Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Grievance debate

Government integrity

Government integrity

Peter WALSH (Murray Plains) (16:31): I grieve for the integrity of Victoria and its public service, but before I do that I would encourage the member for Eltham to go and read the member for Narracan’s inaugural speech. Instead of just spouting the talking lines that have been given about the SEC, read a speech from someone who was an apprentice, who actually lost his job when Joan Kirner started privatising the SEC. Instead of just speaking the lines she has been given and parroting them out, go and read something from someone that understands firsthand what went on with those issues. We see this all the time from the other side of the house. They have got their talking points, will be a parrot, will stand up, will talk about what they have been told to talk about, will sit down, will get a pat on the head: ‘We’re going to be good people. We’ll get promoted one day. We might even become Assistant Treasurer and become the wolf of Spring Street.’ So please, member for Eltham, go and read the member for Narracan’s inaugural speech and actually understand who started privatising the SEC. Do not have this rewriting of history that somehow the Andrews government is going to save people from themselves. They will end up coming for people’s super. They will end up costing Victorians a lot of money with the SEC –

Members interjecting.

Peter WALSH: They will. The backbench scoffs. You have got your talking points. You can laugh, but just wait and see.

The SPEAKER: Order! Leader of the Nationals, I ask you to direct your comments through the Chair and not use the word ‘you’.

Peter WALSH: Speaker, those on the back bench on the other side may laugh. They will have their talking points. They can rubbish other people. But ultimately the truth will come out, and that is where I want to start this.

If you think about it, in five years or 10 years time the history of the Andrews government will be written. If you think back to Queensland and the Fitzgerald inquiry and the corruption that was in Queensland, if you think back to New South Wales and the ICAC there and what they wheedled out of the system 15 years ago after Neville Wran, after the corruption of Labor governments in New South Wales, we will have exactly the same circumstances here in Victoria. Those that sit on the back bench might think their ministers and their leader are heroes. They might be embroiled in the great part of being government, but one day the history will be written. One day there will be someone that will lift the lid on the stench that is the Victorian system of government here and the fact that ministerial responsibility has been lost and the public sector has been politicised beyond how it should work. There are lots of people in authority that are saying the public sector is so politicised now it is not working correctly. The history will be written and the truth will come out, but the ones that will actually suffer out of that the most are ordinary Victorians, if you think about the debt of this state, if you think about the hubris, the inaction in getting things done other than the government’s pet projects, which constantly blow out, constantly do not deliver what was promised.

I talk a lot about the issue of country roads, and you would be well aware of this too, Speaker, with your electorate – $28 billion in cost overruns on Melbourne projects. That would effectively fix every country road in Victoria if it was there. We have a government where hubris, where nepotism, where mates have taken over proper decision-making.

Robert Redlich, the retiring IBAC Commissioner, has lamented the challenges he had as the IBAC Commissioner in getting to the bottom of issues of corruption and nepotism here in Victoria – how his budget was cut, how his powers were reduced by the Andrews government – and lifting that lid on that corruption that I am talking about. Corruption is not just about money, it is not just about a brown paper bag that goes somewhere; it is about turning a blind eye, it is about nepotism, it is about how you reward your mates for doing the right thing without being seen to do it.

As I understand it, there are 35 corruption investigations being carried out by the IBAC at the moment. Some of those have been sitting there ready to be tabled for a number of years, particularly if I talk about Operation Sandon. Sandon, as I understand it, is still tied up in the Supreme Court because Mr Woodman is using very, very expensive lawyers to make sure that report does not get released. What comes out with Sandon will be very, very interesting. We have heard a lot of stories about that. We have heard a lot about the dumplings at the Flower Drum. It will be interesting how much those dumplings actually cost Victorians at the end of the whole system. Robert Redlich, as the IBAC Commissioner, tried to do his job. He had a report to be tabled, particularly had a report that should have been out before the state election so that the people of Victoria could make informed decisions when they voted, but that got tied up in the Supreme Court here in Victoria. Whether it is just Mr Woodman or whether there is some help from the government to keep it in the courts, no-one knows at this moment, but no doubt that will come out in the future.

If you talk about Operation Richmond, Operation Richmond has been around for quite a while – Peter Marshall, the CFA. Those on this side of the house who are country members of Parliament and some of the suburban members of Parliament that have CFA stations understand what was done to the CFA, how one of the great, proud organisations of this state was destroyed by Peter Marshall and his union mates. That is what Richmond is about. It is about lifting the lid on what went on between Peter Marshall and the Andrews government. What were the deals done back before the 2014 election that encouraged all those union officials to turn up in bogus CFA uniforms to man booths? Peter Marshall brags about the fact that over 700 of his members turned out to man booths for Labor to form government at that time. We want to see what comes out with Richmond. The sad part is it will be Victorians that pay again, because the CFA is a shadow of its former self. There are just so many volunteers that have left. There are so many good people that have given up because they are sick of it. There are career CFA staff who have left because they were sick of the bullying, sick of the intimidation, by those union officials who were put in to be the management of the CFA once Fire Rescue Victoria took over its control.

