The Independent Performance Audits of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Inspectorate
Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:20): It is amazing to follow the member for Narre Warren South. After being lectured to by this government for eight years about being progressive and moving forward, now apparently we all have to be conservative and stick with traditions because it suits the government.
I am also rising to speak on The Independent Performance Audits of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Inspectorate by the Integrity and Oversight Committee, and I agree with the member for Narre Warren South and the member for South-West Coast on the importance of these reports, the importance of our watchdogs and the importance of watching the watchdogs through the audit process. It was of some disappointment to me to learn of the difficulty that the committee had in undertaking the audit reports of both IBAC and VI, because they do play a very important role in our society and our systems of government. We need to know who is watching the watchers and that they are doing the right thing by the community and in accordance with the law set by this place.
I had a read of the minority report and was concerned to see, obviously, from both the minority report and the majority report the concerns about the audit being unable to be completed, but I note the recommendation by the minority for changes to the legislation to get over the issues that were encountered by the auditors. I think these suggestions should be taken seriously. I think the Parliament also should take very seriously the concerns raised by the minority about interference – direction from the audit subcommittee to the auditors. There are clearly going to be times when an auditor will need assistance from its employer, being the committee in this case, and direction, but the suggestion of interference is of concern. It is something that I am particularly concerned about and particularly aware of given my history as a member of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee – this is generally speaking probably one of the most contested committees – where we see consistently government members and particularly the government chair seeking to shut down scrutiny of the executive.
The member for Narre Warren South talked quite rightly about the separation of powers. We have a separation of powers in Victoria and under the Westminster system, where we have the legislature – that is us – the executive and the judiciary, and ne’er the twain shall meet; they shall be separated. I am a very strong supporter of the separation of powers and the Westminster system, but one of the weaknesses that we have is that crossover between the legislature and the executive, particularly under this government, where we have seen the government, that being the executive, starting to treat the legislature, the Parliament, as an audience, not as a partner in governance, not as a check and balance and not as something that will ensure that the government of the day is held to account.
I do not wish to sound patronising, but my message to new members of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and the Integrity and Oversight Committee and indeed to all new members of this Parliament on both sides is that our role is not to be cheerleaders for the government; our role is to hold the government to account. That is what question time is for, that is what reports such as this one that I am talking about are for and that is what the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee is about. I say that not just in respect of ministers of the Crown who sit at the table here but of the executive, the public service. It is absolutely critical that this Parliament actually holds them to account. There are multiple examples every year, but some that have stuck in my mind from the last couple of years are simple things like Parks Victoria’s inability to rebuild a bridge at Thurra River and, most recently in the news, its inability to reopen the Sealers Cove track at Wilsons Promontory in my electorate for three years. That is where the government of the day, the executive, the public service, needs to be held to account on why things take so long, why budgets overrun.
All of these issues need to be addressed, so I say to members of new committees, to new members of Parliament: it is important. Yes, there are going to be politics, and of course you will support your side of the debate, your political party, your government, whatever it might be, but we have an important role in that oversight, in that accountability of the executive.
It is disappointing that the audit process did not work as it should, and I support the members of the minority who have made suggestions for changes to legislation to ensure that we are continuing to watch the watchers properly.