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June 30, 2011  |  Second Reading

Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Amendment Bill 2011

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Parliamentary Salaries and Superannuation Amendment Bill 2011. The Labor Party will be opposing the bill — or perhaps we should be referring to it as a political stunt rather than a bill before Parliament. I know I am accountable to the people of the Ivanhoe electorate, who elected me to represent them in this place. I draw the attention of the house to Legislative Assembly fact sheet E1, printed by the Parliament of Victoria, which is headed ‘Behaviour in the chamber’. On page 7, under the heading ‘Naming and suspending a member for the rest of the day’, it states:

A named member is usually suspended from the chamber for the remainder of the sitting day, but can be suspended for longer. A suspended member must not re-enter the chamber during their suspension.

But this is the important part of what is detailed here:

To be named is a serious punishment because the named member’s electorate is, in effect, not represented in the chamber for that period.

That is the relevant point that we can all take note of in relation to our behaviour in this place and the way in which punishments are meted out to members who misbehave — that is, naming and suspension from this house. As this fact sheet makes very clear, the effect of a member being named is that the named member’s electorate is not represented in the chamber for that period. That is punishment enough. That is a punishment that the electorate understands. Constituents want their elected representatives to represent them in this house. To impose fines on members of Parliament is one thing, but named members not being able to represent their electorate in this house is actually a far greater punishment. The issue in relation to fines also gets back to not thinking through the effects of these sorts of punishments on members in this place.

When talking about behaviour in the chamber it is important to also reflect on what sort of behaviour constitutes the potential to attract a fine. It is not listed anywhere at all in the bill or in any directions for the Speaker to refer to that a fine would be incurred if members of Parliament were not to carry out the duties that they were elected to perform. As lawmakers, one of our clear duties is to attend votes on legislation in this house and to do so at all times. That is a requirement of members of Parliament, who are elected to represent their constituents in this place. There may be members who choose to absent themselves from a vote for a range of reasons, but if it is noted that a member of Parliament is not present as a lawmaker in this place and as a voice for their local electorate, is a fine imposed on such a member? In any workplace I have worked in, turning up, discharging my responsibilities, doing the job to the best of my ability and meeting the expectations of my employer — in this case the electors of Ivanhoe — are tasks I have taken very seriously.

I note that certain behaviour — that is, not unruly or disruptive behaviour but behaviour whereby members of Parliament, as lawmakers who vote on legislation in this place, do not discharge their duties in accordance with the expectations of the community — does not seem to attract a fine under the bill proposed by the government. Some ministers in the government have failed to attend votes on legislation in this place, and perhaps that should be considered to be not performing their functions or duties appropriately. As members are seen by constituents as the voice of the electorate, it is perhaps not unruly behaviour but behaviour that means that responsibilities are not discharged that should attract a fine. As I pointed out, the naming and suspension of a member for the rest of the day is a serious punishment because, in effect, the named member’s electorate is not represented in the chamber for that period. What do the electors, who are our employers, have to say when we are not in the chamber to discharge our duties as law-makers?

In order to give the government some ideas about matters that could attract a fine, and maybe to encourage members of Parliament to discharge their duties to their electors, I quote from an article in the Herald Sun of 27 May headed ‘Red-faced Mary Wooldridge misses key vote’, which states:

A red-faced community services minister Mary Wooldridge missed a key vote in Parliament resulting in the defeat of the coalition’s much-hyped equal opportunity bill.
This is the first time in more than 30 years a government has seen its own bill defeated in the lower house.

Ms Wooldridge is expected to face serious questions after her slip-up.

Last night she admitted to being ’embarrassed’ at missing the division.

After public servants had to redraft legislation and prepare further advice so that the house could come back and debate the bill again, were members ever provided with a calculation of the cost to taxpayers of work time lost of public servants who had to go about their duties for a second, third or fourth time because an elected member of this place had not discharged their duty as a law-maker? There may have been an explanation as to the minister’s reasons for not attending, but if the government wants to go down the path of fining members, perhaps it should consider fining those members who do not discharge their duties in this place to the expectations of the public and their constituents. That may well be an incentive for members to attend and discharge their duties in this place, not just around behaviour but also around their duties as law-makers on behalf of the community. Perhaps we could see a doubling of fines as a further disincentive.

In case the government thinks this is not a common example and that maybe I am picking on examples that are a once-in-a-blue-moon or once-in-a-lifetime events, I point to a second example that will perhaps also provide encouragement to members of the government to be present to discharge their duties on behalf of the people of Victoria, who are their employers. An article in the Herald Sun of 2 June headed ‘State government criticised after second Liberal MP in week misses vote’ states:

The opposition has slammed the state government for failing to respect the procedures of Parliament after a vote was missed for the second time in a week because a Liberal MP failed to show up.
The vote was delayed by over an hour after Liberal MP Louise Asher failed to make it into the chamber on time.
A government spokesman confirmed Ms Asher missed the first procedural vote to the adjournment last night …
‘I was asleep’, she admitted to reporters today.

I cannot believe it. She then said:

I’ve taken measures to ensure it won’t happen again.

Perhaps fines should be applied to members of this place who do not discharge their duties as law-makers according to the expectation of their employers, who are the people of Victoria and their electors.

I quote this second example just in case the government thinks this is something that does not happen very often. It happened on two occasions within the space of a week to senior and experienced members of the government. One of the key reasons for being a member of Parliament is to discharge your duties as a law-maker — —

Mr Helper — Is to snooze!

Mr CARBINES– Clearly, as the member for Ripon says, it may well be to snooze. Returning to the article in the Herald Sun of 2 June, I need to point out — —

Dr Napthine — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member has had a fair bit of liberty.

I ask you to bring him back to the bill before the house, or perhaps he could refer to the member for Broadmeadows, who was late one morning coming from Brighton — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order! That is not a point of order.

Dr Napthine — Perhaps the member should suggest that he be included in the fines! I suggest the member come back to the bill.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order! The minister knows that is not a point of order.

Mr CARBINES — If other members have matters they would like to raise, they should feel free to do so.

I am just providing some suggestions and examples of further behaviour that does not meet the expectations of the community, which the government could act on in relation to this legislation rather than trying to shut down the opposition and silence members of the Labor Party and those who wish to raise dissent in this place.