Federal Election 2022

Legislative Assembly 24 May 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:52): On Saturday, 21 May, Australians went to the polls.

The outcome of that contest was a change of government—a peaceful change in what have been somewhat turbulent times. I think the outcome, and the manner in which it was conducted should remind us all just how strong our democracy is and how lucky we are to have it.

Personally, it was a disappointing result, and of course it was also a disappointing political result from my perspective. It remains to be seen whether those that wear the teal can now switch from campaigning to actually delivering for their communities.

I suspect they will have a choice between sticking to their principles and actually delivering, so we will have to see how that works out.

In the Mornington electorate we have a new member for Flinders, Zoe McKenzie, who actually achieved a slight swing towards the Liberal Party.

Unfortunately in Dunkley the Liberal candidate, Sharn Coombes, was not successful, but Sharn was a great candidate. You could not have wanted anyone to work harder. Indeed I think she was probably the hardest working candidate I have seen in my 40 years in this game.

The outcome in no way reflected the effort. I do have enormous respect for Sharn’s dedication, the skills she brought to the contest and the manner in which the campaign was conducted.

I do extend my congratulations to Peta Murphy, and I look forward to working with Peta and with Zoe McKenzie in the service of the people of the Mornington Peninsula.

Pandemic Management a Total Failure

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:53): It is a pleasure to rise and make a contribution to this matter of public importance advanced by the member for Ripon.

It is interesting to reflect, to the extent that you need to, on the contribution of the previous speaker. I guess the take-out I would have is that it does not matter whether you are telling the truth or not; if you say it loud enough and you say it with apparent conviction and you keep repeating it, then someone is going to believe it.

But I do not think anyone in this chamber believed it, frankly. Certainly no-one on this side of the chamber believed it, because we know exactly how bad the record is that the member was trying to, frankly, misrepresent.

I do strongly support the matter advanced, as I said, by the member for Ripon, because if there is any matter of public policy that is more worthy of serious examination by this house, it is the manner in which the government has managed the approach to the pandemic in this state.

The numbers themselves tell a story; you do not need to go much further: 107 000 cases in round figures so far; 260 days locked down; 1248 deaths so far.

Ms Britnell: Huge.

Mr MORRIS: As the member for South-West Coast says, huge. You contrast that with the result to our immediate north: fewer than half as many deaths, 612; well less than half the days locked down—lockdowns of course are not just inconvenient; they are job killers, they are business killers, they are life destroyers—and the total number of cases, less than 80 000.

We had 50 000 more people contract COVID in this state than in New South Wales.

I think we are right to express our concerns about the government’s management of this pandemic because they have failed. They have failed comprehensively to keep Victorians safe.

No matter how loud the bluster, the fact is lives have been disrupted across the state. I do not know a single person in my electorate that has not been touched significantly by the impact of COVID. And we have had it relatively easy, although we have been part of the metropolitan lockdown. We should not have been, but that is probably a subject for another time.

The community has been badly affected. Other communities I know have had it a lot worse. This was a situation that did not need to happen.

The example is there in New South Wales. They had competent management in New South Wales. The result in Victoria, is damaged lives, a damaged economy and mental health impacts I think beyond anything probably in the post-white settlement of this state—huge impacts.

The fact is the mental health impact will go on for the longest, but damage has been done to the economy, jobs have been lost and lives have been disrupted.

I was talking to a constituent on Sunday, and he said, ‘I’m 85 years old. I haven’t seen my grandkids for two years. I don’t have that many more years left. I’ve lost that time’. The impact has been huge and it has been unnecessary.

We now have a situation where the view of the government is that, ‘Oh, we’ll have more of the same. We’ll continue this. We’ll change the rules’. We cannot talk about the bill, so I will not do that, but, ‘We’ll change the rules and we’ll have more of the same’.

When I spoke on the extension of the state of emergency back in February I made the observation that you cannot use such a draconian and arbitrary regime to govern in a democracy. You can do it in short bursts, you can do it for emergencies, but you cannot use the sorts of powers that the government has invoked in its management of the pandemic to govern in a democracy.

Yet that is what has happened. That is what has been going on since March last year. Now, I am the first person to say on occasion intervention—and intervention on that scale—was probably justified, but for short periods only and with proper accountability.

