Speech: Referral to Privileges Committee

Daniel Andrews’ speech to the Victorian Parliament on Wednesday, 24 October 2012.

I join what is a serious and substantive debate in relation to a report of the Ombudsman and a referral to the Privileges Committee.

I begin by providing the house with a quote:

If you do the crime, you need to pay up. If you do the crime, you need to pay both in time and cost, no matter how long it takes.

Who might have said that? It was none other than the member for Frankston just two months ago in this chamber. These were the words used by the member for Frankston to describe the Baillieu government’s attitude to crime, and it is on these words that the credibility and integrity of the member for Frankston and his Premier will ultimately rest.

Earlier this year whistleblowers exposed the member for Frankston’s conspiracy to defraud the Victorian taxpayer. His conduct has since become the subject of a damning report — few have been more damning— by the Victorian Ombudsman, which makes very interesting reading, and he is under ongoing investigation by Victoria Police. The member for Frankston’s conduct betrayed the public trust, brought contempt upon this Parliament and breached the codes of duty to which each of us, as members of Parliament, must conform.

His conduct was deceitful. It was deceptive, and it was without any doubt deliberate. It attached public function to private interest, and it was and ought be condemned.

Mr O’Brien — On a point of order, Speaker, my understanding of the standing orders and rulings from the Chair is that imputations against a member of this place are only orderly if made by substantive motion. I put to you that this is a procedural motion to refer a matter to the Privileges Committee, and it is the Privileges Committee which will make inquiries and canvass issues relating to the conduct contained in the report of the Victorian Ombudsman. There is nothing in the wording of the motion before the house which allows for the imputation the Leader of the Opposition is now making against the member for Frankston, and I would urge you to bring the Leader of the Opposition to order and have him not make imputations against the member for Frankston.

Mr ANDREWS — On the point of order, Speaker, this is a feeble attempt to limit debate on these important matters, and I would ask you to not uphold the point of order and to allow me to continue with my contribution on this important substantive issue and the substantive motion before the house today.

The SPEAKER — Order! I do not uphold the point of order.

Mr ANDREWS — The Victorian Ombudsman investigated the member for Frankston’s conduct and earlier this month delivered the verdict. The report established the following as fact: the member for Frankston used his parliamentary vehicle for a commercial trip to Sale and used his parliamentary fuel card to purchase fuel for a private vehicle; the member for Frankston gave his parliamentary vehicle to staff members for commercial purposes to travel to towns across Victoria and to cities interstate; and, under his instruction, staff members travelled to South Australia, Warrnambool, Albury, Lakes Entrance, Phillip Island, Traralgon, Wagga Wagga and Yarrawonga.

The Ombudsman heard evidence from staff members who worked at the member for Frankston’s business, Southern Cross Hardware. They said:

The only vehicle he had provided to me was the parliamentary one, and I was continuing to travel to see customers and run the business on a day-to-day basis.

Further:

He … told me that, if anyone asked me about it, I was to say I had the car for private use.

He further went on:

Mr Shaw went off at me for not using the parliamentary card. So, the following Friday he met with me and we refilled a SCH [Southern Cross Hardware] car using the fuel card.

And this is my favourite in this report:

I specifically recall Mr Shaw asking me to reverse back from the pump so the service station operator could not take the registration number.

The report said that during a 52-day period when a staff member had continuous use of the parliamentary vehicle it had travelled over 6500 kilometres. That figure within that period is approximately three times greater than the distance any average Australian would drive their car. The report said that during that 52-day period the parliamentary fuel card was used to purchase $1250 worth of fuel. That 52-day amount is almost exactly what the average Victorian will spend on fuel in an entire year.

The report shows that the member for Frankston went to some lengths — indeed, extraordinary lengths — to cover his tracks; he just did not do it particularly well.

When he was questioned about his commercial trip toSalehe said it was incidental to a private trip to Lakes Entrance, but the Ombudsman found that instead of travelling to Lakes Entrance the member for Frankston travelled only toSalein the morning to collect stock and then returned later that day. The member later said he gave his parliamentary vehicle to one of his staff members whenever his private business vehicle was in for a service, but the Ombudsman found that the private business vehicle was only in for a service on two days throughout this entire period.

