Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:15): I rise to speak to this bill. The fond memories and the fun stories that Ms Shing told about Puffing Billy are so true, and it is this wonderful, iconic part of Victoria and part of our history, part of many of our childhoods and part of happy childhoods for many to come. However, that is not why we are doing this bill. The reason we are doing this bill is the nightmares that occurred as part of Puffing Billy.
From the outset I would like to thank the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, for her telling review into the governance structures that allowed the harm to happen, that did not stop the harm from happening, that did not have the structure to prevent this. I would like to think that it was not wilful blindness, I would like to think it was not indifference and I would like to think it was not ineptitude. But here we have a circumstance where a lifelong sex offender, a volunteer at Puffing Billy, was allowed to continue to work there for nearly 30 years. He was first convicted in 1959 and was given his job back after he was released from jail. That would be unheard of today. I am so pleased that that would be unheard of today, and I am so pleased with the work that has been done around institutional child sexual abuse. Ms Crozier chaired one of those very fundamental reports into changing that, and we have seen royal commissions into this.
This bill goes towards amending some of those errors that occurred so many years ago. But it was that poor legislative framework under the existing act, the Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977, and the inappropriate board and management composition which enabled that executive committee of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society to control the Emerald Tourist Railway Board. The conclusion was that it was the lack of processes and the lack of governance that facilitated—the Ombudsman used the word ‘facilitated’—the offending.
That is after the fact now. I do not think this is closing the gate after the horse has bolted; this is ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. We have done so much, as I say, not only in our inquiries but also in our legislation here to ensure that structures are in place to make sure that this is never repeated. Even more recently we have addressed things like the confessional seal in this place, where we have just said, ‘There is no excuse. There is no governance. There is no excuse for not reporting child sexual abuse and not stopping it’. In many ways this bill goes towards that. I am very pleased that it also does a number of other things but that it ensures, I hope, the longevity of this most iconic attraction that hopefully will bring much joy to generations to come.
But we still are having to address and we are still having to face up to the past. We are still having to face up to the things that we let happen. I remember releasing a report called Hypocrites back in 1994.
I received death threats for doing that. I received a threat: ‘How dare you? How dare you name people who have been convicted of abuse? How very dare you do that?’. That has changed in the last 30 years, and I am so pleased that it has changed. This bill ensures that we make certain that it can never happen again.
I do want to speak about the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. It was established in 1955, with the objective of preserving the railway and its historical assets for future generations, and it has done just that. It is a wonderful society. It saved the Puffing Billy initially. It owns rolling stock. The society operates today with over 1000 current members. Several hundred of those members volunteer on the railway, and their contributions continue to be critical to the sustained operation. This bill also enables some of that to happen, but I think it possibly could be improved to really recognise the tireless work of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. I mean, they do the maintenance on the tracks, they preserve the locomotives, they drive the locomotives. It is volunteer led, and this is truly wonderful. I just think it is so important to commend the very fine work of that society.
I know many of you would have received emails from many of the volunteers from the Puffing Billy Preservation Society who are really feeling like they are being brought into disrepute by this bill, and they are not. They are wonderful volunteers. They are people who do amazing things for our community, who continue this beautiful tradition of the Puffing Billy. The current members only acted appropriately, they have never done anything wrong and they are respected, and it is important that their voices are heard. As I said, I know many of you would have received emails from them, and I thank them all for their advocacy here, because they are volunteers; they do not necessarily have time to look at legislation and be kept up on the goings-on of the Victorian lower house or even the upper house.
I would like to particularly do a shout-out to Jeremy Paton—no relation—who is the vice-president of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. He has been tireless in his work to keep that beautiful tradition and the beautiful stories—that we heard from Ms Shing and we heard from Ms Burnett-Wake—about the importance of this wonderful, iconic attraction here.
The Ombudsman recommended a review of the current structure and composition of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board and the governance issues associated with its relationship with the society, and that has informed many of the provisions of this bill. The Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977 obviously is not a suitable framework, and a replacement act with these modernised provisions to effectively support contemporary operations safely is necessary, and it certainly has my support. But as Ms McLeish highlighted at length in the other place, there may be a way to achieve this that better serves the current members of the preservation society, who have not done anything wrong and have given so much to Puffing Billy. I look forward to the committee of the whole on this bill. I look forward to exploring further some of the amendments that the opposition will be putting up on this bill. But this is a modernisation of legislation. This is necessary. It does recognise the wrongs of the past. But I want to ensure that it also respects the volunteers that currently work so hard for Puffing Billy, and I want to ensure that that respect is incorporated into this legislation and that in no way do those terrific volunteers feel deprived of that through this legislation.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 5/4/22