The issue is it has gone on and on and on. I made the observation back in February. I said, ‘What happens when we get to November? Will we still be there with this wicked virus?’. Yes, we are.

And we are seeing a wish to continue a regime that has not worked. It has not worked and in fact it has done considerable damage.

Now, the observations that are included in the matter of public importance, the observations from the Ombudsman, the bar council and so on, really are talking about protecting democracy under an emergency situation.

The first issue I have with the way the government has been managing the pandemic is that it has not worked.

The second issue I have with it is the way in which power has been concentrated: not only has the community been sidelined, the Parliament has been sidelined and half the cabinet has been sidelined.

A very few people have taken power into their hands and used it, we have had no accountability and we have had limited opportunities in this place.

Frequently the only reason we sat was to facilitate something the government needed.

We do not have an appropriate accountability mechanism. It is all very well to say, ‘Oh, a parliamentary committee will do the job’, but with the way we structure our parliamentary committees in this state they cannot do the job, speaking as both a former chair and deputy chair of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and having worked with two members of the current cabinet, Minister Pakula and Minister Pearson.

Yes, we work with good faith. Yes, we got a lot of good things done and I think to the benefit of the community and to the benefit of accountability of government from both sides.

But the reality is that when a conflict arises between the majority of the committee and the government, either the majority of the committee do as they are damn well told or they are replaced. That is the way it works. So let us not pretend that we can have some fig leaf of accountability through a parliamentary committee which is dominated by government members.

If you have a parliamentary committee that perhaps has a non-government chair and perhaps has a non-government majority, then you are possibly part of the way there.

I was interested to see a piece in the Conversation from, I think, Monday from associate professor William Partlett and a number of his colleagues. They made the suggestion there that there was an alternative accountability mechanism in New Zealand.

I note the Premier has not picked up that particular accountability mechanism, so I think there is a lot to be said for this matter of public importance submitted by the member for Ripon and it certainly is and remains the number one public policy concern for me.

Travel vouchers available, when?

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:47): (6134) My constituency question is for the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events.

In the depths of COVID the Liberal and National parties came up with the idea of a regional travel voucher scheme, and we were pleased to see the government adopt that idea subsequently.

I am referring to a screenshot from a website taken just before question time started, the vic.gov.au/regional-travel-voucher-scheme website:

The Victorian Government has announced 80,000 regional travel vouchers valued at $200 will be made available, building on the success of the Regional Travel Voucher Scheme.

Information on how Victorians can apply for and use the vouchers will be available here soon.

To my knowledge it has been saying ‘available here soon’ for a considerable period of time.

Now, I am wondering if the minister can advise me when those vouchers will be made available?

Labor Playing Politics with Religious Freedom

Legislative Assembly 17 November 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (11:27): It is a pleasure to join this debate on the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021.

I will have been in this place for 15 years at the end of the month, and we have dealt with many, many controversial issues during that time. Some of them have been of great significance to individuals; some of them have been more about social reforms, the evolution of societal attitudes and so on.

When I was a relatively new member we dealt with the Relationships Bill, which became the Relationships Act 2008, and I strongly supported that bill.

At the time it was seen as a vehicle for formalising same-sex relationships—relationships particularly for gay and lesbian couples—in the absence of changes to the Marriage Act 1958, which was, of course, a federal statute.

Marriage equality at that time was a far-off dream for many, but I think it is fair to say that it was also a very long way from being accepted by the community. In fact I commented during that debate that the passage of the Relationships Bill would not lead to a change in the Marriage Act. I think I effectively said,

‘It’s not marriage, and if it was I wouldn’t support it’.

Now, I have reflected on those views. It was 2008; it was a while ago. I have reflected on that statement and I think I can honestly say that it was more about the way the community was thinking at the time than about any personal views I may have held. Certainly had the opportunity to vote for it come up at that stage—outside the Parliament, as an individual at the ballot box—I know what my vote would have been, and it would have been positive.

But the community was not there yet; the community was a long way from it.

The reality is if you want to undertake these reforms, you really cannot get too far ahead of where the community is at. Public opinion does change, and it changes sometimes very, very quickly. We have seen that on a range of issues.

