Appropriation (Parliament 2016-2017) Bill 2016
Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Appropriation (Parliament 2016–2017) Bill 2016. I feel as though I should channel the member for Mornington for a while and let everybody know that I too am going to refer to budget paper 3, page 111, tables 1.2 and 1.27. That is how it is done at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), is it not? So we had better set the scene here and live up to the fine qualities of PAEC members and former ones, as I am.
As we know, the purpose of this bill is to provide the funding for the operation of the Parliament in 2016 and 2017. In other words it is to fund our workplace and fund the open house that is the Parliament for the people of Victoria and also the home of democracy in Victoria. It is really important that we make a significant investment in those very things — the Parliament, the people of Victoria and the democratic institutions of Victoria.
As the member for Mornington highlighted in the tables in budget paper 3, we do see what he quite correctly termed a modest increase in funding for the Parliament to operate. Before he used the term ‘modest’, I was thinking of the words ‘adequate’ and ‘not indulgent’. It certainly is not, because I know that we are public servants and very much have to live within our means and deliver outcomes for the benefit of all Victorians. We have to do that. That is why we have this process of having a parliamentary appropriation bill, and we have PAEC hearings where the Speaker and the President appear alongside their major officers to support them during that process to make sure that we are transparent and accountable for every cent that we spend on ourselves and on our workplace — on this magnificent building, this great institution of decision-making and lawmaking.
This budget includes $128.9 million for the operations of this chamber, the Legislative Council, the parliamentary investigatory committees, the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Auditor-General. Just listing those institutions you realise that at just $128.9 million we get pretty good value for money, because they play a very important part not only in making laws but in making sure that every cent that ministers spend on the rollout of the budget is in fact well supported by the officers of the Parliamentary Services department and other public servants and that the Auditor-General keeps a very watchful eye on all of us.
If you have attended meetings where one of the departments that you might be interested in — in my example it is the education department — is under the scrutiny of the Auditor-General, you realise what incredibly valuable work they do not only in making sure they spend our dollars wisely but, in doing that, in undertaking the research around that, making some very wise recommendations about how we can perform our duties as government, indeed our duties as opposition, much more effectively and much more in tune with the expectations of the Victorian public.
I think we all sometimes pinch ourselves when we think the Parliament of Victoria is our workplace. The Parliament of Victoria was constructed between 1856 and 1930, and the first Parliament sat here in November 1856. Of course we know that this was the seat of the federal Parliament for many years as well — over 20 years. I have now served in this Parliament for over 10 years, and, as I said, I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe where that time has gone.
Because I have been a member of this house for so long I have had an office in the chook house, or the annex, and now have an office here in Parliament House. I must say — and I say this very fondly — that these buildings do need a lot of love and attention to keep these august buildings looking shipshape. Indeed when reading about the Parliament of Victoria it always comes to my attention that these buildings have never been completed. They are still very much a work in progress. When I bring visitors into the house and they see all of the stuff hanging around or there is scaffolding and they ask what is going on, I often comment that it is a bit like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As soon as you finish one section you find another part of the building that needs some love and attention or some work needing done, and this work is certainly ongoing. So it is very important, in making this appropriation in the budget, that we are very much looking after this building for the people of Victoria but also that it is a good workspace for us to be in.
Ms Thomson — And a safe one.
Ms GRALEY — And a safe one, definitely. I must admit that when you see young people come to visit you at Parliament — especially the schoolchildren — you notice their looks of glee and surprise when they come in here and see these ornate chambers, the statues and the paintings and everybody very busily working about the place. When you see it in their eyes and their smiles you realise what a very special place this is.
I would like to say, though, that when you take your visitors out to the chook house, or the annex, they are equally — I would not say smiling with glee — quite gobsmacked to think that parliamentarians have their offices in what at best can be described as old-school portables, I suppose. They say, ‘Is this really where you work?’. Most of us have had a pretty rugged trip to Parliament. We have done a lot of work in the community. We have spent a lot of time getting here. We have put ourselves out there and got a lot of criticism along the way probably. It is not an easy gig being a member of Parliament — but hang on, I am very glad to be here doing it — but I think they do have higher expectations that parliamentarians would in fact have better digs to do their work in. In fact I remember one Queen’s Counsel saying to me, ‘I can’t believe you could be a productive person in this sort of space’.
So it is very pleasing to see in budget paper 3 the allocation that has been made for the new buildings that will house the staff.
