I rise to support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Malvern, to the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020, which is in the following terms:
Clause 57, page 283, after line 15 insert—
“54A Sub-committee of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee for matters concerning the COVID-19 pandemic
(1) If the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee is referred a matter relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee must appoint a sub-committee for the purposes of inquiring into, considering and reporting to the Parliament on that matter.
(2) The majority of members appointed to a sub-committee referred to in subsection (1) must not be members of the political party forming the Government.
(3) The chairperson of a sub-committee referred to in subsection (1) must not be a member of the political party forming the Government.
(4) A report of a subcommittee referred to in subsection (1) is taken to be a report adopted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee for the purposes of sections 35 to 37A.
A report taken to be adopted by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee under subsection (4) must be laid before each House of the Parliament in accordance with section 35(1).
(5) In this section—
political party has the same meaning as in the Electoral Act 2002.
Division 3 of Part 3 applies to a sub-committee appointed under this section.”.
The Andrews Labor government must urgently establish a subcommittee of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) that is not dominated by government MPs to ensure independent scrutiny of its spending.
As it seeks to borrow an extra $24.5 billion, on top of the frightening level of debt it has already accumulated over the last three years, the Andrews government has been loath to provide any real detail of where it will be spent.
While there is no doubt that we are in extraordinary times, with significant uncertainty ahead, these are reasons for more scrutiny, not less.
In Victoria the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee was established many years ago to undertake the crucial role of an independent watchdog over government expenditure.
Today, however, PAEC has been neutered by the Andrews government’s stacking of it with its own MPs. This situation has been carefully constructed by the Premier and the Treasurer as yet another means of escaping the scrutiny of their spending by Victorians. There are currently five government members on PAEC, with just three coalition members and one member of the Greens.
On the Parliament of Victoria website under ‘Committees’ the intended function of PAEC is summarised in the following way:
On behalf of the Parliament, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee examines public administration and finances to improve outcomes for the Victorian community.
Regrettably this is no longer the case in Victoria, as Labor-dominated PAEC regularly uses its numbers to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. The very fact that this situation has been so deliberately orchestrated by the Andrews government, in stark contrast to PAEC’s intended purpose, is reason for great suspicion regarding its motives.
Victoria’s economy was already suffering effects common with all Labor governments following project after project bungled, over budget and delayed, and state debt rapidly rising out of control.
This government does not feel any need to account to Victorians for how it is spending their money and has been happy to avoid any real scrutiny by any means available.
At this crucial time in Victoria’s history, at such a pivotal point in the economic fortunes of our state, there has never been a more important time for scrutiny of how and why Victorian taxpayers money is spent.
Importantly, other states have established independent review bodies to scrutinise public spending, and the Australian government has recently set up a bipartisan committee to do exactly that.
Without PAEC being able to operate as the independent watchdog, Victorians can be rightly very suspicious that the $24.5 billion will be used to backfill the huge losses that the state has already incurred on the Andrews government’s bungled, over-time and over-budget projects.
Having a Labor committee scrutinise a Labor government—you may as well ask the Premier to mark his own homework. That is not accountability and that is not oversight. Victorians deserve better than this. We have an arrogant Premier exercising unprecedented powers, and it is incumbent on him to return the mechanisms of scrutiny that have protected our state in the past.
Never has a state government had so much unfettered power over the lives of its residents. There must be independent scrutiny in place to ensure the Andrews government remains accountable to the public.