SPEAKING ON A BILL | PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Mr Melhem (Western Metropolitan): I also rise to speak on the Parliamentary Committees Amendment Bill 2019, and in doing so there are a number of points I would like to cover. I listened to Mr Finn lecturing us about common decency and what is right and what is wrong, and I will come back to that later on, but he made some valid points about some of the good work the committees have done over his 20 years. I want to reflect on some of the references to some of the committees I have been on in the last four and a half or five years. I have been on a number of committees and they have done wonderful work, whether they were joint committees or house committees. But the argument here should not be about what the committees have done in the past or what the committees are likely to do in the future, because that is not—
Mr Finn: They won’t be around, will they?
Mr Melhem: The problem with this opposition is that the truth does not really matter. Do not ever let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I have heard opposition members basically trying to paint a picture that committees are gone. Let me take Mr Finn and the opposition back to the last Parliament, and I will focus for a moment on upper house committees. There are a number of committees that are in this legislation. We had reference after reference from this house to these committees. The bill talks about resources. Ms Shing talked about the Environment and Planning Committee. Good old Mr Davis was the chair of that committee. He made sure that he ran everyone into the ground—the staff and everyone—on his wild goose chase on the fire services review. He was bleating about resources. We approached the Presiding Officers in relation to additional resources for the committees, knowing we had a lot of references from this house because the opposition chose to send us reference after reference—including on rate capping. What a waste of time. I think the first hearings on rate capping and the first report were worthwhile. The rest of it was just a waste of time. It was just a political exercise run by Mr Davis and company. If you are talking about resources, that was a waste of time. When we asked for additional resources, guess what? The money did come through. When the Presiding Officers could not accommodate additional resources from their own budgets and asked the Treasurer for an advance, the money was given. So I am not going to stand here and be lectured by the opposition about resources and whether or not this government has adequately funded committees. At least I can talk about the 58th Parliament, and the fact is that the government provided committees with all the resources they needed when they needed them, even though, as I said earlier, we had an opposition—and this is why they are still in opposition, although with smaller numbers—that basically sent committees reference after reference and wasted time. This bill does not change how committees work. Yes, there are some changes in relation to the composition of committees—reducing the joint committees from nine to five but maintaining the house committees in the upper house. We still have the three committees—the Legal and Social Issues Committee, the Environment and Planning Committee and the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. All subjects—I have listened to the speakers on the other side—will be covered by these committees and the house committees. Whether it is education, the economy or social issues, they will be covered by these committees. With some of the issues the joint committees were covering, we were struggling to field candidates to go on these joint committees and house committees, because I think it is fair to say the 58th Parliament was probably one of the most active parliaments in relation to committees. In this house we had reference after reference. I was on two committees, a house committees and a joint committee, and sometimes I was struggling to attend both committees’ meetings. I had the privilege of being—not a permanent member—an alternate member of Mr Finn’s committee, with the taxi reference. We were trying to juggle all these hearings and spread ourselves around to make sure we attended all these hearings. The reason for the restructuring is to make sure that when a reference is given by this house to a committee, the committee can actually dedicate resources to make sure we do some good work and come up with quality reports. We had some quality reports from various committees in this house and from some of the joint committees. For example, the inquiry into portability of long service leave entitlements produced a great report. There was also the inquiry into assisted dying. I know there has been a lot of division on that issue. That will probably go down in my life as the most important committee that I have been on and reference that I had the privilege to participate in. Individual members had an individual view about the process, and we put a lot of work into that. Going back, getting some ridiculous references from the opposition will drain the resources. There has been some talk about the allowances and dropping current joint sitting committees. The chair of these committees would have attracted a 15 per cent allowance. That is gone; that has been abolished. That is five times 15 per cent. That is abolished. Yes, three committees in the lower house and two committees in this house’s will attract 10 per cent. So five times 15—Dr Kieu will help me with the numbers. I reckon we are probably in front—five times 15 versus six times 10. There we go. We saved 15 per cent, didn’t we?
Mr Somyurek interjected.
