Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I rise to speak on the Parliamentary Committees Amendment Bill 2013.

As other speakers on this side of the house have said, Labor opposes the bill. It strikes me as a bit rich when those opposite get up and talk about the terrific work that committees do but then say, ‘But we’re not going to have a committee just for the outer suburbs or a couple of committees on legal issues’. Are they saying that the work of those committees is not sufficiently important to justify them as stand-alone committees?

It is okay for the member for Bentleigh to have her Education and Training Committee concentrating on the important issue of education, especially talented and gifted children, who deserve the concentration of members of Parliament from both sides, but to think that residents, communities and councils in the outer suburbs and interface areas do
not deserve their own committee belies belief. The Outer Suburban/Interface
Services and Development Committee (OSISDC), which I am deputy chair of, does some very special, sophisticated and important work that makes a difference to the lives of people living in these areas.

This bill was a shock to me because, as I said, I am deputy chair of the OSISDC. I know that members on our side of the house and on the other side of the house, as well as members of the upper house from both sides of the chamber, enthusiastically work hard on this committee. They view its work as important and essential to the current and future wellbeing of people who live in the outer suburbs and interface areas. The work this
committee has done has been unique and thoroughly investigated. It is pertinent to the people, communities and councils of the outer suburbs and interface areas.

The bill was initially a shock, but I started thinking back over history — not long ago, and then a bit longer ago — and saw that this is what conservative governments do when they get into government. They close down the Parliament, chop up the committees and reduce the breadth of investigation.

This is a typical-to-form conservative government at work, thinking that it is above scrutiny, being oblivious to other people’s opinions and being extravagant about its own view of things. It thinks it knows what is best for other people. It does not want to consult, and as I have witnessed many times, it is happiest when barking orders and telling other
people what they should do, rather than being accountable and assessable, as all MPs should be. And that is what parliamentary committees do.

Let us look at the facts. Since the OSISDC was established it has recognised the special challenges and features of interface councils. If you look at the seven previous reports, they are all very large and make helpful and purposeful suggestions about what should be done to improve the livability and quality of the working lives of residents of interface areas.

There have been 413 submissions made to this committee, and that is important to note because the committee gives to people who are concerned with the interface areas and the outer suburbs an opportunity to put forward their point of view and be given a good hearing. They should be given a good hearing because sometimes people in those areas — and we hear it from regional MPs, especially those on the other side of the house — do not get a good hearing from government.

I have heard it said quite often in recent times that this government does not listen to people in the interface, does not listen to their local councils and does not listen to their local community organisations, so the committee functions to allow these people, organisations and councils to come in and present their points of view.

During this time the interface council group has been able to present to this committee. It has been an especially important way of putting its views forward, and I applaud its efforts. I do not know where the group is going to go now. We have a Minister for Planning, a Minister for Local Government and certainly ministers in areas like education and health who have closed their doors on these councils, and the councils have been able to use this committee to at least put a point of view forward.

I would like to note that over the committee’s lifetime not only have there been 413 submissions but there have been 51 important findings about things that are important to the interface and not things that can be dealt with elsewhere or dealt with in a merged committee.

We know what Victorians think of mergers. When their footy clubs are going to be merged they do not like it. They do not like it because that team no longer represents what they believe in. They do not believe that team is truly theirs, and that is exactly how people in the outer suburbs and interface areas are going to feel about the merger of their committee with another committee.

We do not know what future references are going to be, but we know for sure that they will not be fully focused and fully committed to focusing on the interface issues that we have focused on before, like social capital, the role of the Victorian Civil and Administrative
Tribunal, information about the growth areas infrastructure contribution, and how to fund much-needed infrastructure for the outer suburbs and the green wedges — Melbourne’s lungs. We have had a look at those sorts of issues, and this is really critical work on big issues.

Indeed the chair of the current committee, Mrs Kronberg, a member for Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other place, summed it up well when she said:

However, according to much of the evidence received and from the results of our site visits it is very clear that whilst Melbourne currently holds the title for livability, its outer suburbs in the interface and growth areas are facing many challenges.

The reality is that there is a widening gap between the measures of livability that metropolitan Melbourne enjoys, particularly in its inner and middle suburbs, and those of its outer suburbs.

Livability is a huge issue in the lives of the people who live in the outer suburbs. They deserve their own committee, not one that is diluted, merged, scaled down and compromised. They do not need that sort of committee; they need people who are fully committed, as are the current members, to pursuing their issues.

I have heard that this government is shy of hard work, and I truly believe it. In the lifetime of the OSISDC it has made 483 recommendations to government, and I must admit that we are yet to hear back from this current government on the current cache of recommendations made in the last report.

This does not surprise me, because some of these issues require an enormous amount of work on the part of the state government. They require sufficient amounts of funding, especially to provide infrastructure, including roads, schools and extended hospital services in the interface, and we have yet to hear back from this government about what it is going to do about these crucial issues.

The people I represent deserve to be treated just the same as the people who live in electorates represented by the regional members on the other side of this chamber. They have their own committee, and the people who live in the outer suburbs and interface deserve their own committee. They deserve to be treated with respect, to be heard at committees, to be responded to and considered as important as anybody else in the state.

The ALP recognises this, and that is why we oppose this bill. We want the current committee structure to be maintained, and I suggest that the government change its mind.