That bill, as I said, was debated in 2008. Nine years later the nation voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality—overwhelmingly in support. Every state and every territory in the nation voted in favour of it. In my own patch, in the electorates of Dunkley and Flinders, there was a slight variation but it was around 70 per cent across the board.

We will not, of course—and God forbid that we do—but if views were reassessed now, I think that that number would be significantly higher even than 70 per cent.

By December of that year of course the amendments had become law, with 128 votes in support in the House of Representatives. So things move relatively quickly.

Can I say, though, I recognise the impatience of those in 2008 who said, ‘Look, the Relationships Act is nice, but it’s not what we want. It’s not what we need. It doesn’t go far enough’.

The fact is—setting aside the constitutional niceties—had this Parliament voted in 2008 to amend the Marriage Act in the way that was being suggested, we would have been doing it without widespread support, and it would have effectively been change imposed on the community.

When you impose that change you do not have the sort of debate—you would not have had the issue being embraced the way it has been subsequently by the community. When you impose that change you create division. People resent things being imposed on them and their positions become entrenched; they do not have open minds.

Of course we had that debate, and I should say I understand how uncomfortable that was for many members of the GTBTILQ+ community, because had it been about straight people, it would have made me bloody uncomfortable, I can tell you—very, very uncomfortable—but it was not.

So there was a cost to that debate, and I recognise that. But there was a benefit too, and that was that it had an educative role for the whole community.

It got people talking about it. It got people thinking about it. It gave people an opportunity to reflect on their own positions and how they came to their own positions—had they ever thought about it before? To the great credit I think of the Victorian community, to the great credit of the Australian community, when they did reflect their views evolved; the culture evolved.

If you want to have lasting change to societal attitudes, if you really want to get that cultural evolution and not just have political correctness, which is effectively forcing a segment of the community to keep their views to themselves, then you have got to have that cultural change, you have got to have that cultural evolution.

Without it the opposing views do not go away. They just go underground, but they keep up the fight; they keep up the resistance. They are still there. The society does not get to evolve. The opposition is invisible, but it still exists. I think the bill before us is unfortunately a perfect example of how not to handle a debate like this.

Now, I have spoken before in this chamber about the differences in approach between that of Steve Bracks and John Brumby and the current Premier. Premier Bracks and Premier Brumby were committed to outcomes. They were not above using the issue for politics—why wouldn’t they, as politicians?—but they were committed to the outcome, and they did not let the politics get in the way of the outcome. They wanted to genuinely bring the community forward, as did Ted Baillieu.

We have seen significant change in the last four parliaments. We have seen support across the chamber on a range of difficult issues, support that was both deserved and then received, but often that has been after a significant inquiry, whether it is a Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry or whether it is perhaps a parliamentary inquiry of a joint standing committee—whatever.

That gives people the opportunity to provide input. It gives people the opportunity to be heard, to have their concerns addressed. Of course, as we all know, being heard does not mean your views are automatically taken on board, but it gives the decision-makers—in this case the legislators—the opportunity to test those views and come to a conclusion.

And if you do not accept the view that is being put to you, at least the risk is on the record; you know that it has been considered.

That is not the case with this bill. The government claims that this is overwhelmingly supported. The government claims there has been extensive consultation. We know that is not the case.

We know that a particular and considerable section of the community feels their rights are being overridden with this bill. It is clear from the ad that was in the paper yesterday and from all the emails and all the communication that I am sure we have all received on this issue that there is considerable concern, but certainly the Anglican community, the Catholic community, the Hindu community, the Coptic and Orthodox community, the Jewish community, the Sikh community, the Islamic community and a range of other faith communities do not believe they have been consulted meaningfully.

And as the ad said yesterday:

We … urge the Government to conduct meaningful consultation with faith groups and other stakeholders which will be in the interests of all Victorians.

I could not agree more. As I think my colleague the Leader of the Opposition said, no-one deserves to lose their job because of their sexuality. That is above and well beyond this discussion.

What this discussion is about is a legislative instrument that the government is bringing into this house to achieve a political outcome, and I think it is regrettable that politics has been allowed to dominate this discussion when this is an important issue and we do really need to bring the community with us.

Covid – Andrews an Abject Failure

Legislative Assembly 5 October 2021

Mr MORRIS (Mornington):  Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula have now been locked down for 246 days. By the end of the month it will be 267 days, not far short of half the time since the pandemic started in March last year.