In the course of the investigation the member for Frankston produced a statutory declaration from someone I am sure he thought might be helpful to his cause, Mr E. It is interesting to note that Mr E is a former employee, and he apparently had a version of events that conveniently, or at least he thought, supported the member for Frankston’s version of this systematic rorting. The problem, of course, was that when Mr E — not Mr Einstein, I might add — was interviewed many inaccuracies were found in his declaration. Under oath he conceded — and this is pretty good stuff too, I would have thought — that only 50 per cent, only half, of his declaration was based on unreliable information.

It appears the member for Frankston tried in vain, under oath, to construct reliable alibis and defences. That is just not the way a member of Parliament ought to act regardless of which party put them into this place. It is as simple as that. That is what the people of Frankston believe. That is what the people in my electorate of Mulgrave believe. I am certain that people right across the state would concur that that is not the way a member of Parliament should conduct themselves —not at all. The defence the member for Frankston has mounted is feeble. It is unbecoming. It is completely unconvincing, and it is almost sad.

The report of the Ombudsman laid bare the member for Frankston’s ultimate responsibility for his misconduct — his rorting— as well as his responsibility for the misconduct of his staff and his knowledge of the laws that govern this Parliament. The report said the member for Frankston knew his parliamentary vehicle could not be used for any commercial purpose. That is very clear in the Ombudsman’s report, but the report said the member for Frankston did exactly that. Knowing not to do it, he then went ahead and did it. It is as simple as that. The report said that he knew his staff were doing it; in fact he had instructed them to behave in that manner. He had instructed them to assist him in rorting his parliamentary entitlements. The report of the Ombudsman said staff would meet with the member for Frankston ‘generally every Friday or every second Friday’ to discuss what trips were planned — that is, commercial trips, not trips in any way connected with his responsibilities as a member of this house. The report quoted the member for Frankston saying, in relation to the conduct of his staff:

…the responsibility lies with me and I’ll be the one that wears the burden …

If only that were the case. Make no mistake — the member for Frankston’s conduct was carefully calculated. It was premeditated. It was planned, and he is accountable for it. His intention was to knowingly use taxpayers funds to prop up a private business. His intention was to rort the very system he was entrusted to uphold. When he was caught red-handed he claimed without hesitation that he had done nothing wrong; he claimed he was innocent. Let us talk about the vehicle plan. He is most certainly not innocent. Parliamentary vehicles are made available to members of Parliament to assist as elected representatives, not as hardware store owners. That is a very simple notion and one I would have thought all members would understand.

It is a longstanding plan that governs the use of parliamentary vehicles. It is a plan within which obligations are made very clear to members upon their election to this Parliament. The plan says:

It is the member’s responsibility to ensure the person(s) authorised to drive the vehicle does not use it for commercial or illegal purposes.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr ANDREWS — That is what it says; that is what the document says. The Victorian Ombudsman said:

… the plan has been accepted by members of Parliament … as containing the rules under which those vehicles are provided.

That is not my conclusion, although it is one upon which I readily draw; it is the conclusion of the Ombudsman. These are the rules. They are well known by all members including, by his own admission, the rorting member for Frankston.

The Ombudsman said:

… members of Parliament are bound to comply with the plan …

He said that it is a standard that people expect members of this place to observe.

What is more, the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978 also enforces a strict code of conduct upon members. It says that the conduct of a member must not bring discredit upon the Parliament and that a member of Parliament cannot be endangered or subordinated by their involvement in conflicting private interests.

The Ombudsman pored over these records for some time with forensic precision, which I am sure is most annoying to the member for Frankston. With that forensic precision he was able to detail, document and offer comment on every moment of every single breach. After a comprehensive examination the Ombudsman believes that the member’s actions could amount to an abuse of privilege in contempt of this Parliament.

The opposition believes that the member for Frankston’s commitment to the rules of this Parliament were warped by an obsession with his hardware store. The opposition believes that this obsession eventually became a calculated effort to siphon taxpayer dollars and so benefit the bottom line of that business to which the member for Frankston seems almost exclusively committed.

