Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Statements on parliamentary committee reports

Integrity and Oversight Committee

Integrity and Oversight Committee

Performance of the Victorian Integrity Agencies 2020/21: Focus on Witness Welfare

Brad ROWSWELL (Sandringham) (10:22:482:): I also rise to address the Performance of the Victorian Integrity Agencies 2020/21: Focus on Witness Welfare Integrity and Oversight Committee report. Just another point for consideration: by one measure the member for Narre Warren South was casting aspersions on other members of this place, and it is unparliamentary to do so other than by substantive motion.

Members interjecting.

Brad ROWSWELL: The minister at the table, the Minister for Government Services, is getting a bit lippy. I suspect there is a reason for that.

During the course of this inquiry, as the member for Rowville, my colleague and a consistent member of the Integrity and Oversight Committee through the term of the last Parliament, pointed out, the reason why there was a specific focus on witness welfare was because of an acknowledgement of the tragic death of former mayor of Casey Amanda Stapleton. That is why there was a particular focus on witness welfare.

During the course of the inquiry there were a number of things that occurred which the member for Rowville and I thought were not right – things that we thought were unjust and things that we thought needed to be called out and needed to be articulated in a minority report. The member for Narre Warren South in his contribution suggested that the reasons for that were political reasons. The member could not be further from the truth. The reason why we submitted that minority report was not for political reasons; it was simply because we thought that an expectation had been set by the committee and by the then chair of the committee, Ms Shing in the other place, that this committee and that this inquiry would hear from witnesses – and guess what, they were not heard. That in itself is a disgrace. It is an absolute disgrace that they were not given the opportunity to put their case forward to be heard by this committee. In our minority report we made six recommendations. Recommendation 1:

When undertaking a call for submissions, this Committee should fully disclose how the submission could be received and treated. This should include information relating to a submission being received as public, confidential or partially confidential as well as advice about the possibility of presenting to the Committee in a public or private hearing.

The reason why we did this was because in the invitation for submissions Ms Shing in the other place said:

We invite submissions from the public to this important and timely review.

The statement goes on to say:

The committee is calling for submissions from the public addressing the following matters:

The experiences of witnesses and others involved in Victorian integrity agency investigations …

So in the words of the chair, we invited witnesses to come and present to our committee. The next minute they are not welcome. They are not given the ability to be heard. That was all we were asking for, that was all witnesses were asking for. When we put in this minority report, and again I refer to the member for Narre Warren South’s earlier comments, we did so not for a political reason but for a reason of –

Kim Wells: Decency.

Brad ROWSWELL: decency, truth and fairness in the process. There were a number of other recommendations that we made. Perhaps if there is an accusation of political interference in this process, it refers to the last recommendation that we made in this minority report. That recommendation is as follows:

Committee members must be required to disclose, at the earliest opportunity, any interference in Committee business that they become aware of – or are party to – by the PPO or any other politically aligned individual or body.

That is very important because, as the member for Narre Warren South mentioned, the separation of powers is darned important. It was the role of the committee as instigated by the Parliament to undertake this inquiry. It is not the role of the Premier’s private office or any political apparatchik to insert themselves and to influence the outcomes of a parliamentary committee inquiry, and I cannot say with any certainty that that was not the case during the course of this committee report.