This is a record that no-one wanted, a record that is entirely the responsibility of the Premier and the government he leads.

The strategy to keep us safe has totally failed. 873 Victorians have died of the virus out of an Australian total of 1346. Almost two-thirds of Australian deaths from coronavirus have occurred in this state.

Not only are 873 Victorians dead, the government has totally failed us when it comes to vaccinations. We trail New South Wales badly. They have left us in the dust.

The only way we are going to beat this virus is by getting every eligible Victorian vaccinated. That is a core responsibility of the government, and they have totally failed.

Every single day I get emails from people who have reached the end of their tether. Our community needs certainty, and it needs hope. We are getting neither from this government.

All we get from this government is spin and distraction. Every single day a new group is blamed. Every single day it’s someone else’s fault. Every single day there is a new reason why it’s not the government’s fault.

It’s time for the Premier and his Cabinet to take responsibility for the carnage they have caused in the last two years.

Any government has one key task to perform: to keep its community safe. By that measure alone the Andrews government is a complete and abject failure.

State of Emergency – No Extension Required

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (10:55): I rise to oppose the effectively open-ended extension of the state of emergency that is proposed by this bill.

A dictionary definition of an emergency is, ‘serious, unexpected and often dangerous; a situation requiring immediate action’. A state of emergency is an extreme measure. It is intended for extreme circumstances.

That is why the maximum period is, under normal circumstances, six months. It is a state of emergency, a dangerous situation and one where immediate action is required.

The member for Ivanhoe was just talking about the genesis of the principal act, and yes, it is entirely sensible to include these sorts of provisions in legislation. You cannot prepare for what you do not know.

Whether it is a disaster in the context of this act, a medical emergency, a pandemic, events of this nature do not give much warning, if any, and that is exactly what the state of emergency is designed to handle, the immediate event.

That is why the act requires that any declaration of a state of emergency is broadcast when it is declared. That is why gazettal is required. That is why the maximum period of a declaration is four weeks before an extension is needed.

That is why the minister is required to report to Parliament both on the state of emergency and on the minister’s actions under the state of emergency ‘as soon as practicable’, in the words of the act—not at the conclusion of the event, not when it suits the minister—as soon as practicable. Why? Because it is an emergency and the Parliament needs to know.

You cannot use such draconian and arbitrary controls and powers as are contained in this legislation to govern in a democracy, but that is what has occurred. That is what has been going on for the last 12 months.

Now the government wants another nine months. What happens when we get to November? Will there still be this wicked virus? Will we need another three months? Will we need another six months? Will we need another—oh, I do not know, perhaps six weeks from the election we can bring the state of emergency off. Given the track record of the Premier, that would not surprise me in the slightest.

It is now almost 12 months since the first declaration. Victorians have endured a full year, or almost a full year, in which their democratic rights have been sidelined. Initially there may have been justification for the government’s actions, but further frivolous extensions cannot be justified.

Yes, this is a serious situation. No-one underrates it. It requires management; it requires vigilance on the part of the government and on the part of the community, but no-one can argue that this is now an unexpected situation.

In fact you only need to look at the Premier’s own language: ‘COVID normal’—normal, not COVID emergency, COVID normal.

No-one on this side of the house is saying that nothing has changed since February 2020. No-one is saying we do not need to take precautions. No-one is saying we do not need special measures to facilitate whatever those precautions may be. But they do need to be based on science. They do need to be based on medical advice, but they also need to be based on the reality that is COVID normal.

There can be no justification for keeping in place an emergency regime that allows people to be confined to their homes and that prevents people from going about their business provided they do so in a COVID-safe fashion. You do not need a state of emergency simply because the government cannot get its act together.

It is a matter of record that right from the start of this pandemic, the opposition indicated our willingness to work with the government, to work together to put in place the necessary measures, to work together to fight the virus, to work together to keep the Victorian community safe. Is it equally a matter of record that not only has the government refused to observe the normal courtesies—and no surprise there—they will not enter into any dialogue whatsoever.

Bipartisanship is exactly that: it takes both sides, not one side dictating the terms and the other side meekly rolling over. But that is what the government would have us do.