The opposition believes the member for Frankston is a rorter. Make no mistake about that; it is plain and simple. I could not be clearer. I and my colleagues in the parliamentary Labor Party regard the member for Frankston as nothing more than a rorter. It is as simple as that. He is someone who cannot in any respect claim to be a representative of his local community. He is someone who cannot claim to uphold standards. He is someone who cannot claim to be committed to the values, traditions, forms and procedures of this Parliament. His premeditated actions put him outside this entire structure.

The opposition believes that the member for Frankston has brought discredit and shame to this Parliament, and in our judgement — and we accept that the final judgement is not for us to make, which is why these matters have been forwarded to Victoria Police — we believe there may well have been breaches of the Crimes Act 1958 in relation to these matters, this rorting and this misconduct.

But the member for Frankston does not think that at all.

He claims that he is innocent of all charges and matters.

He claims that a four-and-a-half-month Ombudsman’s investigation apparently got it all wrong. His claim rests on one particular quirk of language, which is very important to understand because it is central to the member for Frankston’s feeble attempt to explain and excuse his own misconduct, his rorting and his placing of his private interests and private gains ahead of his public duty. This claim, this quirk of language, is central to the member for Frankston’s feeble defence. His claim rests on, as I said, a particular quirk of language. The vehicle plan states that members ‘should not’ use vehicles for commercial purposes. It does not say, we readily concede, members ‘must not’ use vehicles for those purposes. It may well have said ‘Members should not break the law’. It does not, of course, but for anyone in the Victorian community the lack of the word ‘must’ does not make the obligation any less fundamental or the punishment deserved any less severe.

Presumably the member for Frankston considers any formal parliamentary directive containing the words ‘should not’ as a prompt for unfettered discretion.

Presumably the member for Frankston thinks he can slip through so long as he maintains that there is a clear difference between the terms ‘should not’ and ‘must not’. But there is no difference at all between those terms, and the member for Frankston knows it.

Let me give a couple of examples. In August 2012 the member for Frankston said catching hoon drivers —wait for it — ‘should not’ just be left to police or politicians. In March he said the customers of our water businesses — wait for it — ‘should not’ be subject to different laws. In February this year he said our firefighters ‘should not’ feel threatened by litigation.

The member for Frankston thinks a lot of things ‘should not’ happen. But after two years in this place he has never used the term ‘must not’. If you do a Hansard search for the member for Frankston and the term ‘must not’ — the term upon which his feeble defence to his rorting rests — that term cannot be found.

An honourable member — It will now!

Mr ANDREWS — It will now, I am sure. It cannot be found. This defence — this feeble attempt to excuse the inexcusable and to defend the indefensible — is an insult to this Parliament, to the people of Frankston and to the people of this great state.

We are here today to talk about referring something to the Privileges Committee to determine whether there has been contempt of this Parliament. That is a serious business, but I will tell you what is more serious: contempt for the people of Frankston. That is what the member for Frankston has shown by siphoning off moneys he was not entitled to and misusing resources in a completely inappropriate, and I would argue, potentially criminal manner for his own private gain.

The good, hardworking people of Frankston have been shown a degree of contempt that is historic.

Recently I was in Frankston and I drove past quite a few small businesses. I will bet my house that if I had walked in to any of those businesses and said, ‘Listen, how would you like a deal where you get to run your business with taxpayers money and the Parliament of Victoria will let you use a fuel card to fill up a private vehicle?’, I know what the answer would be. What do you reckon the answer might have been? I am pretty confident any small business in Frankston would like the terms the member for Frankston saw fit to give to himself and his hardware business. We can have a long debate about the member’s contempt for this Parliament, but the member for Frankston will ultimately be accountable for the contempt he has shown to the people of Frankston.

The member for Frankston knows his defence is wholly inadequate; he knows it will not stand up to the judgement of the voters of Frankston or the voters in our great state. The member for Frankston also knows what the word ‘crime’ means. He has often told us —indeed lectured us — that if you do the crime, you need to do the time and pay the cost. He has often told us that crime will not be tolerated, yet he tolerates it, his party tolerates it, the government he is apparently a good member of tolerates it and, shamefully, the Premier tolerates it.

