28 March 2018
Mr PESUTTO (Hawthorn) (15:02:12) — I grieve for Victoria today because we have a government that treats the privileges and responsibility of government like an all-you-can-eat buffet — ‘Second residence allowances, we’ll have more of those; we’ll have more of these parliamentary staff’. They cannot help themselves, and as the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of The Nationals said, they treat government like an ATM for their own personal benefit and for the benefit of their party. We have a government now, after so many rorts, lies and scandals, that has lost its political and moral authority to govern on behalf of Victorians and in their best interests.
Victorians have every right to expect that the governments that lead them will not be concerned to draw their taxes away to fund their own party political activities but that they will fund those themselves. Well, they did not in this case. If this were the only scandal, that would be bad enough, but the last three years have comprised rorts, scandals, lies and no less than five police investigations. We have got red shirts, and I will come to that again.
We had the then Speaker and Deputy Speaker subject to a scathing report by PwC and then referred off to police. It was very curious to us that police did not charge — there seemed to be a whole lot of information there — but we accept the decision of the police in that case. But then also the Deputy President of the other place, Mr Eideh, was accused of very serious misbehaviour, of supposedly rendering or somebody on his behalf rendering false invoices — a very serious allegation — allegedly involving $200 000 or more. That was referred to police, as I understand it, and is now with IBAC, as I understand it. We had the question before the last election of a dictaphone belonging to an Age journalist that was deliberately destroyed in circumstances where —
An honourable member — Stolen!
Mr PESUTTO— Stolen and then destroyed. That was clearly a criminal act. That went to police, and again, much to our surprise, there were no charges. It seemed pretty clear to us that destroying property which a person knows to belong to somebody else constitutes an offence, and yet police did not charge. We have to accept that decision of course, and yes we know the red shirts case has gone to police, and it may well go back to police. I will come back and say a bit more about that in a moment.
They are just the matters that have gone to Victoria Police, but there are other rorts and scandals here. What about the Labor Party’s involvement in discussions prior to the last election with Transurban? What do we know about those discussions? Who was involved? What was discussed? We know about the east–west link scandal involving $1.2 billion, which Victorians know all about and are white hot with anger about. We know in the case of the east–west link cancellation that the member for Werribee, now the Treasurer, did have discussions with Lendlease. We would like to know the full scope and content of those discussions.
What we have is a history and a pattern. We had former minister Steve Herbert, a former member of the other place, caught chauffeuring his dogs around the state. He had to resign in disgrace. And let us remember we had the Government Whip, Mr Cesar Melhem, who too was referred to police following the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. We can see a series of rorts, scandals and lies. We were told the east–west link would not cost a cent to cancel, and yet here we are. We know it is at least $1.2 billion.
What we have in the light of all of these scandals is a government that is drowning in its own delinquency, a government that has a trust deficit — five police investigations and PwC reports. What last week’s Ombudsman’s report does is provide the final proof, if ever any proof were needed, that this government is intrinsically unfit to govern and that all of the people who are watching this debate, who will read about this debate and who will follow the coverage in the media wheel — I appeal to them — draw the conclusion that the Premier and his ministers are unfit to govern them after the next state election.
As for this Ombudsman’s report, I do not know that I have seen such a damning report in any of my time being involved in politics. The government’s regime for employing staff to work in campaign roles in marginal Labor seats or marginal coalition seats was something that the Ombudsman described as an artifice. She said it was wrong. She found that a number of people, including ministers to whom I will shortly come, signed documents knowing that the people they were signing them for did not work for them. We also know from the Ombudsman that her report was not a comprehensive report. So whenever the Premier gets up and says, ‘This was subject to a comprehensive report’, we know that is wrong and false. The Ombudsman says that she was blocked. I will say a bit about that in a short while.
But we know that four key ministers — ministers in the community safety and corruption space — were named in this report as having breached the Members Guide, clauses 8 and 9. They are ministers who, by virtue of their roles, have to represent the very best standards, particularly when our state is gripped by a law and order crisis. The Attorney-General is named in the report, with the Ombudsman having found that he breached clauses 8 and 9 of the Members Guide. Although the Attorney-General did not participate — in fact, he refused to participate — in the Ombudsman’s report, we know that she nevertheless made that finding.
It is interesting that, not having provided any information to the Ombudsman at all and not having responded in any way, following the day of the report’s release the Attorney-General did an interview on radio 3AW with Neil Mitchell.
If you want a definition of a painful exchange, just imagine this exchange, if you will:
Neil Mitchell: Well, did you sign off on these worksheets?
Martin Pakula: I employed a person for 20 days.
Neil Mitchell: Did you sign them in advance?
Martin Pakula: Look Neil, it’s four years ago. It’s not unusual for MPs to sign a couple of timesheets. My recollection is that I signed them as I went …
Referring to the staffer he employed:
Neil Mitchell: Well, did he work for someone? Who else did he work for?
Martin Pakula: Uh, well.
Neil Mitchell: What other member was he helping when we were paying him?