For this Premier, it is his way or the highway. The Premier would rather keep the control that comes with a state of emergency; keep the population off balance, never knowing when they will be confined to their homes, never knowing when next their businesses will be shut down, never knowing when they may be prevented from seeing their parents or seeing their grandkids.


The government does not want a solution. They are happy to have the problem because it gives them an excuse to keep these autocratic controls in place.

Now, I think we can all be very proud of the way the Victorian people have responded over the past 12 months. They endured the first lockdown with good grace. They trusted the advice, and not only did they trust the medical advice, they trusted the government’s advice as well.

They endured the second lockdown in a similar stoic fashion. They were resigned to what had to be done. They understood the cause of the breakout—they understood it was the failure of the government to build a hotel quarantine system that kept its clients safe and kept the rest of Victoria safe—but they did what needed to be done to get on top of the situation.

Those two lockdowns did exactly what they were intended to do—they bought the government time. They bought the government time and opportunity to fix the hotel quarantine system, to get into place an effective and timely contact-tracing system, but that did not happen.

All we have to show for those two lockdowns is an inquiry that found no-one was prepared to take responsibility and that the hotel quarantine system had failed. We did not need to know that; we knew that. We also now know that the contact-tracing system we have in place is not fit to fight the Spanish flu, let alone COVID-19.

The government has failed Victoria and now they want to extend the state of emergency so they can do it all again.

Now, I am genuinely concerned because the most recent lockdown, when it came, was a very different experience to the first two. It was clear that many people have lost confidence in the system. It was clear that many people simply ignored the directions, whether it was crowds on beaches, large gatherings in public parks or lots of cars on the road—nothing like the silence that we saw with the first two.

Many, many people simply ignored the directions and went about their business as usual because they could see that the Premier had panicked; they could see that the government had panicked. They knew that this was a kneejerk reaction to the latest failure of hotel quarantine—and when is it going to happen again? They knew that this was just the latest failure of the so-called gold standard contact-tracing system that we now know is a complete dud.

I think we are at a difficult point because confidence in the public health system remains intact but it has taken a hit. It has been compromised.

It is critical that confidence in the system is maintained because you cannot manage events like this through enforcement. There are far too many people and far too few police to try that tactic.

We depend as a society on the overwhelming majority of people doing the right thing, but they will only do the right thing when the measures that are imposed on them are reasonable, necessary and transparent. And if they begin to believe that the controls are intrusive and unnecessary, the whole house of cards collapses, and in the event of another outbreak that would be catastrophic.

The government cannot continue to rely on these arbitrary and draconian controls when clearly we are past the phase of emergency. We have entered COVID normal.

We are prepared as an opposition to support reasonable measures to ensure that the virus is managed, that the community is protected, but we are not prepared to support the ongoing suspension of Victoria’s democratic rights that a continuation of the state of emergency would allow.

A reform that must succeed

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:11): This certainly is an extremely important piece of legislation because these so-called suppression practices and these so-called conversion practices are completely abhorrent, and the obvious outcome of this bill is a ban on those practices.

The notion that anyone is broken because of their sexuality, the notion that anyone is broken because of the way they identify in terms of gender, is complete nonsense. But it is dangerous nonsense. It is nonsense that destroys lives, and it is nonsense that takes lives.

Growing up is hard enough for anyone, but growing up with doubts about your sexuality or growing up with doubts about your gender identity must be that much harder.

The last thing anyone, whether an adult, a young adult or a child, needs is pressure to be something that they are not.

When we look at the figures reported by the National LGBTI Health Alliance, LGBTI young people are 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than others. Almost half of transgender and gender-diverse people, adults and children attempt suicide.

If you compare that almost 50 per cent figure with around about one in 30 for the rest of the population, those figures speak for themselves.

If there is systemic change that the Parliament can make, then we should make it. If there are outside influences contributing to the stress, to the sense of despair that drives people down the path to consider taking their own life, then we must address those issues.

Certainly that I know is the intent of this bill, and I do welcome it.

As the member for Caulfield noted, the opposition believes the bill could be improved by encouraging greater input between now and the next parliamentary sitting, and that of course is the intent of the reasoned amendment.