The Premier of this state has a rorter in his ranks, and instead of doing the right thing — instead of reading the Ombudsman’s report and then coming to the only reasonable conclusion: that the behaviour of the member for Frankston cannot be excused in any way— the greatest shame in all this is that the Premier tolerates it. The Premier ought to have got the member for Frankston into his office and said, ‘There is no place for you in the parliamentary Liberal Party’. But of course he did not, because the Premier’s majority is altogether more important to the Premier than his integrity. The fact that the Premier continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rorter for Frankston simply makes the point time and again that the member for Frankston and his appalling conduct are an indelible stain on this Premier’s claim to be someone of high standards and integrity.

Mr O’Brien — On a point of order, Speaker, accepting your earlier ruling in relation to the substantive nature of this motion and imputations against the member for Frankston, I would suggest that the Leader of the Opposition is now straying beyond that and making clear imputations against the Premier, who is not the subject of this motion. He is therefore disorderly and should be brought back to order.

Ms Hennessy interjected.

The SPEAKER — Order! The member for Altona!

Mr ANDREWS — On the point of order, Speaker,

I ask you not to uphold the minister’s point of order. I am simply following the lead of the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the member forBrighton, who at length quoted and sought the universal praise of this house for her leader, the Premier. On relevance, for heaven’s sake she quoted him and singled him out for praise. If the Premier’s conduct is relevant to this motion when it suits the government, then his conduct when it does not suit the government is relevant to this motion. Speaker, I put it to you that there is no point of order and I ought be again invited to continue my contribution.

The SPEAKER — Order! I uphold the point of order. The Premier is not subject to this recommendation from the Ombudsman and therefore I do not support the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr ANDREWS — On the point of order, Speaker, the Premier may not be the subject of the motion, and I respect your ruling, but one can hardly have been anywhere near the public debate in the last couple of weeks and not seen the Premier of our state describe the member for Frankston as ‘a good local member’.

The SPEAKER — Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to get back to the debate before the house, which is the Ombudsman’s report.

Mr ANDREWS — There is no imputation in what I am saying. I am simply quoting the Premier’s words, as did the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party— she can quote him and I cannot?

The SPEAKER — Order! I am asking the Leader of the Opposition to return to the motion before the house.

Mr ANDREWS — On a point of order, Speaker — sorry, but can we stop the clock and maybe resolve this matter?

The SPEAKER — Order! I am not here to argue with the Leader of the Opposition. I ask that he get on with the debate or I will sit him down.

Mr ANDREWS — I respect your ruling, Speaker, and your refusal to allow me to make a point of order, but let the record reflect that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party can quote the Premier till the cows come home when it suits her purposes, but if anyone else dare criticise our glorious leader, then that would be irrelevant and an offence to the standing orders.

The SPEAKER — Order! Can I suggest the Leader of the Opposition get back to the debate before the house?

Mr ANDREWS — Speaker, you have indicated you do not want to argue with me, and I do not want to argue with you.

The SPEAKER — Order! And I will not.

Mr ANDREWS — So I am happy to return to the motion before the house; I am not certain I drifted away from it, but I will oblige you.

The SPEAKER — Order! You did.

Mr ANDREWS — The member for Frankston is a rorter and has behaved in an appalling way. He has his defenders, but I will let the people ofVictoriamake their own judgement on those who stand shoulder to shoulder with the rorter from Frankston — and I am very confident that they will.

I want to talk about the issue of the Privileges Committee, the subject of this motion, which the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party had a bit to say about.

The Privileges Committee is a committee dominated by members of the government. There are five government members on the committee, four of whom are ministers and one of whom is a parliamentary secretary— a junior minister — all of whom rely on the vote of the member for Frankston in order to continue in their respective roles, roles that I am certain they cherish and are very happy in. That is simply a statement of fact. It is Spring Racing Carnival time, and although I am not a betting person, I would say to members that I will make a brave prediction that this government-dominated committee will not come back with the most serious sanction. I will also make a brave prediction — —

Mr O’Brien — On a point of order, Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is now traducing the Privileges Committee of this Parliament. He is effectively prejudging a matter which has not even been referred by this house to the committee. It is completely disorderly for the Leader of the Opposition to continue attacking the committee in the way in which he is doing. In the interests of fairness and due process for the Privileges Committee, which has applied for many years under all shades of government, I ask you to return the Leader of the Opposition to discussing the substantive motion, not attacking the committee.

