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12 March 1991 - Current

 
PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Page 590
21 February 2019
ASSEMBLY Second reading Frank McGuire
Mr McGUIRE (Broadmeadows) (14:31:14): Some of the best work the Parliament does is in the committees. It is a really important feature, and it is just a shame that the general public do not see that aspect of what happens—that there is bipartisanship, there is cooperation and there is working in the public interest. Too often they just see what happens in question time, and it looks and sounds like two dogs barking. I tell you: that is part of the reason why people turn down the volume, then turn it off, on the political debate. This is an important bill to modernise and update the parliamentary committee structure, and the aim is to reduce the amount of duplication between the committees. I have taken some advice to respond to some of the issues that have been raised by the opposition about what is going to happen in the future, and particularly one of the opposition members raised the issue about the NBN. The response I have been given is that this could be subject to a new reference for these committees. Obviously the committees of the 58th Parliament finished when that was prorogued, but the critical point is that there could be a new reference. Ms Green: The government has also taken action. Mr McGUIRE: As the member for Yan Yean says, 'The government has also taken action’, but on other points even related to what was being raised by David Davis in the other place as recently as yesterday, those matters that he raised could actually be referred again. So that can be covered off; that does not have to be rejected. For all intents and purposes what we have with these committees is greater flexibility than the joint committees of the former parliaments, because they were established under legislation and these committees are being established within the standing orders. So they can actually be amended, and that is the critical point. Specific issues can be brought, and if you have a look at what the committees actually do, the three new standing committees of the Legislative Assembly will be established through amendments to the standing orders to provide this greater flexibility. They will also be able to abolish the following joint house committees established under the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003: the Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee, the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee, the Family and Community Development Committee and the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee. If you have a look at the breadth of the new ones, the bill will establish the new standing committees of the Legislative Assembly through the amendments. The first one is the Economy and Infrastructure Standing Committee. That is what I am saying: that would seem to me to be the most likely one if you wanted to look into the NBN. A reference could go to that committee. The Environment and Planning Standing Committee will look at growth areas, what is happening there, how we address population, how we look at what is the infrastructure that we need and a host of other issues that fit within the planning structure. The third is the Legal and Social Issues Standing Committee. It could also cover issues like those that we did under the Family and Community Development Committee, of which I was the co‑chair. We conducted the inquiry into child sexual abuse that delivered the landmark report Betrayal of Trust. We can see the value of the committees when we look at an issue of such significance, because it is still echoing today. There are still issues that need to be addressed, particularly about redress. I want to raise the point that Australia’s parliaments must enforce compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse. Recent revelations by the national newspaper, the Australian, that only 28 abuse victims have been compensated under the $4 billion redress scheme, despite 2335 people applying, because key states and institutions have been slow to commit, are incredible. This report was tabled in 2013. It was significant because of the admissions that it was able to achieve during the hearings. I will not go into the detail now on some of those admissions because of other matters. One constituent came to see me about it and when she first came to the Parliament she could not even talk about what had happened to her. That is how devastating it had been in her life. The enormity of bearing witness was so strong that she felt fearful and overwhelmed, and that was seven years ago when she regressed to her childhood self because of the misplaced sense of guilt and shame about what had happened. This is where the Parliament works at its best. This is where we can go into these issues, and we can get bipartisan support. The reforms went through two different parliaments and three different Premiers. It is good to see the Premier in the chamber now while we are debating this matter. This is the constancy of purpose that we were able to have, and that is what it has taken to actually get these reforms. That was an important role for the public, because this was about restoring a measure of trust, particularly for the people who had felt that institutions had failed them right throughout their lives. It is not over yet. As I said, these issues are still to be resolved, but I think it is an important role. You need to have the constancy of purpose, and you need to have it, as we are now into the third Parliament, to address such matters. The admissions secured during the Victorian parliamentary inquiry helped initiate the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and Betrayal of Trust recommended the establishment of an alternative mechanism to civil litigation to provide options for increased monetary payments, counselling and psychological services to survivors of institutional child abuse, and the royal commission endorsed this key reform. I remember that when the legislation enabling Victoria to participate in the national redress scheme passed with bipartisan support last year, it was extremely important for all those people who had testified and all those people who had had the courage and the fortitude to do that. As I said, that was a really significant time for them. They were able to actually come into this Parliament, to sit in the gallery and to hear the validation for their coming forward—that they were innocent; that what happened to them was not just appalling, it was criminal; and that steps were being taken. They were being heard, and the governments were acting. I know from an ongoing relationship with one constituent how important that has been for her, and she is hoping soon to get a resolution finally on what the payment will be. But I cannot believe that this is still being dragged out to this day and to this time. As we speak here the echo of this will still be heard in the Vatican with the Pope calling for a special conference there of all the bishops who are key players in this. We hope that these matters finally resolve. I just want to sum up by saying that this is some of the best work that will be done. It does restore a measure of trust in the institutional value of the Parliament, and I think that under the structure that the government is proposing, there is the flexibility to have references that members of the opposition have actually raised. They can be accommodated, and we have greater flexibility in the way that this can be handled because it can be done by an amendment of the house. With that, I commend the bill to the house.