Media Releases

04
Sep
2014

INQUIRIES BILL 2014

It is a pleasure to rise and speak on the Inquiries Bill 2014. This bill does a number of different things, and it creates a framework for three types of inquiries, with different levels of power. We have already heard a number of speakers from both sides talk about the importance of these sorts of inquiries. The previous speaker, the member for Broadmeadows, spoke about the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non‑Government Organisations, which was a very significant inquiry. Certainly this Parliament, and many parliaments beyond it, will remember the great work that was done. It was initiated by the former Premier, the member for Hawthorn, and it had very strong bipartisan support in the Parliament. I would like at this point to also put on the record my acknowledgement of the work of the chair of the committee, George Crozier, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, in steering that inquiry.

Also I would like to mention that with inquiries like this you need expertise from outside — in this particular instance because it was a huge body of work and it needed some external expertise to drive and guide it. We were very fortunate to have former Supreme Court Justice Frank Vincent guiding that inquiry and providing a great resource to it.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was another significant piece of work, and we are still continuing to work through it. We made a commitment on coming to government to take up all the recommendations, and we have systematically been working our way through them. It is significant work, and it shows that whenever we go about our work in the Parliament we need to review what has already been done and look at how to improve things into the future. That is why we have such inquiries. In the police and emergency services portfolio, which I work in, there are a lot of people working to constantly do their best, embrace community and bring volunteers together. You can always learn from tragic events of the past to ensure that you are the best you can be into the future. That was very much the case with Justice Teague, a former Supreme Court judge, being involved in the bushfires royal commission, bringing his expertise to the inquiry and ensuring that there was a proper process.

Members have mentioned the recent Hazelwood mine fire inquiry. Again, it is important that when events of this significance occur we establish an independent review, which is what these inquiries are about. It is important to get an overview, look outwards at what has happened and then suggest improvements.

It is interesting to go to the State Control Centre during an emergency and see the mechanisms for managing these sorts of events as they are taking place. We now run a system in which we have pretty much an overview running at the same time as the event is taking place. External experts come in and look to the future while others are managing the present. That is a reflection of work that has been done to review how we did things in the past to ensure that we have proper mechanisms and expertise for the future.

During the sorts of emergencies I am talking about, we do not bring in the captains of the fire brigades when we are dealing with a fire or the head of the State Emergency Service when we are dealing with floods. They are working operationally on the here and now. We bring in the departmental secretaries and the managers, including people who are not even working within the portfolio area of the emergency. We bring people in from other areas — they may be from education or health — to look at the broader implications and effects of an event within a community. Whether we are talking about children, about floods and fires, about safety in our community or about anything else, we must always have the community at the front and centre of everything we do, and therefore we need to ensure that is part of the process.

This bill creates new powers for three distinct types of inquiries. A royal commission is able to require individuals to give information and produce documents. It is able to enter and seize material from premises under a court warrant and to override certain privileges and statutory secrecy obligations. A board of inquiry is able to require individuals to give information and produce documents. It does not have the same sorts of powers as a royal commission in terms of entering premises and overriding privileges, but it can override certain statutory secrecy obligations. The third type of inquiry is a formal review, which does not have any of the coercive powers of a board of inquiry or a royal commission. A formal review seeks information that is provided voluntarily.

Independence of executive government is a fundamental feature of each of these three types of inquiries. They cannot be influenced. They need to be objective and able to bring in certain expertise. Most importantly, independence is at the front and centre. Inquiries having independence reflects the public purpose that inquiries serve. As I said earlier, this is all about serving the public and all about the community. As with anything we do in the Parliament, the community needs to have confidence, and the independence of inquiries ensures that the community can have confidence. Independence also ensures that there can be key personnel. Experts need to come in and add strength to the sorts of inquiries we have. Another important aspect is that once inquiries are established the role of government is to take a backward step. It should stand back and allow the process to take place.

I will reflect on the inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice, in Victoria, whose report was tabled this week. In this instance there was a bipartisan committee of members from both sides of the Parliament, and we went about doing our work. After 10 months of inquiry and after a number of submissions were received a report of 900‑odd pages was presented to the Parliament. Today we heard the Premier announce a number of key activities in response to this body of work. The response is important because it gives value to doing the research and bringing in expertise. We used the Australian Crime Commission to help us with its level of expertise and some key research.

Having that information allows the government to make informed decisions when building a strategy, as we heard today, with the Minister for Community Services being able to get on the front foot and announce a strong advertising campaign targeting youth. This is important because, when you think of targeting people in a particular area, if you do not do the research and inquiry and just go off as a Parliament like a bull at a gate and create a bunch of different strategies and initiatives, you do not really know who you are targeting. As a committee we get good guidance by having an independent review and having people do that sort of work, reflecting on it and then coming back.

Something the public does not see is members of Parliament working in a bipartisan way on policymaking for the future and presenting a strong body of work to the Parliament. That work can ultimately set a vision, a goal and a long‑term strategy. In the short time I have been in the Parliament I have seen that it is a very important role we have, because it gives us the opportunity to step back, look at a problem in a broader way, go through and dissect the issue and then come back to the Parliament to build policies, strategies and decisions for the future. This bill provides for three different types of inquiries. It allows us to be direct, be definite and ensure that there is a clear strategy into the future. I commend the bill to the house.

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