Mr ANDREWS — On the point of order, Speaker, perhaps the minister was not in the chamber when the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party moved this motion. It is Spring Racing Carnival time, and in an effort that Gai Waterhouse would have been proud of, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the member forBrighton, gave the greatest set of riding instructions to the Privileges Committee I have heard. Let us not have any of this nonsense. The Privileges Committee is central to this debate. I cast no aspersions; I am simply making predictions. People can make their own judgements about whether this is the County Court or whether it is the Privileges Committee dominated by the government. I put it to you, Speaker, that there is no point of order, and I ask that I be allowed to continue my contribution.

The SPEAKER — Order! I believe that the Leader of the Opposition was casting aspersions on the Privileges Committee, which is a committee of this Parliament. One would expect that a committee of this Parliament, whichever committee it may be of the several committees we have, would not be criticised by members on one side of the house or the other.

Mr Pandazopoulos — On a point of order, Speaker, as a member of the Privileges Committee I am not offended at all. I think it is entirely appropriate in this debate that the ability of the Privileges Committee to do its work be subject to question.

The SPEAKER — Order! I have already ruled on that matter.

Mr ANDREWS — The Privileges Committee will have an opportunity to perform its functions, and I think it is appropriate that the committee examine the rorting behaviour of the member of Frankston — his appalling and inexcusable behaviour. We all know the sanctions that are applicable, and we will wait to see what comes back from the Privileges Committee. The opposition will be only too pleased to support the motion that is before the house, but it will be very interesting to see whether the Privileges Committee applies a similar methodology to its examination of this reference as it did to a previous reference in relation to the member forMountWaverley. I cast no aspersions, but it is a matter of fact that no witnesses were called and that the hearings were not public.

Honourable members interjecting.

The SPEAKER — Order! The Leader of the Opposition has returned to criticism of a parliamentary committee. I ask him to refrain from that or I will ask him to sit down.

Mr ANDREWS (Leader of the Opposition) — Speaker, I am happy to comply with your ruling, and I am happy to provide the Privileges Committee and indeed the house with an amendment to this motion. The amendment will provide an opportunity to enhance public scrutiny of this issue — that is, the systematic rorting of the member for Frankston.

Accordingly, I move:

That after the word ‘report’ there be inserted the words ‘and requires the committee to take any evidence from the member for Frankston in public’.

In speaking in support of my amendment, I make the point that we cannot have secrecy around this, we cannot have the perception of a lack of impartiality— the honourable member forLyndhurstdescribes it as a ‘whitewash’. I would be offending your ruling, Speaker, if I used that language, but the member forLyndhursthas done so. There needs to be the disinfectant that comes from sunlight cast upon this sorry affair, the member for Frankston and his conduct, and the close examination by his Liberal and National party colleagues and other members of the Privileges Committee ought to be done in public. The media, the people of Frankston and others who might be interested in these matters ought to be able to view and listen to and take in all of its glory any testimony or other evidence provided by the member for Frankston.

It is for those purposes that I move this amendment. Far from casting aspersions on the Privileges Committee, the amendment is an opportunity to enhance this process well beyond what might be termed the more contemporary experience of that august committee of this house. Public hearings are what we are entitled to; public hearings are what I would urge all members of this house to vote for.

Let me go back to where I started. Few more damning reports have been tabled in this house in relation to the systematic rorting of a member of Parliament — the systematic abuse of public resources for private profit and private gain. This goes against everything this government claims to hold dear; this goes against everything that the people of Frankston hold dear; and this goes against everything that any decent Victorian holds dear. Public resources ought to be used for the public good, not by members to run their hardware store, not to make profits, not to prop up their own business. This is a full-time hardware store owner and a part-time member of Parliament. He has been caught out showing a spectacular misunderstanding of his duties — absolutely spectacular — to the point of it being an incredible and unbelievable misunderstanding of his private interests and his public duties, his private funds, his private profits and his public resources.

This motion is worthy of support. It is enhanced by the amendment that I have moved. I put it to all honourable members, and I urge them to support it. The member for Frankston stands condemned today from what is in the Ombudsman’s report. I conclude by simply saying this: those who stand shoulder to shoulder with the rorting member for Frankston stand equally condemned. They will need to live with the indelible mark that they failed the test of leadership.