Martin Pakula: Well no, well, some time later he moved to another office. But, but, but —
Neil Mitchell: But hang on, he was doing three days a week with you —
Martin Pakula: Two, two.
Neil Mitchell: Alright, two days a week with you and several days with somebody else?
Martin Pakula: No and three employed by the Australian Labor Party, and three employed by the Australian Labor Party.
Neil Mitchell: And who was paying the bill?
Martin Pakula: Well, the Australian Labor Party …
Neil Mitchell: For the two days that we were paying your bloke, what was he doing?
Martin Pakula: Well, he was doing, he was doing what the scheme envisaged which was talking to voters and —
Neil Mitchell: For which member or candidate?
Martin Pakula: Well, the report goes into that.
Neil Mitchell: But which one?
Martin Pakula: Well, the report goes into that.
Neil Mitchell: Which one was it?
Is he still here? Yes.
Martin Pakula: Operating, operating in between Keysborough and Mordialloc.
Honourable members interjecting.
I would love to know what the member for Mordialloc knew and when he knew it. He knew this was a rort. He knew those staff were not his to play with, and he was a candidate who took great advantage from the rorting of taxpayer dollars.
So here we have the Attorney-General of our state, the chief law officer, the person who is supposed to be representing the government’s credentials and campaigning to bring down crime rates that are out of control in this state, and he has breached the Members Guide, according to the Ombudsman, for having refused to cooperate with the Ombudsman. Imagine, everybody, there is a young offender who is there at a police interview and they say, ‘Well, we are here to ask you questions, young man’. What does he say? ‘I am going to take the Pakula defence. I am going to say nothing’. The chief law officer should have set an example. He should have cooperated with the Ombudsman, exclusive cognisance or not. It was his responsibility to do that.
Gavin Jennings in the Council, the member who is supposed to be running Victoria’s corruption regime to crack down on corrupt behaviour, he was in on this. Do not fall for Lenders being the patsy. We all know there were more involved in this and we know that Mr Jennings was up to his neck in it. We know that the Minister for Police who, like the Attorney-General, represents the government’s public face of law and order, was involved in this scheme because she benefited. Ms Mikakos in the other place — she, too, in the face of a youth justice crisis, breached the Members Guide.
So all of these ministers who are there to represent the very best and highest standards of behaviour were in breach, refused to participate and set the worst possible example. Not only was their refusal to cooperate bad enough, but then the misuse of taxpayer dollars for three pieces of litigation in the Supreme Court, in the Court of Appeal and before the High Court cost at least $1 million in our estimation. But the government can set us right if they want — they can tell us all of the costs if they wish to.
Imagine that: a situation where the cover-up is more costly and arguably worse morally than the rort to cover it up. The Attorney-General should have known better than to use public money on litigation which was going to benefit him politically. He should have recused himself. It should not have been him, and if anyone were to take this action, it should have been the Australian Labor Party because that is who it was really protecting: Labor Party members and the staff who worked for them. It was all about protecting the Labor Party.
Now the Premier is saying that he knew none of this, that he did not know anything was wrong with this scheme, which contradicts everything he said at the start. Who can remember ‘there were rules and those rules were followed’ said ad nauseam and not even an apology that he got it wrong. There were rules and they were followed, he said. Well, we know he was involved, we know that because people over there are saying so. They are telling the journalists that the Premier knew there were concerns about the probity and propriety of this scheme and he did nothing about it. His credibility, his integrity and his standards are in tatters over this, if they were not already in tatters because of all of the scandals, rorts and lies I spoke about at the start. He has no credibility on this.
The member for Lara’s performance today in question time is a ‘hall of famer’ or should I say a ‘hall of shamer’? I do not know which one is best. That was pathetic. Confronted with unmistakable, undeniable words that he denied ever engaging in this scheme and then to open his answer with how good the tourism results were today in Victoria — if anything, for his own benefit, his colleagues should have told him that was not the best answer to give. It was one of the worst performances, and he will need to come into this house at some time and give an explanation.
So it is then, in the light of all this, we have a government that is unfit and drowning in its own delinquency. It cannot help itself. It is unfit to govern. We have ministers and members who are now openly lying. In desperation they are openly lying. That is why it is so important that when you receive the Leader for Opposition’s request that this matter be referred to the Privileges Committee, we hope and trust that you will see what is riding on that decision. Because if what the member for Lara did today is not a breach of privileges, what is?
I can understand sometimes there will be room for disagreement over words. We can all do that. Many of us are lawyers and we made a living out of that. But this was a case that could not be any clearer. He was caught out. He did not have the dignity, the decency or the character to admit that he got it wrong, and instead he has exacerbated the situation. We have hopefully a select committee in the other place. That select committee will be vital because the Ombudsman’s report — which is unprecedented in what it found, not just about one person but about a whole party, a whole government — was only half done, not through any fault of the Ombudsman but because she was blocked. It is in the interest of the Victorian people and the standing of the Victorian government that we get to the very bottom of this, the largest rort in Victoria’s parliamentary history.