If time permits, I will return to that a little later. But I do need to say that, in my view, to present the bill in the way that the government has I think is a really wasted opportunity, because there was a real opportunity here in bringing forward the legislation to use that process, to use that occasion, to heal divisions in the community.

Unfortunately the government elected to let that opportunity pass. Wider consultation, as the member for Caulfield said, certainly was an election commitment.

We understand the commitment, and we are keen to see the intent of the bill implemented. But the consultation, to be frank, has not been particularly wide.

When you have that wider consultation and when you have that wider discussion, it does help to drive cultural change. It drives understanding, and that leads to cultural change. After all, that is what this process is about.

There are not many pieces of legislation you see come through a parliament where the parliament is explicitly, in passing the legislation, committing to cultural change in the community, but this is one of them. As I said, it is certainly a good change.

If I go back to the early days of my time in this house, in 2008 the Brumby government proposed a bill that became the Relationships Act 2008. It was only 12 years ago, but in some ways it seems like a world away.

Despite the fact that there were strong views on both sides, it was largely a respectful debate, and in my view it was a debate that broadened the understanding of the Victorian community on matters of sexuality.

It did encourage that discussion, and certainly it encouraged a greater awareness of the issues. I have no doubt that debate and the conversation that ensued from that contributed to the outcome of the marriage law postal survey.

Now, I understand there were issues with the mechanism, and I do not wish to enter into that debate today, but when you look at the outcome, the highest level of support for a yes vote was in the state of Victoria.

The highest participation rate was in the state of Victoria, and that I think is the best possible outcome.

That confirmed beyond all doubt that the overwhelming majority of Victorians prefer tolerance and inclusiveness to intolerance and division.

In bringing forward this piece of legislation the government really had a similar opportunity to that that existed for the Brumby government in 2008.

Unfortunately they have chosen to handle it quite differently.

I should also, however, say I do not for a moment doubt the genuine motivation of many members of the government and many who have spoken today.

I am frankly rather cynical about the motivation of some who seem to be taking the opportunity to manufacture division where little exists. Instead of seeking to fan the flames, there was a real opportunity here to bridge that chasm. It is a shrinking chasm, thankfully, probably a rapidly shrinking chasm, but there was an opportunity here to bridge it, and I think it is deeply unfortunate that opportunity has not been taken.

I want to refer to a couple of issues with regard to the commentary of the second-reading speech. The minister’s second-reading speech talks about the definition of change or suppression practices being carefully crafted and not being designed to capture all religious practices or teachings.

I am a little bit concerned that the speech then goes on to say the definition would likely not capture conduct where, for example, a person goes to a religious leader seeking advice on their feelings of same-sex and so on. The keywords there being ‘likely not capture’.

The speech goes on again to say they would likely not capture conduct where, for example, a person confides in a religious leader regarding their gender identity.

I think the fact that we have legislation in the house where even the minister’s speech says ‘will likely not capture’ means that it is open to interpretation.

I have been very clear for the whole of my time in this place that in my view it is up to the Parliament to make the rules, not the courts, and it does concern me that we have a situation where there is an opportunity for interpretation in an unintended way. That is the risk with that.

I also note that the bill will not allow an adult to consent to change or suppression practices. I understand the reasoning for that, and I certainly support the intent; I do, however, remain uneasy about limiting the actions of an individual in this manner.

So despite the concerns about the process and the somewhat ambivalent language in the second-reading speech, I think this is an opportunity to achieve real and lasting reform.

Whether we elect to deal with the issues of concern here or whether we leave it to the courts to interpret those issues, the legacy of this bill will be significant cultural change.

This is a reform that I have no doubt aligns with the views of the overwhelming majority of Victorians, a reform that will outlaw an abhorrent practice, and while it could be improved and I hope it will be improved, it is a reform that must succeed.

Ombudsman and IBAC Funding Cuts – A Blatant Attempt to Hobble the Watchdogs

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (15:52): I rise to support the matter of public importance submitted by the member for Ripon.

Before I move to my comments I make the observation that it is a great pity that government members, and particularly the member that has just sat down, think it is necessary, in order to win the debate, to put words into the mouths of the opposition.

The charge that we are advocating a position of austerity are completely false.

If the member had listened at any point to any of the contributions last week on the budget, that message would have come out loud and clear.

