Legislative Assembly 20 September 2022
Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (16:38): On 20 December 2006 I stood up in this house to make my inaugural remarks, and I stand at the same microphone, from the same seat, to make what I expect will be my penultimate remarks in this house some 16 years later. There were 88 members on the roll in December 2006, as there are now, but of those 88 I think there are about 22 left. Sixty-six have gone, and by my calculations at least another nine will not be returning for the 60th Parliament—that is, those who are going voluntarily or who are at least leaving at the end of this session.
On the surface not much has changed in this Parliament, but there are a few things that I think are probably worth commenting on. The one that is probably most obvious is the fact that in 2006 this was a very paper-driven organisation. Not only was the Parliament driven by paper, our electorate offices were driven by paper. Something like 80 per cent of the correspondence that came into my office in 2007 was in fact paper, and of course we now work very, very differently. That opens up all sorts of opportunities for the way we work.
The related change, I guess, is the accommodation. No-one is up over the dome anymore. We are all down in relatively comfortable offices. We all actually can get some work done when we come in here, and that is a big change as well.
While the working conditions have improved and while this is a far more efficient place, a change that perhaps is not so welcome is the fact that I think over these 16 years the relevance of this house and the relevance of the Parliament in the context of Victorian democracy has been further diminished. It was not great in 2006. I think, sadly, it has further diminished.
This is not a partisan remark. This is neither the time nor place to be partisan, and I am not going to be, because both sides are guilty. Both sides have allowed this to happen. It is not good for democracy. There has been a serious decline. There are lots of examples I can give, and I am sure most people in this chamber now have heard me rant about the budget process and how that has so diminished over the years.
The fact is that I do not think at the moment we have the capacity to hold the government to account. We do not have the capacity to hold the Victorian public service to account, and we need to do something about that. We still have the tools to do it, but the current practices do not permit it to occur.
We have a culture of questions but not answers. We have a veneer of politeness in our standing orders that prevents us from calling out untruths, whether it be untruths coming from people in this chamber on very rare occasions or whether it be the far more frequent thing we all encounter—lots of untruths from outside, and we do not have the capacity to call that out. We have, as the member for Shepparton frequently reminds us, no private members business.
We have, frankly, reduced access to public servants. I was in a bill briefing not that long ago—I cannot remember what the briefing was, and the briefing itself was perfectly adequate—and the people doing the briefing were entirely ministerial advisers. There was not a public servant in the virtual meeting, so we did not have the opportunity to query with the public service issues in terms of more broad Victorian public policy, issues of implementation or to discuss the actual legislation with the people that were responsible for preparing the drafting instructions, and I do not think that is a good thing.
The third point I want to make on this is the culture in the chamber. We have a highly partisan culture in this chamber, and I think personally that is a good thing as long as you are talking about policy, as long as you are talking about ideas, as long as you are talking about legislation. When it becomes partisan and personal, then the capacity for us to have serious discussion is diminished immediately.
Too often, and certainly sitting in the Speaker’s chair, you notice it again and again, the contributions to the second-reading debates are formulaic. They are points you have heard 17 times before. We have also developed a culture of the use of points of order to shut people down, and I know I have called that out a few times as well. If you do not agree with what someone is saying in debate, do not try and shout them down, do not take a point of order. Put your hand up, stand up next, argue your case, put the rebuttal and participate in the debate.
That is the only way we can keep this chamber as a living, breathing organ that has an impact. If it becomes formulaic, if it just becomes process driven, it may as well not be here; it does become a rubber stamp. I think frankly no-one in this place wants it to become a rubber stamp. No-one wants to lose what we have got.
Too often in this house division is fabricated where truly none exists—far too often. Courtesy in debate is not a sign of weakness. Working together for the good of our communities is not a sign of weakness. The ability to compromise should be seen as a sign of strength—to get a solution. Surely that is what we are all here for, to get a solution, not to say, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to engage because I can’t get everything I want’.
As a community we have got to stop shouting at one another. Perhaps it is part of social media, and it is certainly a worldwide phenomenon, but we have got to get people to engage again. You cannot get things done, you cannot have a cohesive society, if we allow this practice of just shouting at one another to go on, and I am not talking about question time in here; I am talking about wider public debate.
We cannot have a situation where you allow the loud, noisy minority to dominate the majority. You cannot have a situation where this place is used to pass laws to further the agenda of a minority, regardless of how big or small that minority is, at the expense of the majority. I think that is a real threat for this institution, and I only make these comments because, as most people know, I do really care about the institution of the Parliament.
While I do have some concerns about the way the Parliament operates, I have also had the privilege of being part of some terrific debates in this chamber, and of course those debates particularly are the ones where the Labor members get a conscience vote and people on this side get a free vote. It is also the most exhausting way you can pass legislation.
I am not suggesting we should ever go back to a free vote on everything or consideration in detail on every single bill, but on those bills, when they come up—I do not think we have had one in this Parliament—you see this house working in the best possible way. You really do see the Parliament at its best and, as I said, its most exhausting.
Personally it has been quite challenging. Whether it has been the stem cell legislation, the Relationships Act 2008, the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 or the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, the least I can say from my perspective is that it has been character building. When you have got to make the decision in a physical division to walk around there and sit on that side and you are looking back—I have got a picture of me sitting in, I think, the seat where the Assistant Treasurer is—at a sea of Liberal and National members of Parliament and there are two or three of you on the other side, it can be character building.
