Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Mr WELLS (Rowville) (16:41:11) — I rise to join the debate on the Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment (Public Interest Disclosures, Oversight and Independence) Bill 2018. I support the motion put forward by the member for Warrandyte:

That all the words after ‘That’ be omitted with the view of inserting in their place the words ‘this house refuses to read this bill a second time until the house has assurances from the government that every government department and agency is covered by the bill and no government agency or department will be exempt from the provisions of the bill by way of agreements with the government’.

The reason the member for Warrandyte has moved that reasoned amendment, taking into account what the member for Williamstown said — that all government agencies and departments are covered by this — is that we are not convinced.

We would rather have seen as part of the bill that it cover all departments and agencies.

Mr Noonan — It does!

Mr WELLS — The member for Williamstown yelled out, ‘It does!’, but we have seen the conduct of the government in its dealings with the Ombudsman in regard to activities by the Labor Party machinery and what the government has tried to do in shutting down the Ombudsman’s investigation of that. So it is the case that we do not trust the government and we want something in writing to ensure that all government agencies and departments are going to be covered by this bill. I would have thought that the government would say that the Special Minister of State was saying, ‘Yes, we want to make sure that this is open and transparent and we have the full support of everyone in the chamber that this is passed’. We just need that house amendment or some other amendment to come in, because we are not satisfied with the way the wording is at the moment.

I know the member for Warrandyte has mentioned the front page of the Herald Sun today and the article about the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) enterprise bargaining agreement. When you read through this it is unbelievable. It is absolutely unbelievable that you have a situation in the MFB where the chief fire officer — the one who gives direction on all operational matters, whether it be about trucks or equipment or work practices or uniforms and all the sorts of activities that come under the branding of ‘operations’ — has to get approval from the United Firefighters Union (UFU). That is just not right, because that is why you have a chief fire officer in place — to direct traffic. An equivalent example would be the Chief Commissioner of Police having to get permission from the Police Association Victoria on all operational matters. That simply does not happen, but it does happen in the case of the MFB.

Let us look at the veto powers. The Premier spoke today about a consultation process, I think he called it. It is not a consultation process; it is a blatant veto. I have a quote from page 4 of today’s Herald Sun:

All MFB policies including bullying, harassment, equal opportunity, fraud and corruption, conflict of interest, whistleblower, and any new policies must be signed off by union. Includes all standard operating procedures, operational work instructions and directions from the chief officer.

So the chief fire officer may give a direction to the MFB firefighters, who do an outstanding job of keeping us safe, but he cannot give that direction — he cannot implement a brand-new standard operating procedure — until it is signed off by the UFU. That is blatantly wrong. You cannot have the union second-guessing what the chief fire officer says. As I said, can you imagine Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in giving direction on an operational matter or on a standard operational procedure having to go to the police association for permission first? It simply does not work. It should not work in the case of the MFB. It is blatantly wrong. That is why I support the member for Warrandyte’s reasoned amendment. We should have a commitment in writing that all government agencies and departments will be included under this bill.

There is not just the veto power. On email monitoring or surveillance by MFB of staff, no CCTV cameras can be installed without union approval, and changes to any state or commonwealth laws cannot be implemented at the MFB without consultation and agreement by the union. Once again these are difficult situations and the chief fire officer should have the complete and utter right at the end of the day to implement those laws. Of course he will talk to his senior commanders and they will come to an agreement. Obviously there is some consultation with unions, but at the end of the day it is the call of the chief fire officer to implement this.

Getting into details of the bill, I want to raise the issue of the commencement date of the bill. I have heard certain agreements but the proposed Integrity and Oversight Committee in part 2 of the bill will come into operation on the day after the day the bill is proclaimed or 1 January 2019. If the bill is not proclaimed before that date, it will come in then. The way the bill is written, if the bill is passed prior to the end of this parliamentary term, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Committee and the Accountability and Oversight Committee will no longer exist.

I am wondering if the Attorney-General could make sure, if he is the minister summing up, that we can get clarity around that particular point — that the bill in regard to abolishing the IBAC Committee and the Accountability and Oversight Committee will not come into play until the next term of Parliament or 1 January 2019, because the way I read the bill, and if the Attorney-General can tell me that this is incorrect, then that is fine, is that if this bill is passed by this house, goes to the Legislative Council before, for example, August or September and it is passed, then there will no longer be an IBAC Committee or Accountability and Oversight Committee and the Integrity and Oversight Committee would then come into operation.

When those opposite are summing up, if we could just get clarity around that, I would be grateful, because the work of the IBAC Committee currently is very important work. It has support from all sides of the chamber. It has strong support for the inquiry into external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria. We have taken evidence from the new IBAC Commissioner and the Victorian Inspectorate and we have had all-day public hearings. The evidence that has come before the committee has been valuable and will make a very good report. The team are working on writing the report, which will take some time. We want to be able to complete that work. We want to be able to make sure that that report, where we have a timetable I think of towards the end of August, can be completed and have an assurance from the government that the committees will stay in place as they are at the moment.

With that short presentation, I support the reasoned amendment to the second reading moved by the member for Warrandyte, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people that have worked on both committees — the IBAC Committee and the Accountability and Oversight Committee. I do think they do valuable work not just in the actual oversight process but in the work that they do for reports and in self-referencing.