As the member for Gippsland South made the point a few minutes ago, we believe absolutely in investing in the future. We believe absolutely that at the moment it is necessary to run deficits; it is just a matter of what you use the money for, whether you use it responsibly and how far you go, and that is the issue that is at question. 

The other point I would make is that the member sort of said, ‘Oh, well, we’re both AA, New South Wales and Victoria’—completely and absolutely wrong!

We were knocked down two steps, and we are AA; New South Wales was knocked down one step—AA+. It is a very different circumstance, and to suggest that ‘No, we’re all the same’, is just completely wrong.

So let us at least keep to those facts in the context of this discussion.

The year 2020, first of all, was a year of disaster, and now of course it has been the year of the pandemic, but particularly I think it has been a year of contrasts.

The particular contrast that I have noted is the contrast between the way the people of Victoria faced challenges for the past 12 months and the manner in which the government of Victoria has responded.

The people of Victoria have shown courage, they have shown discipline and they have shown determination.

They have shown courage in confronting these almost unprecedented challenges that we have faced over the last 12 months; they have shown discipline by working together under difficult circumstances to not see off the challenge—we are a long way from seeing off the challenge—but to make significant progress; and they have shown determination to win that fight and get their lives back, get our lives back.

The community has shown exactly the characteristics you would hope would be reflected in government. But sadly nothing could be further from the case, because this government have shown no courage, they have shown little discipline and they have shown a determination in only one thing, and that is to avoid blame.

What is the most effective way to avoid blame?

Well, the most effective way to avoid blame is to camouflage—to be polite about it—what you are doing, to obscure the true nature of the operations of government.

I think it is fair to say that has always been the instinct of this government, but in 2020 that instinct really has morphed into something else. It has turned into furtiveness, it has turned into secrecy.

Since the election of the government in 2014 we have seen a concerted effort to shut down debate, and where debate could not be shut down it was to be dumbed down.

We have seen that in the way the Parliament operates. With no disrespect at all to you, Speaker—I am not suggesting that the source is the administration of the Parliament. It is the way it is operating. It has almost turned into a mere rubber stamp.

But sadly so has the committee system. The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, which is an institution that I have a fair knowledge of, was once a forum to investigate the budget before it passed.

The hearings were conducted, it reported back and then the house considered its position on the budget. That was a forum that was strongly supported by Premier Bracks. He put a lot of money into making sure it could do the job properly because he understood the necessity for a robust assessment of the budget before it passed.

That committee has now evolved, thanks to government control—and despite, I hasten to say, the best efforts of the opposition members—into what is basically a PR opportunity for ministers.

Those hearings will be completed hopefully before Christmas. The report will be done some time in January and I expect tabled in February. The budget passed last week. What is the point of going through the charade?

This year we saw an attempt to force the closure of electorate offices. Thankfully that went away after about 12 hours.

We saw attempts to prevent members from attending this Parliament. Finally we saw an attempt for the Parliament not to sit at all.

In the end, the government backed off. The Parliament has sat, thankfully. But they tried damn hard to prevent it.

The Liberal and National parties take accountability seriously. We take transparency seriously.

That is why it was a Liberal government that established the Ombudsman’s position in the state of Victoria. That is why it was a Liberal and Nationals government that established the IBAC in Victoria.

That is why it was a Liberal and Nationals government that established a freedom of information commissioner, which has now morphed, under this government, into something very different.

The fact is Labor love to talk about accountability. They like to talk about transparency. But all we get on their watch is more secrecy, more cover-ups, more whitewash.

Mr Rowswell: More cuts.

Mr MORRIS: And more cuts too, as the member for Sandringham says.

Victorians should be able to have confidence in the Ombudsman’s office and they should have confidence in IBAC. They have got to have confidence because they are critical agencies in the fight against corruption in this state.

I certainly have total confidence in the IBAC commissioner, I have total confidence in the Ombudsman. Both are people of the highest integrity. But they cannot do their job unless they get the resources that they need. And both of those people, both independent watchdogs, have expressed their concern at the funding that has been provided.

If we look at the annual report of the IBAC commissioner, and I am quoting, he says:

A strong anti-corruption agency must be independent, accountable and adequately resourced. The ability of IBAC to meet the growing demands and expectations of Parliament and the people of Victoria depends upon the resources, as well as the powers, at our disposal.

