MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) (17:09:56) — It gives me pleasure to speak on this very important bill, the Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment (Public Interest Disclosures, Oversight and Independence) Bill 2018. As the minister said in his second-reading speech, this bill does some very important things. Principally, and I start many contributions with this, it acquits our election commitments. This is a government that delivers on its election commitments, and this bill is no different in that regard. It acquits our public commitments, and I will explain a bit further about those.
The bill addresses concerns that people and agencies have expressed about the operation of the integrity and accountability system. It seeks to make the whistleblower protection system stronger and more accessible so as to encourage more people to report corruption and public sector wrongdoing. The bill seeks to modernise and clarify the Ombudsman’s legislation. It does that by varying a number of acts on the statute books — for example, the Protected Disclosure Act 2012. It seeks to change the name of that act to something a bit more accurate and directed, namely, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012, which after all is what the act seeks to do.
This bill seeks to reform the Ombudsman Act 1973 by providing the Ombudsman with clear jurisdiction over publicly funded services. Other provisions include allowing people aged 10 to 16 to provide information to the Ombudsman, of course with relevant safeguards and on a voluntary basis. Other speakers have talked about amending the parliamentary system of oversight to make it more coherent.
The bill is the culmination of a significant review of the entire integrity framework in Victoria. It builds on a legacy this government has already created, and that is the Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment (A Stronger System) Act 2016. When the other side talk about and point the finger at us in terms of integrity and accountability, we have a track record of commitment in this regard. I will speak a bit more about that in a moment.
The bill acquits the government’s public and election commitments. It does that through seeking to amend various parts of the statute books. It specifically addresses recommendation 18 of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s 2015 report on sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Victoria Police by removing confidentiality barriers that prevent people involved and protected disclosers from accessing support services. Recommendation 24 of the 2015 Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 said that the Ombudsman should have clear jurisdiction to:
… consider human rights issues relating to the administrative actions of all public authorities under the charter …
In this case, except police personnel. It seeks to implement the majority of recommendations in the IBAC Committee’s 2017 report and the important work that that committee did.
As the minister said in his second-reading speech, the driver of this bill and the driver of the government’s commitment in relation to the integrity framework in Victoria rests around seven principles: accountability, independence, effectiveness, transparency, collaboration, cohesion and fairness. I think when it comes to those values and ethics, this government has demonstrated them time and time again.
The honourable member speaking before me talked about the fire services. It continues to amaze me, the audacity with which those on the other side speak of matters in the fire services when they absolutely abrogated much of their responsibility in their time in office. I will just pick two key elements of that abrogation of responsibility. One was ignoring the reports. I think today in question time we talked about nine reports into fire services, all of which found similar themes and patterns. Those opposite, over their four years in government — particularly a government that had the fire services in its sights in a previous term — did nothing to implement those reports or any recommendations.
We on the other hand sought the report that is now subject to legal action. We sought the report from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. We have committed to implementing its recommendations. As the Minister for Emergency Services said today, we are not waiting for that. We have already invested in the fire services to do some key things, including quadrupling the number of female personnel and recruits.
That is one element. The second element that continues to be a thorn in the side of the opposition but that they do not like to be reminded of is that they tore money away from the fire services, from the Country Fire Authority. They tore away some $60-odd million. They put it in one year and they took it away the next.
But back to the bill, in terms of the amendments to the parliamentary committees that I mentioned earlier, parliamentary oversight of integrity and oversight bodies is fragmented with responsibility distributed across the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Committee, the Accountability and Oversight Committee and the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), a committee that I am on and that a previous speaker on this bill, the member for Essendon, is the chair of.
This bill seeks to streamline parliamentary oversight of the integrity and accountability framework by merging the IBAC Committee and the Accountability and Oversight Committee and naming the merged committee the Integrity and Oversight Committee. As is appropriate, PAEC will continue to oversee matters relating to the Auditor-General’s functions; for example, performance audits, finance audits and a whole range of other things that come up. In fact that is correct, appropriate and consistent with the role played by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee on behalf of this Parliament. It is a very important committee, obviously, and a joint committee that will continue to play the role it was established to play even with this bill going through the house.
I think that is an example of the strength of our accountability system. The Auditor-General serves an extraordinarily important function, and the office of the Auditor-General is obviously a key element of the strong institutions we have in this state and the accountability and integrity framework we have that keeps government departments and governments honest. By the same token, as we have unfortunately experienced in the last few years, the office of the Auditor-General also requires oversight for the good of the system and the functioning of the integrity system, and that is what Public Accounts and Estimates Committee provides. I think the member for Essendon mentioned briefly the report that PAEC produced in relation to the former Auditor-General and his vacating that position.
This government has a lot to be proud of in terms of the accountability and integrity system in Victoria. It is a government that does not interfere in the same way the previous government, the now opposition, did in the role and the functions of the Chief Commissioner of Police through the debacle of the affair with Tristan Weston. It is a government that does not do the things that cost the taxpayers of Victoria enormous amounts of money through Ventnor and Fishermans Bend. There are a whole range of other things that those on the other side choose to ignore. This is a profoundly important bill. It is a bill that strengthens the system that we need for our democracy, our society and our government expenditure. I commend the bill to the house.