Council’s Amendments

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (11:32): I am pleased to rise to say a few words on the amendments to the Human Source Management Bill 2023, but I begin by indicating to the house that I start at a bit of a disadvantage because I missed the start of the Assistant Treasurer’s contribution. But I did catch the member for Malvern explaining that the Assistant Treasurer had said that the government’s view is that lawyers should not inform on their clients. I am sorry, member for Malvern, that does not make any sense. That cannot possibly be what he said, because that is exactly what this bill does. This allows them to do so. I am astounded. As I heard the member for Malvern say, we would have thought that the Assistant Treasurer is a man of logic, a man of some intelligence, but clearly not. How can you say that the government’s policy is that lawyers should not inform on their clients to police and then introduce legislation that not only allows that but codifies that – puts it into the law – I might add in the context of behaviour that the High Court has already found is wrong and indeed ‘reprehensible conduct’? This is just astounding, and from a government that I am sure prides itself on being pretty politically savvy, pretty across these things, it is really quite bizarre that the government is doing this, that in response to the scandal that was a high-profile lawyer informing on her clients with obviously the full cooperation of Victoria Police the government’s response is to make sure we do it better. That is the thing that astounds me.

I said in my contribution to the substantive debate that there are I am sure many of us who look at these situations and say, ‘Well, the cops got the bad guys, that’s the good thing. Let’s not worry about it.’ But, as the member for Malvern has very eruditely presented, this is a fundamental legal privilege situation, and one of the conventions that have been the bedrock of our legal and political system for centuries is that there is a privilege relationship between the client and the lawyer. The bill obviously extends to areas further than that to include doctor–patient relationships, faith leaders and their parishioners, and potentially journalists and their sources. The very strong difference with journalists and their sources is that a journalist is not meant to be representing that source. When it comes to the lawyer situation, a lawyer is meant to be looking after the interests of their client, and if they are then informing on that client to the prosecution, that is a fundamental breach of the lawyer–client relationship and, as the High Court said, an example of reprehensible conduct.

The other couple of things I would like to pick up from the Assistant Treasurer’s brief comments are that he noted that this legislation with the amendment there we are now debating will make this situation in Victoria the strongest of all the states. With respect, Assistant Treasurer, the other states have not had the problem of the Lawyer X scandal. To suggest that somehow we are now leading the nation when we are the laughing stock of the nation when it comes to the issue of lawyers informing on their clients is just a debacle. And the political commentary that I would like to add for the Assistant Treasurer is just the unfathomable hypocrisy of the cosy relationship that the government has with the Greens. We see the Assistant Treasurer time and time and time again get up in this place and excoriate the Greens on every possible issue, and yet ‘When we need a couple of votes, we’ll do a cosy little deal with them’ – a cosy little deal, even if it allows a continuation of activity that the High Court has indicated is ‘reprehensible conduct’. It is embarrassing for the government, but I cannot let the Greens go unnoticed. They are paragons of virtue and integrity when it suits them, but when the government tickles their tummy they roll over every time and just do exactly what the government wants.

So these amendments, I think, the government stands condemned for. It is an amazing situation to have the government strongly pushing this legislation and now these amendments in the face of opposition from so many organisations. As the member for Malvern said, you do not just have to worry about what the opposition says when you have got the Victorian Bar Council, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Centre for Public Integrity, the High Court – which has ruled very, very clearly 7–0 in this situation – and the Victorian Court of Appeal. To have the government pushing this is just a disgrace and a surprise. So the amendments that we are debating now will go some way perhaps to making a very bad bill slightly better by providing that Supreme Court oversight rather than just having the Chief Commissioner of Police authorising the use of an informant, but that in itself does not make it right. It certainly improves it, but it does not make it right. I am staggered that the government is pursuing this line of inquiry. It is clear that only the government and perhaps Victoria Police are in favour of this, and I think quite rightly various other organisations with no political interest in this other than the interest of the legal system are strongly opposed to it.

I place on record again our support for Victoria Police. We support them in principle, and we will always support the requests of police for more resources and for changes to legislation where appropriate, but it is not a 100 per cent one-way street. The action that was taken in the Lawyer X scandal has rightly been condemned, and to actually have the government bringing forward legislation and now these amendments to legalise that conduct is a very sad day for our legal and political systems. The government I think will come, one day, to rue this legislation.

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