Legislative Council vacancy
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the motion to reject the Legislative Council's motion to hold a joint sitting to fill a casual vacancy for the vacant Northern Victoria Region seat in the upper house.
I will start by reading from section 27A of the Constitution Act 1975 titled 'Filling of casual vacancies in the Council', which states:
(1) Subject to this section, if a casual vacancy occurs in the seat of a member of the Council, a person must be chosen to occupy the vacant seat by a joint sitting of the Council and the Assembly.
So the motion before us is essentially about whether we should adhere to the constitution or whether we should effectively trash the constitution. The Greens will be voting on the side of adhering to the constitution, and we will be voting against this motion to not have a sitting. I know those on the government side will try to paint this as a party political motion, but this is really a motion about whether we should adhere to the constitution or not adhere to the constitution. The Greens believe that we should adhere to the constitution. It is very unfortunate that the government has decided to link this motion and the filling of this vacancy to the documents motion and the suspension of the Leader of the Government in the upper house. It sets a dangerous precedent. It is clearly a break with convention, and what is more, having heard the contributions of the government members, I say it is a race to the bottom.
Regarding the documents motion and the subsequent suspension of the Leader of the House, it was a lawful direction from the upper house to request documents. It is supported in the standing orders of the upper house, which provide for documents to be requested, and if the government is seeking to not release those documents through executive privilege, it provides for arbitration to be sought on those particular documents. These standing orders were adopted by the upper house. These standing orders were not sought to be changed when the upper house sat in this Parliament.
The government seemed to be happy with these provisions in the standing orders in regard to documents and in regard to the arbitration if they seek executive privilege. They did not have a problem, but now we are hearing that they do have a problem with them. Again there is a procedure to go through; it is laid out within the standing orders, and the government is refusing to take the steps. I can see there is a lot of anger and fire in the belly, and obviously there is retribution because the Leader of the Government in the upper house has been suspended. I would suggest the government redirect that energy into either releasing the documents or going through the procedures as set out in the standing orders of the upper house and as agreed to by the government members and which government members had no problem with at the start of this Parliament.
A request for documents, being those relating to the grand prix, has been raised. Again there was nothing unconstitutional in requesting these documents and there was nothing against the standing orders in requesting these documents, but we are being told that it would be against the interests of the state to release these documents. So sensitive are these documents the government cannot even go through the prescribed process in the standing orders if executive privilege is sought. And we are just supposed to take the government's word for it. We are just supposed to trust you. Just trust us!
I would point out that the government has released, I believe, the east–west link documents. I am sure they were pretty sensitive documents, and I would say that if they released those ones, why can they not release the grand prix contracts? I would also suggest that if they are damaging to the state, why would the government be so irresponsible as to sign a contract that would be so damaging if it were released, as provided for in the standing orders of the upper house.
I would point out that there has been a lot of debate from the government and that they feel that this is hypocrisy from the opposition, who never released any documents. Sure, we were just as surprised as I think the government was that we had the opposition joining us in pursuing this documents matter. I would say to the government, 'Take the high road', because what we are seeing from this government is that they are going low. They are taking the low road, and as I said, this is setting a dangerous precedent. This tit-for-tat process that they are engaging in, in trashing the constitution in response to the suspension of the Leader of the Government in the upper house, is really taking the low road.
I would also point out that there is a difference between not filling this vacancy for Northern Metropolitan Region and the suspension of the Leader of the Government in the upper house. The Leader of the Government in the upper house is obviously barred from participating in Parliament, but my understanding is that he still maintains his electorate office, he still remains a member of Parliament and he can still fulfil his functions outside of Parliament House as a member of Parliament. He still retains that role.
I would point out that for the upper house member who is looking to be appointed, that potential member enjoys none of those privileges, so I would not say that this is a like-for-like application in regard to not having the Leader of the Government in the upper house and not filling this vacancy.
There is a way forward. Firstly, the way forward is for this house to agree to and hold a joint sitting to fill the vacancy in Northern Victoria Region. In regard to these documents, there is a way forward. The government can either release the documents or it can go through the process as prescribed in the standing orders of the upper house, and if government members have problems with those standing orders, they probably should have addressed those when those standing orders were brought in and at the start of this Parliament. There is a way forward, so we will not be supporting this motion. It is incredibly disappointing for the government to take this action, to link the two actions and to take the low road. It is very disappointing, and we will not be supporting this motion to trash the constitution.