I know we will come in for some criticism for this. People like to have a go at pollies, but I subscribe to the old adage that sometimes if you feed them peanuts, you get monkeys. Not that I am casting aspersions on anybody in here, but I am saying that we have an obligation to provide a professional workplace if we want good outcomes from the work of parliamentarians.
There are more reasons than that for why we need this new building. It is not only putting a professional face on the work of the parliamentarians and the staff; we also have an obligation to make sure that everybody who works here — indeed everybody who visits this place — enters a place that complies with workplace health and safety standards and that is a healthy place to work in. When I arrived in this place I remember standing on the front steps of Parliament House and thinking, ‘This is really the happiest day for life’— or one of them at least — but after 18 months I was beleaguered with illness. There was a pretty sad thing going on.
After asking the question, ‘Why me?, I actually asked the question, ‘How did that happen?’. Your mind casts a wide net. So I do commend the President and the Speaker for launching an investigation into health and wellbeing conditions in this Parliament. I hope it has contributed to the fact that we are going to get a brand spanking new healthy environment to work in in our new building. That is not only a good investment in our health and wellbeing but it is also an investment in people like me, who may think that their workplace may somehow have contributed to their illness.
I have read the Victorian Parliament Cancer Study — Final Report. It is an excellent report. I note that finding 6 says:
The most notable differences amongst the individual tumour types was a greater than expected number of cases of breast cancer (17 observed, 10 expected) and a smaller than expected number of lung cancer cases …
Apparently parliamentarians do not smoke as much as the rest of the population. That triggered some pretty uneasy feelings, not only with regard to me but also with regard to other parliamentarians, former and present, who have also experienced breast cancer. The final summary of the report points out that:
The committee cannot identify evidence of an unusual incidents of malignancy amongst the groups studied.
No environmental exposure likely to cause cancer was identified in its immediate Parliament House or in the precinct.
That gives us some way of reconciling that there may be other issues at play in our own personal circumstances, but the best thing that this Parliament can do to make sure that nobody is second-guessing that, especially people who have experienced breast cancer, is to remove the chook house. I cannot say that I am not looking forward to the day when the chook house completely disappears and we get our new building to work in. It will be a good thing for a person like me, and every other member of the Parliament — and indeed every staff member and visitor to the Parliament.
I would like to finish by referring to the work of the Auditor-General, as I have already mentioned, and also that of the budget office and the investigative committees. I have been very aware that a number of investigative committees have been operating, especially in the upper house, and of course there is the Parliamentary Budget Office. I really value the work that they do. Don Chipp used the phrase, ‘Keeping the bastards honest’. These committees and the budget office are very incisive, and I really appreciate the work they do because they focus on improvement.
We do not want to waste money. We want to continue to innovate and be responsive. But I must put on the parliamentary record that a little bit of shenanigans is going on in the upper house too. While we might want to keep the bastards honest and have a look at some of the things that may be going on, there is also a little bit of a witch-hunt going on up there, and the public are having to subsidise that. There is a little bit of wastefulness and ugliness and over-the-top behaviour. We need to keep a very watchful eye on just how that money is being spent in those investigative committees.
I want to finish my contribution by saying thank you to the people who work in the Parliament. Members of Parliament are not the easiest to people to get along with, but I must say that we really — —
An honourable member — Speak for yourself!
Ms GRALEY — I know that I am not the easiest member to get along with, I must say. But I would say that so many of the staff here really do go out of their way to assist us. I would especially like to thank all of the attendants in the chamber. I would like to say a special thank you to Pablo, who keeps me up to date with my Western Bulldogs news even when I am supposed to be cheering and ranting in the Parliament about something much more important. I certainly knew who the no. 1 draft pick was before most people in Melbourne — so thank you, Pablo, and all the other attendants in the chamber.
I would like to say a special thanks to the Hansard staff. Many people who follow me will say they make us sound much better than we ever expected to sound. I often pick up Hansard and say, ‘Oh boy, that all came together pretty well’, but I do not think that is exactly how I felt when it was coming out. So I send a special thanks to the Hansard staff.
I would also like to thank the people in parliamentary services. They have got an arduous job in finding us electorate offices, moving us into them and making sure that they are maintained well. I know that is not always an easy job — in fact it is a hard job.
For me, especially, the IT staff are always really helpful. I am a little bit backward where IT is concerned. I often ask the stupid question, but they always respond in a very positive way.
This bill is very important. It invests in the Parliament. It invests in the people of Victoria and their traditions of democracy. If we can keep on providing better and better facilities, I think we will deliver better government and better parliamentary performances. I commend the bill to the house.