Appropriation (Parliament 2017-2018) Bill 2017

Debate resumed from 11 May; motion of Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State).

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to rise this evening for the debate on the Appropriation (Parliament
2017–2018) Bill 2017. As members of the house know, it is now 5.44 p.m. on the last scheduled sitting day for the autumn session of 2017. In accordance with our standing orders the house is due to adjourn in 16 minutes time. With 16 minutes to go before the house is due to adjourn for the final sitting day of the session and with the government having already determined that after the house adjourns today we will not return until 8 August this year, we are in a position where we have only just started the appropriation bill for Parliament.

As many members of the chamber will be aware, the general appropriation bill is a special bill. It is a bill which, due to the changes made to the constitution in 2003, actually does not require passage through the Legislative Council to receive royal assent. If the government does not bring the bill to conclusion in the Council, it is deemed to have passed the Parliament and can receive royal assent even without passage through the Legislative Council.

At this late hour it appears as though the general appropriation bill will, for the first time in its history, not be passed through the Council and will receive royal assent having only passed the Legislative Assembly, which says a lot about the management of the house by the government — that for the first time ever, not through the bill being blocked or amended but simply through the government not managing its program, we will not be seeing an appropriation bill passed for the 2017–18 financial year.

The bill we are talking about at the moment, though, the parliamentary appropriation bill, is different. It is not a bill which can receive deemed passage through the Parliament, it is not a bill which having passed the Assembly only can go for royal assent. It is a bill which must be passed by the Legislative Council, and it is an indictment of the government that we are now 15 minutes from the statutory adjournment of the house for a seven-week period that the government is only just starting the debate on the parliamentary appropriation bill.

This is a bill which appropriates, in this instance, $146 million for the management of the Parliament. It is a bill which provides funding to the Department of the Legislative Assembly, the Department of the Legislative Council, the Department of Parliamentary Services, which provides the electorate offices — being staff and physical infrastructure — for members of Parliament and of course provides funding to parliamentary committees as well as some statutory officers of Parliament, being the Auditor-General and now the Parliamentary Budget Office. So it is an important piece of legislation for the operation of our democracy and for the operation of this institution. It must be passed by the Parliament before 30 June, and this 15 minutes is in theory the last available opportunity.

I only intend to speak briefly on the bill this afternoon, in particular to talk about the issue of funding for the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council over the last several years has had an interesting history with respect to its funding. As all members of this place know, since the 2014 election the Legislative Council has had a very active committee system. Be it the economy and infrastructure, legal and social, and planning and environment standing committees, or be it the select committees which have been established — obviously the select committee into the Port of Melbourne and more recently this week the establishment of a select committee into the Country Fire Authority (CFA) restructure — the Legislative Council undertakes a very substantial amount of committee work. It receives very substantial numbers of submissions on any number of issues, be they in relation to legislation or general references, and carries a very high workload. Certainly they are active committees in comparison to many of the more traditional joint committees of this Parliament.

It is appropriate therefore that they receive adequate resourcing. This has been an ongoing issue for the Legislative Council for a number of years. Prior to the last financial year the Legislative Council sought a Treasurer's advance for additional funding for the Department of the Legislative Council which was not supported by the Treasurer and the government. Last year in consideration of the 2016–17 parliamentary appropriation bill this house determined that it was appropriate to seek additional funding for the Council committees. It determined that $600 000 should be transferred from the joint committees to fund the three standing committees of the Legislative Council — $200 000 per committee, $600 000 in total.

Last year the Council passed an amendment to the parliamentary appropriation bill which shifted $600 000 from the line item for parliamentary investigatory committees to the Department of the Legislative Council with the intent that those funds would go into the three Legislative Council committees. That was supported, obviously, in the Council, but it returned to the Legislative Assembly, at which point the government in the Legislative Assembly indicated that its preference at the time was not to agree to the amendment from the Council but rather to support that funding transfer from joint committees to the Legislative Council by way of an exchange of letters between the Speaker and the President.

Accepting on face value that undertaking from the government, when the message returned from the Legislative Assembly the Council did not insist upon its amendment. It did that on the basis and with the expectation that the agreement which led to that extra $600 000 being provided to Council committees would become a feature of ongoing budgets. Yet, unfortunately, when we move forward 12 months to consideration of the 2017–18 parliamentary appropriation bill we see — and it has been disclosed through the public accounts process — that the Department of the Legislative Council made an expenditure review committee of cabinet bid for additional funding for Council committees, consistent with what had been agreed by an exchange of letters last year, and that was rejected out of hand by the Treasury and the government.

As a consequence the parliamentary appropriation bill before the house today does not reflect the $600 000 increase for Council committees which was agreed by an exchange of letters by the Presiding Officers last year. In fact on the face of it the actual appropriation for the Legislative Council in 2017–18 is lower than it was in 2016–17. It falls from $3.737 million in 2016–17 to $3.688 million in 2017–18. So the government has not honoured the undertaking given last year to provide funding on an ongoing basis for those Legislative Council committees.

So again I find on behalf of the coalition we are in a situation where we again need to seek to propose amendments to the parliamentary appropriation bill, and I would ask that the amendment be circulated.

Opposition suggested amendments circulated by Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — The amendment which is now being circulated provides for, this year, the transfer of $700 000 from the parliamentary investigatory committees to the Department of the Legislative Council. In relation to the schedule of the bill, it seeks to change the Legislative Council line item, increasing it to $4.388 million, and reducing the parliamentary investigatory committee line item to $6.563 million.

The purpose of this amendment is to deliver upon what was the budget and expenditure review committee request from the Council to the government this year, which was $700 000, reflecting the increasing costs of operating the committees for the 2017–18 financial year. It gives effect to what this side of the chamber, and I think the non-government parties generally, believe was the undertaking from the government last year — that is, that the parliamentary appropriation bill would reflect an ongoing and permanent allocation of funds for those committees, a reversal of funds from the joint committees to the Council committees. Obviously as a net change it has no effect on the overall appropriation to the Parliament, which remains $146 286 000, but it reflects the need for ongoing funding for the Council committees, and it reflects our understanding of the undertaking given last year that increased funding that was made by way of an exchange of letters would become a feature of the actual parliamentary appropriation bill.

At this late hour I will conclude on that point. This is an important piece of legislation. The fact that it is being passed now, 5 minutes before the statutory end of this sitting before the house adjourns, is very unfortunate and reflects the disarray we have seen in the government and have seen in the government for months. The fact that the budget bill, the general appropriation bill itself, will not pass the Parliament before it adjourns for the winter recess is a disgrace, and the fact that this parliamentary appropriation bill is literally being dealt with for the first time in the last 5 minutes of this sitting is also regrettable. This amendment that we will consider in committee is an important one. We relied last year on assurances given by the government, and they have not been honoured in the bill this year. It is important that this matter is settled in favour of the Legislative Council once and for all.

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