Appropriation (Parliament 2011/2012) Bill 2011

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I am pleased to speak on the Appropriation (Parliament 2011/2012) Bill 2011. Earlier in the debate the point was made that it is important that this appropriation bill supports the operations of the Parliament and that the appropriate amount of funds is provided to do so. As a new member of Parliament I am pleased to speak on this bill.

It gives me an opportunity to reflect on some of the supports that have been provided to me and my colleagues who are new members of Parliament since we came to this place late last year.

As a starting point I mention that the electorate office in Ivanhoe, where I reside, has been closed since August of last year. There was a range of works required by the Department of Parliamentary Services to get that office back up to scratch so we could provide services to the people of the Ivanhoe electorate after the election in November. I was very pleased to report that the Department of Parliamentary Services was very swift and diligent in the work it did to make sure we were able to provide, effective almost immediately, the services that we needed to provide to the local electorate, community groups and constituents.

This was thanks to work the Department of Parliamentary Services was able to do in the meantime between August, when the electorate office was closed, and the end of November, when we were able to reopen the office to provide services to the local community.

Much work is done by staff from the Department of Parliamentary Services to help ensure that those offices are set up, and I thank them for their prompt assistance and advice, not only to myself but to my electorate office staff. My staff have always been patient and courteous, and I would like to place on the record my thanks to them for their work in the past six to seven months. I also would like to note the courteous and patient-natured support that they have received from parliamentary staff, who have assisted them and provided the resources, as we have seen through this appropriation bill, to be able to maintain the servicesthat are needed in local electorates and local communities.

Obviously there are a range of electorate officers who have different skills and experience, so it is important that a range of professional development opportunities are provided to electorate office staff so that they can continue to enhance their skills and the services that they need to provide to the local community. This is important not only for new staff but for experienced electorate office staff who, as many of us know, have been in those roles over many years but who also need to maintain and upgrade their skills for the benefit of the local community.

A number of briefing sessions were held for members; I found them useful and they were well attended by new members of Parliament. Some of them were introduced by the Speaker or the President, or run by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and other parliamentary staff.

The material provided was of great assistance, in particular the matters that relate to new members such as staff budgets, employing staff and managing an office. For some members of Parliament these can be new responsibilities that they may not have had experience with before, and it is important that appropriate supports and a range of advice are provided through the Department of Parliamentary Services to assist new members.

Everyone in the department seeks to do the right thing in order to help members manage an office appropriately and to provide advice and assistance so members are able to make informed decisions. It is important that the Department of Parliamentary Services has the resources available to allow members of Parliament and their staff to access advice and information to make the right decisions on behalf of their communities. All these services are required to be properly resourced, which gets back to the point about this bill being of a nature that allows the operation of the Parliament.

As a new member to this place, the parliamentary staff have given me great encouragement, support and confidence. Naturally I am often passing on my best wishes to a former member for Geelong Province in the Council, Elaine Carbines, from parliamentary staff, attendants and other staff in the Parliament; and conversely she is often asking after staff in this place, passing on her best wishes and keen to know that people are progressing well. That situation is a reflection on past and present members of this place and the relationships that develop on a professional basis with parliamentary staff to help them go about their duties and roles, and when former members come to this place it is a pleasing thing to note and observe. They are treated respectfully and given every assistance, because in many instances they are still making a contribution to the community, and providing support and advice to committee organisations, often in a voluntary capacity.

Parliamentary staff and electorate staff deal with myriad people in the community who come both to this place and to electorate offices. It is instructive to note that when walking through Queen’s Hall we often see attendants giving lectures, advice and information — —

Mr Noonan — Tours.

Mr CARBINES — Yes, tours to local school groups, and it is heartening to see. We all have a role to play in promoting the understanding and role of parliamentary democracy in our community.

That is something incumbent on us all, so it is great to see the number of schools that are provided with an opportunity to send their students here to learn firsthand about the role of this Parliament not only from members of Parliament but from attendants and other staff. Perhaps many of them will aspire to represent their communities in this place in the future.

I love libraries, and when I was a Banyule city councillor I served as a former chair of the Yarra Plenty Regional Library board, so I am always keen to check out new libraries. On becoming a member of this place I found that the parliamentary library provides a range of great services for members and staff. Looking back again on the annual report for the year ending 30 June 2009-10 for parliamentary services, I particularly want to mention the library’s research service, which also runs the parliamentary internship program.

The program involves the coordination and placement of over 60 students with members during the year, in collaboration with Monash University, Victoria University and the University of Melbourne. During the course of one semester each third-year student produces a research report on an agreed topic for their member of Parliament.