I want to make two observations on that. The first is that those decisions were not taken lightly. They were taken after a lot of consideration of the legislation concerned, and I would not change any of those decisions.
The second point I want to make on that is to say thankyou to all of my Liberal and Nationals colleagues past and present, who have never to my face, and I do not think much behind my back, if at all, been critical of the decisions I took in regard to those bills. I certainly appreciate that support. I talked about the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017, walked outside, sat down and had a beer with the Leader of the Opposition, who had a diametrically different view to me. I think the way the party has operated in the last few years internally has been terrific. I cannot say the same for many of the party outside—they are not quite as tolerant. But to my colleagues in here: I very much appreciate the way we have operated in that regard.
Sixteen years as a member of the house, 7½ years in local government—it is probably almost enough. I have had the great luck to serve not on the Treasury bench but as a shadow minister for seven years and as a parliamentary secretary or shadow parliamentary secretary for another eight years, so very little time in fact on the backbench in a metaphoric sense.
The other aspect I want to touch on is the importance of our committee system. I have had the great good luck to be involved with a number of committees, mostly as deputy chair or chair. The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee is of course very, very political, but most other committees in this place, including the Privileges Committee, I think make a genuine contribution either to public policy or to the way we run the Parliament. That is something I certainly was not expecting to be involved with when I came in, and it is something I have very much enjoyed.
I was talking about Robin Cooper at the start of the year and his 12 years on the Privileges Committee. I find at the end of this Parliament that I have clocked up 12 years on the Privileges Committee and eight years as deputy chair, so I am hoping wherever he is that I will not have another meeting of the Privileges Committee between now and the Parliament expiring.
It has also been a great ride in terms of local politics. I had the privilege of winning this seat on primaries four times straight. The best I achieved was 60.5 per cent, which was not quite the postwar record for a Liberal candidate in Mornington. That was 65 per cent in 1955 for the seat of Mornington, but in that election the Liberal candidate was not opposed by a Labor candidate, so I think I can probably take credit for almost the best result.
Of course we cannot do these things by ourselves. I want to thank a number of groups of people: my current office staff, Kimberley and Andrew, and James, who works a day a week; and former office staff Jack; Sara; Max; Dan; Robbie—unfortunately now deceased; Debbie; Sharon and Jeremy.
I particularly want to acknowledge my office manager, Raeleigh Speedie, of 13½ years service, who has always been a source of great advice and encouragement and, most importantly, has run the office like clockwork and allowed me to do other things, so I do thank her very much for that.
I also want to acknowledge that I have had great support in terms of the Mornington electorate conference and the Liberal Party in the electorate throughout the journey. In the past I have thanked pretty much everyone involved in those former campaigns.
I want to acknowledge now, today, the outgoing executive of the Mornington electorate conference, many of whom are sitting up in the gallery there: the chair, Reagan Barry; Dr Alice Hill; Cr Steve Holland; George-Ann Sullivan, the long-serving secretary; Matthew Wilson; James Woodland; Bree Ambry; Linda Morris—and there will be a little bit more of that in a sec; and Peter Angelico, not a member of the executive, but a great contributor. I do not have time, I am afraid, to thank you all individually and recognise your contributions, but I do certainly value your support and value the opportunity to work with a younger group of very keen Liberals who certainly put their stamp on the electorate in the time we worked together.
I acknowledge very quickly the parliamentary staff, particularly the clerks. We have a great team here. We are very, very lucky—and I think probably enough said on that—we have a great team in all divisions of the Parliament.
One final thankyou. In my inaugural speech I mentioned that my wife, Linda—I think the words were something like—had worked tirelessly every day of the 22-month campaign. Many members of course know Linda now, and I am sure they will not be surprised when I say that that 22 months is now almost 18 years. And it has been constant. It has been total support and it has been hard work—and it has not just been for me but it has been for a number of other Liberal candidates, including Sharn Coombes, the candidate for Dunkley, who is sitting up in the gallery, and also Tim Wilson, the former two-term member for Goldstein, who has also benefited from his mother’s hard work.
I am so thankful for Linda’s support. She is a real dynamo. She is a great person to have in your corner, and I am so grateful for that support and the fact it is still ongoing, I have got to say. Whether it survives the end of Parliament, who knows. I say that in jest, but I have no doubt we have a great partnership, and I very much do appreciate that. While I intend to leave politics entirely, I am not sure Linda has quite got that plan yet—not on my behalf, on her behalf—so we will see where that goes. But her support has been central to my success over the past 18 years, and I do thank her for it very, very much.
I also want to say thankyou to all current and former members of this place. It has been an absolute pleasure serving with you. I am proud to say I have got friends right across the spectrum; I will not name and shame. But for all the vitriol that we can hurl at one another—and it is vitriol sometimes—across the chamber, I think in many instances we still have the capacity to do good work together. I sometimes think it is a shame that the public do not see that.
I certainly want to finish by wishing the Leader of the Opposition and the team every success in the coming election. I wish you all success, but I think Bob Cameron said something like ‘I wish you all well and some of you more well than others’, or words to that effect. I guess that is the sentiment here. It has been an absolute privilege, Speaker. It has been an absolute pleasure to serve the people of Mornington for four successive terms. Thank you, and goodbye.