Independent Commission Against Corruption Amendment (Ethics Committee) Bill
Debate resumed from 12 November.
Ms LEE RHIANNON [8.53 p.m.]: This is certainly shabby legislation. The Minister is in fine form tonight. We have had one bill after the other, although we had a little relief with the last one because there was agreement.
The Hon. John Hatzistergos: So far there have been two police bills that you have supported.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I thank the honourable member. I know he has difficulty with scrutiny; we have seen that today. He was subject to a little scrutiny, but we will give him more. We have two principal concerns with the legislation: the abolition of community representation and the extension of the review of the code from every two years to every four years. The legislation is a wonderful example of the current state of the Labor Government—it is getting rid of one of the very few mechanisms through which the general community has a formal say. The code of conduct for politicians should reflect community values, and the only way to ensure that they are reflected is to include the community. Labor members of Parliament have no idea, and the Opposition is no better. Community representation is such a good idea that the Greens say we should bring the Houses into alignment by introducing it in this place rather than eliminating it in the other place. The Government is being inconsistent. It could have taken another direction if it sought to achieve consistency.
I acknowledge the rather sad comment from the Minister. Again, he is rather hard up for anything original to say. It is a good idea to have a legislative committee that can consider matters of privilege, but surely this does not have to occur at the expense of community representation. It would not be difficult to set up two different committees to handle the two different functions. The Greens oppose extension of the review from every two years to every four years. Circumstances can change and weaknesses can be exposed.
It would be silly to have to wait up to four years before the code could be improved to reflect the lessons learned. A two-year review is hardly onerous. If there is no pressing need or demand for change, presumably the review can be relatively brief. It is time for the Government to lift its game. It had an opportunity, but that opportunity has been lost. The Government takes us down its path of secrecy and avoidance of scrutiny whenever it can. It takes opportunities in this House to use conservative members to pass this type of legislation. We need more accountability, not less.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [8.56 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. The principal purpose of the bill is to provide for the reconstitution of the Standing Ethics Committee in another place as the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics, and allow the committee to take a broader role in matters of privilege. Currently the other place has no committee to which matters of privilege can be referred for consideration. By contrast, the Legislative Council has such a committee, and honourable members will no doubt be aware of its important role in contributing to debate on, and understanding, privilege.
It was suggested in debate that the bill would reduce accountability, but it is difficult to see how that could be so when the draft resolution to establish the new privilege and ethics committee would give it exactly the same functions as the current committee, with an additional role in relation to parliamentary privilege. The expanded role in relation to privilege will mean that such matters can be considered in a bipartisan manner. Further, it will bring the committee in the other place broadly into line with a committee in this House. It cannot be suggested seriously that procedures for dealing with matters of privilege in this House have resulted in less accountability.
The bill clearly recognises the importance of community representatives in contributing to the development of the code of conduct. The committee will be able to co-opt members when reviewing the code to ensure that it reflects community standards. Therefore the Government does not support the view that this will lessen accountability. Concerns were also raised about permanent community members. As I stated previously, with the reconstitution of the committee with a privilege role it is no longer appropriate to have permanent community members.
The Legislative Council does not require the appointment of community members to its committee. However, there is a provision for co-opting. The history of this committee, which is enshrined in legislation, flows from amendments to a bill presented to this House some years ago when the Legislative Council elected to establish its own committee under the standing orders rather than have a joint committee with the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly, having agreed to the amendments made by the Legislative Council, has the odd situation of its committee being enshrined in legislation, unlike the analogous committee of the Legislative Council. The Legislative Assembly has taken a view on the way its committee is to be conducted, and that ought to be respected. I note that the Hon. Patricia Forsythe reflected on that in her comments. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.
The House divided.
Mr Della Bosca
Reverend Dr Moyes
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [9.08 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a third time.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [9.08 p.m.]: I urge honourable members to vote against this bill. I believe that the model established in the upper House is flawed. The Standing Ethics Committee was established in 1994 under amendments to the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act to draft a code of conduct for members of the Legislative Assembly. The code was produced and was first adopted by the Legislative Assembly in May 1998. There is currently no coverage of privilege matters by the committee. On 9 November 1998 the Legislative Council established a Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics.
The Hon. John Hatzistergos: Point of order: In effect, the honourable member is making a second reading speech instead of indicating whether the bill should proceed from the second reading to the third reading. I ask you, Madam Deputy-President, to rule that he should direct his remarks to that central question: Should the bill proceed to the third reading?
The Hon. Greg Pearce: To the point of order: I find it incredible that the Minister would take that point of order. It is a very rare occasion indeed that we would want to hear the Australian Democrat speak, especially on the third reading of a bill. However, we heard only a few words from the member, and it is certainly contrary to the practice of this House to attempt to stop a member from speaking on the third reading of a bill when the member has something he or she wants to say. In this case we have not heard more than introductory words from the member, and it would be quite outrageous and contrary to the normal procedures and courtesies of the House to stop him from speaking.
Ms Lee Rhiannon: To the point of order: Today there has been considerable discussion about members being gagged. Members on the Government benches have attempted to do that a number of times. I am concerned that this is happening again when there is a clear opportunity under standing orders to debate the third reading of a bill. I would hope that in the spirit of openness, and to enable the House to fully debate matters, the member will be allowed to continue his speech.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: To the point of order: I recognise that obviously I must confine my remarks to stating why this bill should not go to the third reading. I have completed my introductory remarks and would be more than happy to stick to that point.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Order! It is obviously not the intention of the Government to gag a member at the third reading stage of the bill. It is clear also that at the third reading stage of a bill a member has a last opportunity to state why the bill should not be read a third time. Provided the member stays within the clear guidelines set down by past Presidents, I will allow him to proceed. I remind him that this is not an opportunity to speak because he may have missed the call at the second reading stage; it is a last opportunity for him to explain why the bill should not be read a third time.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: The upper House committee model that is to be the template for the lower House was a huge problem for the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho. She stayed within the ethical boundaries, often in tears because of pressures she was put under as the Chair of a committee that was said to be above the influence of Parliament. There is lack of public input to this committee; it comprises only members of Parliament. The Government tried to give itself a majority; so the committee would be a rubber stamp for the Government of the day. How can we possibly have separation of powers in that situation? I urge honourable members not to agree to let the bill go to the third reading, because the committee model in this House is flawed. We need some input from people beyond members of the House to examine our privileges and ethics. The lower House should not disregard input from non-parliamentary members. There is no reason why the Assembly should follow such a model, and I urge that the bill be rejected at the third reading.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [9.13 p.m.]: We should proceed to the third reading vote. This House should not interfere with the procedures of the other place. The lower House has put forward its proposals and we are simply agreeing to them. Under the parliamentary model followed by this Parliament, each House governs itself. Imagine if the other place directed this House as to how it should organise and conduct its privileges committee. We would not like that. For those reasons we should proceed to the third reading and pass the bill at the third reading.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read third time.