This is a great opportunity for those starting at university to make a contribution to their community, to do some substantial research work in part of their degree and also to get a taste of the sorts of opportunities that are available to them. They make a contribution not only to members of Parliament and the work that they do but also to political parties, because their research and information is often based on and relied upon for a range of the laws that we make in this place. In the future that is a program I would be keen to participate in. As a new member you try to make sure you are not biting off too much in the work that you start doing, but you see a range of opportunities to draw on and the resources and opportunities provided by the Parliament give people an opportunity to make a contribution.

Some previous members noted the provision of information to people in the community through Hansard by webcasting. It is also important, and members would know that most electorate officers keep tabs in their offices on what you are up to — and not only through webcasting of the Parliament. It is very important that we provide information about Parliament and parliamentary democracy to the community in forms that the community expects and uses itself. It is clear that webcasting is an integral part of the day-to-day communication that people use in the community. The Parliament must reflect that and provide information in the various means that people in the community expect to be provided to them.

I would also like to touch on matters with regard to committees. Obviously there is some concern among opposition members, including me, that while we do not oppose the bill, we note that there has effectively been a cut in the total cost for parliamentary investigatory committees. Budget paper 3 details that the total output costs for parliamentary investigative committees for 2011-12 will be $6.9 million — no increase on the allocation for 2010-11. It has not been indexed accordingly, and therefore has been cut.

That is a great concern. As a new member of a parliamentary committee, the Law Reform Committee, I, together with several other members of this place, including the member for Brunswick and the member for Morwell, am looking forward to the work we have to do. We have a substantial amount of work; in fact a number of references have been provided to us by the government. It will be challenging work, but it is work that we are prepared for and are looking forward to starting on with our chair, the member for Prahran.

It is important that the parliamentary investigatory committees are appropriately resourced to be able to carry out their duties, not just the work they need to do but also on behalf of the stakeholders — the community organisations, volunteers and hardworking advocates in the community — who will make written submissions and give public submissions to the committees. They have an expectation that the work they do to inform the work of the committees will be appropriately resourced so that those tasks can be carried out.

It is incumbent on and in the interests of the government to ensure that those committees are appropriately resourced so that they can deal with the references given to them, and that they are given informed and concise information that can be acted upon in the best interests of the Victorian community.

Clearly, while our committee has had only two meetings — we were a little slow to get started as we had to wait for some changes in legislation — we are keen to pick up on a number of references that have been outstanding for sometime now, and we want to make sure we are appropriately resourced to do that.

While it remains to be seen whether that is the case, given that there has not been an increase relative to that in the CPI (consumer price index) in the budget for investigative committees, it sets a dangerous precedent not to provide that CPI increase. In effect what we are saying going forward is that the funding for investigatory committees of the Parliament will be cut back. That is something the government should reflect on. It is important to demonstrate with the work of the committees that the hard work by people in our community who have a stake, a substantial interest, in making contributions to committees can be done with the full knowledge that the work they present to us can be fully resourced and able to be acted on appropriately.

I will briefly touch on a couple of matters of interest to me around sustainability in relation to the Department of Parliamentary Services and the work of this Parliament. A couple of matters are important to note. There has been an increase in improving the methods of converting garden waste into compost for soil conditioning here at the Parliament; there has been the introduction of more drought-tolerant turf to the bowling green and the tennis court; and Parliament has been purchasing 100 per cent green power since July 2008. I am taking these figures from the last annual report, to 30 June 2009-10. These are reflections by the Parliament of the priorities of and what is important in the community. We need to do that in a range of ways, including how we provide information to the public and how we conduct ourselves. That includes the running of this place and the sustainability issues which I have outlined.

There is a range of other points on those matters that are worthy of note, including the fact that gas use at Parliament House has decreased; the combined electricity use of Parliament House and the parliamentary gardens and trade centre has decreased by over 5 per cent from 2006-07 to 2009-10; and mains water use at Parliament House, inclusive of the parliamentary gardens and trade centre, has decreased by 2.42 per cent from the 2007-08 baseline to the 2009-10 financial year. 

These are modest improvements, but they are heading in the right direction. It will be interesting to see where some of these figures lie at the end of this financial year. Again, they are about reflecting the community’s expectations and desires and what we expect of them and what they expect of us. I think we can demonstrate that here in Parliament in the way we address some of these matters related to sustainability, which I have outlined to the house.

In summing up I say that the work of the Parliament is very important. The work of electorate officers and of parliamentary attendants and other parliamentary staff is critical to providing democracy here in Victoria. An example of that is that I make my electorate office available — as I am sure many members do — for community organisations to use when community halls or other meeting places are not available. People from a transitional housing group and a sustainable housing group are meeting in my office this week after hours. They were looking for a venue to hold their community meetings.

People from housing forums and a range of community organisations have sought to use our offices to meet and hold important meetings to inform decisions for the benefit of their community, and they will continue to do that. While we remain concerned about the cut to funding for investigative committees, we ask the government to reflect on that. We will not be opposing the bill.