
I am not surprised, but the government obviously made the defence that they did not breach any guidelines here. I will not involve myself in a tit for tat over who did what or the ongoing struggle of how we do not use public funds for political campaigning whether that is red shirts or advertising such as this.
Certainly I appreciate that I am not the opposition, I am not the government and I probably will never have an opportunity to use public funding to influence how a constituent may consider anything.
As a principle I would support any reform that enhances the integrity of the Victorian electoral system and any reform that enhances the transparency around electoral advertising.
I think that is certainly why in 2018 I negotiated a cap on campaign expenditure, which will be implemented via an independent panel review following the 2022 election.
I would have liked this to happen earlier, but we will in this state finally be looking at caps on expenditure during elections, which I know will be welcomed by the Victorian community.
People have lost trust in politicians, and they have lost trust in our government. This has been put to us numerous times, whether it is just you and me speaking at market gardens or farmers markets or out there at train stations. We hear people say, ‘I don’t trust you’, ‘Governments, well, they’re just pigs in the trough’ or whatever.
Those are the sorts of comments I am sure all of us have heard. This is a very worrying thing. We have seen with the Edelman Trust Barometer, which was brought out earlier this year, that over 50 per cent of Victorians frankly do not trust us—they do not think that we are doing what we should be for our community.
Now, I know all of us in this chamber are here for the right reasons—we are in the right place, we are here because we want to represent our constituents, we want to do the right thing—so any extended or greater transparency around the way that governments operate should be endorsed and embraced.
So in principle I support Mr O’Donohue’s thesis that there should be an objective legal test as to whether advertising done by the government is intended to influence the public sentiment or is just intended to send out a public service message. I appreciate that the wording is somewhat difficult. I think IBAC raised this.
In their review of the advertising that was undertaken during the last federal election by this government they did question that ‘fair share’ advertising and they actually noted that it probably sat outside and that it was there to indirectly influence public sentiment.
Mr O’Donohue’s very simple amendment is to remove the words ‘is not designed or intended to’ directly or indirectly influence public sentiment to say ‘does not’ directly or indirectly influence public sentiment.
I am somewhat undecided as to whether that wording actually achieves the purpose or whether that sets a greater test of trying to decide whether the public was influenced and whether this sets ourselves up with a bigger question to be asked.
However, I do agree that we should have a fair and objective test. I am supportive of the notion of greater transparency. I am supportive of the notion that we should not be using public money for election campaigning in this way. I will be interested to listen to the rest of the debate today to understand the effects of the very simple amendment that Mr O’Donohue has put forward.
I am somewhat concerned that it relies on the perceptions of individual members of the public and it may actually be harder for investigative agencies like IBAC, the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman to assess this benchmark or enforce it. At this stage I reserve my position, but I am very supportive of the notion of greater transparency.
Certainly I acknowledge the comments by IBAC and the Ombudsman on this that obviously the ‘fair share’ advertising campaign did not meet the current standards of the legislation.
As to whether Mr O’Donohue’s amendment makes that clearer, clarifies that and makes that easier, I think it probably is the case, and I would be supportive if that was the case.
I will be interested to hear from the government and from my fellow crossbenchers their thoughts on that.