IBAC is committed to deliver what is required for the Victorian community; however, without additional funding, we will not be able to maintain current services. This will significantly impact our capacity to independently and robustly expose and prevent corruption.

The Ombudsman in her annual report says:

Most of the new functions and powers recently bestowed by Parliament came into effect on 1 January …

Whether I can make meaningful use of them, however, and indeed to continue to respond effectively to the increasing demands on my office, remains doubtful … and once again my ongoing funding has fallen substantially short of what is needed to respond to public expectations of my office.

… the apparent reluctance to fund my office could risk looking like an attempt to undermine it.

The government of course denies absolutely that the resources are inadequate, and particularly the Premier has been very voluble on that point.

But it is interesting; when the Ombudsman appeared on the Neil Mitchell show on 2 December, Mitchell asked her, ‘Could she do the job properly?’. And she said, ‘On that budget, no, I can’t’.

Neil then went on to say, ‘Well, the spin is actually you have got an increase. Have you got an increase?’. The response: ‘It looks like an increase when you look at it in the budget papers, but because I didn’t get enough last year I was obliged to run a deficit, so if you look at the total amount I spent to do my job, it’s a decrease’.

The same day, when the Premier was asked about that, he effectively called the Victorian Ombudsman a liar—effectively called an independent watchdog a liar. He said, ‘It’s not based on fact’, and that is a response he repeated in this Parliament this afternoon. 

You have got to wonder what is going on when the Premier of the state goes as far as he has on that point.

So is this just a cynical attempt to hamstring the operations of two very effective and principled watchdogs? I think it is. I think that is exactly what is behind this disgraceful campaign from the Premier to nobble and discredit two key agencies fighting corruption in this state, and I think this house should express its deep concern at the behaviour of the government.

Time to recognise the Peninsula is Regional

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:12): In each of the past two sitting weeks I have tabled petitions supporting the separation of Mornington Peninsula from the metropolitan area. More than 3000 signatures appear on those petitions, and I anticipate tabling another later this week.

Certainly the recent crisis has highlighted the ridiculous situation whereby the Geelong district is considered part of regional Victoria but the Mornington Peninsula is not.

The reality is, despite the inclusion of the peninsula in the metropolitan area, its status has always been considered a bureaucratic convenience but not a reflection of reality.

The peninsula is not an extension of the metropolitan area, and, with the exception of Mount Eliza, the urban areas are not even contiguous with the metropolitan area.

Seventy per cent of the municipality is green wedge and will remain green wedge. The standard of government services on the peninsula is not up to metropolitan standards and never has been.

Whether we are talking about health or education or public transport, the public sector workers deliver these services exceptionally well—they do a great job—but given the dispersed nature of our communities, they are not funded to provide metropolitan-standard services.

The interests of the peninsula can be complementary to the metropolitan area, and in many cases they are, but equally there are differences, and those differences must be recognised and addressed.

So I call on the government to recognise that those differences do exist and to finally determine once and for all that the peninsula is part of regional Victoria and must be classified as such.

Hotel Quarantine Inquiry – No Accountability for Failure

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:44): Last week the interim report of the hotel quarantine inquiry was released.

Now, of course we know the inquiry still has a very long way to run, but the interim recommendations are rather telling, and there is no more telling section than the recommendations relating to governance.

The report recommends that the Victorian government ensure that there are clear control and accountability structures in place for the program; that ultimate responsibility be vested in a cabinet-approved department and minister; that the minister and department be accountable for the operation of the program; that the departmental structure has clearly defined roles with the necessary expertise and advice embedded; that the responsible minister ensure members of the governance structure meet regularly and keep records of meetings, including decisions; and that the minister is briefed on the decisions reached at those meetings.

The minister, it suggests, needs to make sure that they receive regular, timely and accurate reports, and they should also set clear and consistent lines of accountability—and so it goes on.

How is it possible that ministers do not already understand the need to have accountability structures in place, to receive regular reports and to be briefed regularly?

That the commissioner felt it was necessary to explain to the government that they must have these basic measures in place, to explain accountability 101—because that is what it is, accountability 101—is an indictment on this scandal-ridden, trouble-prone, ineffectual government.