We have seen the issue with the Daintree investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission about sweetheart deals with a health union. Several million dollars were put across to the health union to deliver training, but it was just a sweetheart deal to keep a union happy which then puts money into the ALP coffers to fight elections. Everyone talks about it, and there was no conclusion to it. It probably all started with the red shirts, going back to the 2014 election: hand in the till using taxpayers money to employ electorate staff to do electioneering. Yes, they got caught eventually, yes, they paid the money back, but no-one has been held to account for those particular decisions. On and on it goes. They finally get caught on some of the issues, and an apology seems to clear the slate: ‘I am sorry, I am sorry, and then I can keep on going and doing what I was doing.’

We saw that yesterday and today with the Assistant Treasurer. There is no doubt in my mind, there is no doubt in probably every thinking Victorian’s mind, that the Assistant Treasurer has done something wrong. But because he has apologised and said, ‘I know nothing –

A member: Unreservedly.

Peter WALSH: Unreservedly apologised, which is even stronger. To be fair, that is stronger. An unreserved apology has to be stronger than a normal apology.

You cannot apologise away actually breaking the ministerial code of conduct. We have seen in other states and other western democracies – other Westminster democracies – people resigning for a lot less than what we have seen with the Assistant Treasurer over the last few days. The Premier of New South Wales was given a bottle of Grange, forgot he had been given it, categorically said he had not been given it and it was pointed out to him that he had been given it. A Premier resigned over a $3000 bottle of wine – not $100,000 worth of CSL shares, not some Beach petroleum shares but one bottle of wine. If we want to get back to looking at the Westminster system of government, at actually having accountability in this state, we need ministers to take responsibility for their actions. We need ministers to take responsibility for what their department does. That is the system of government we live under. It is about executive government running the state and Parliament holding them to account, not executive government saying, ‘Well, hang on, that was a bureaucrat. The bureaucrats did that, I didn’t do it’. Someone has to sign the brief that authorises the spending of money. They may not sign the contract, but they have to sign the brief.

We saw the classic example of that was the COVID-19 hotel quarantine contract. It cost $80-something million to set up the quarantine system in hotels – $80 million. Somehow $80 million was spent and the system was set up. Tragically 800 people lost their lives out of that system, but somehow the decisions were made by a creeping assumption that somehow we moved through this issue of needing hotel quarantine. Hotels were leased and engaged, staff were employed – private security rather than health professionals, which is a separate issue again – but $80 million was spent on a creeping assumption. I just do not get this. I do not get how governments can get away with this. And then we had the Premier going to the Coate inquiry around these particular issues and from memory –

James Newbury: Twenty-nine.

Peter WALSH: I thought it was 27. Twenty-seven, 29 times – whatever the number was – the Premier said, ‘I do not recall’. I give the credit due to the Premier: I actually think he has got a very good memory. He is a very astute politician. But to sit there and say to Justice Coate ‘I don’t recall’ 27 times is an insult to Victorians. It is an absolute insult to the 800 people that lost their lives. It is an insult to the intelligence of all of us that somehow a creeping assumption can spend $80 million, cost 800 lives and no-one in government recalls and no-one in government is accountable for those decisions. It is an absolute disgrace in this state.

As I said, when the history is written, when the lid is lifted on the stench of corruption in this state, we will find we are worse than Queensland ever was, we will find we are worse than New South Wales ever was. One of the things – as a member of this place and someone who actually truly believes in the Westminster system of government – I always thought Victoria was better than Queensland and New South Wales. We know New South Wales were all convicts and have stayed that way ever since. We know Queensland had their issues – and Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a Country Party/National Party Premier, but we know the problems that happened there. We know what Fitzgerald found about corruption when they lifted the lid on Queensland. That same thing will happen here in Victoria. When the lid is lifted and the history is written we will see what has gone wrong in this particular state.

I do really seriously grieve for that coming back so that Victorians are properly governed and actually have a public service that believes in serving the public. People used to want to work in the public sector. They wanted to serve the public of Victoria. The people that are still left there now – and a lot of good people have left – are very, very frustrated that they do not get to serve the public. I am told that middle-level department people constantly put advice up and it is constantly sent back. If it is not the advice a minister’s office wants, they do not get that advice to go through.

It is so sad that we have good people in this state that want to do good things but are held back by the nepotism and the control of the Andrews government in this place. I really genuinely want to see us returning to a system of the Parliament holding executive government to account and executive government actually trying to deliver for Victoria rather than delivering for themselves and working out how to stay in government rather than doing the job better for Victorians.

Tragically all those things I have talked about – those 35 IBAC inquiries, all the investigations – were kept secret from Victorians at the last election. I have no doubt that if those reports had been released and people actually understood what was really going on in this state, there may have been a different response in the election. There has not been, there was not, but it is our job to hold the government to account every single day, like we have for the last two days, so that when ministers rort the system, whether deliberately or by just not acknowledging anything, they will be held to account and they will be called out. I say to the Premier of Victoria: we are not going anywhere. We will be here for the next four years making sure people are held to account.