Mr Melhem: Thank you, Mr Somyurek. We saved 15 per cent. The opposition are talking about us looking after Labor mates. Well, I was just reading Mr Davis’s notion of motion 46 on the notice paper, which I assume will be debated tomorrow. Paragraph 1(3), standing committees, says: (1) the Chair of the Standing Committee on the Economy and Infrastructure must be a member of the Opposition … So basically in his motion to be debated tomorrow Mr Davis is demanding up-front that the chairperson of that committee has to be from the opposition. (2) the Chair of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Planning must not be a Member of the Government or the Opposition … At the moment the committee chooses its chair, not putting conditions up-front. We do not know; the chair of any of these committees could be a member of the crossbench, the opposition or the government. It could be anyone. So there is this false accusation about looking after mates, and Mr Finn was quoting some figures, but do not let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I think from memory he said Mr Pearson will be getting a $100 000 increase.
Mr Finn: No, I didn’t say that all.
Mr Melhem: Well, we can go and check Hansard. But it is true. In the 58th Parliament Mr Pearson did get a 20 per cent allowance as the chair of the Public Account and Estimates Committee (PAEC), and now as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier he will be getting an additional one. He will not be getting $100 000—20 to 24; do your maths. It was 20 per cent when he was the chair of the PAEC. The new allowance here is 24 per cent. So if we want to quote figures, let us quote the correct figures. Let us not create this sort of hysteria that the government decided to look after its people. Let us stick to the facts. The reason Mr Pearson is getting an additional allowance is that the portfolio he is actually responsible for is much wider than a parliamentary secretary position. Ms Shing talked about the classification structures. You do not understand the issue about classification structures. It is like you are doing a job redesign. That position is being redesigned and the responsibility is much wider than Ms Shing’s job description as parliamentary secretary; hence there is recognition for the additional allowance for that particular position. But let us not say Mr Pearson is getting $100 000, because he is not. He was on 20 per cent, and he will go to 24 per cent. But we are not interested in that; we are just interested in basically throwing mud.
Mr Finn: You make it up as you go along.
Mr Melhem: I’m not; I’ve got the facts, Mr Finn. I’ll stick by the facts every day. He then talks about what is right and what is wrong. I am not going to be lectured by you, Mr Finn, about what is right and what is wrong. I have not forgotten what is right and what is wrong. When we were debating the CFA bill in this house and you gave your word that you wanted to go home, we did the right thing by sending you home, and you did the wrong thing by turning up and reneging on the deal. Well, that to me was wrong, so let us not be lectured by you about what is right and what is wrong. The thing that is important to note is the reasons the amendments to the current committee structure are being put in place. One is to make sure we have the right balance of committees between dedicated committees for the Assembly and dedicated committees for this house and still maintain a number of joint committees where members of both houses can address common issues. The quality of the work of these committees and their reports is really up to us. It is up to us in this house what sort of references we want to give these committees. They will get the resources. The challenge is for the members of these committees to put in the hard work, to put the politics aside, to put the proper research in to basically come up with quality reports. In the 58th Parliament there were a number of instances where we achieved that. We got some excellent reports where members focused on the work they were expected to do—basically focus on the subject matter, not play politics. I gave a few examples earlier. In the Environment and Planning Committee I was on we had the rate capping inquiry. The first report was a good report because we just focused on the facts. The subsequent report—God, what a waste of time. Look at the other reports. Even the one Mr Finn was on, the taxi report, was heaps better than the rate capping report that Mr Davis was trying to push through.
Ms Shing: Short‑stay accommodation.
Mr Melhem: Short‑stay accommodation, that was excellent. Thank you, Ms Shing. That was an excellent report because we focused on the issue.
Ms Shing: Plastic bags.
Mr Melhem: Plastic bags was another example of where committees can do some really good work. I go back to the assisted dying report. That was a great report. Regardless of which side of the debate you are on—whether you are for or against—that was a quality report. Based on the experience of the 58th Parliament, the Andrews Labor government has proved again and again that there will not be an issue with resources. When committees ask for additional resources, for additional money, the proof is already there. We do not have to try to prove ourselves because we have proved it. When committees asked for additional resources, the resources were given. I hope that the house endorses the bill, because I think it is a good bill. So let us not turn it into a political football about who is getting what and about this and about who is spitting the dummy—let us cut that out. It is about making sure we get these committees up and running so we can do some good work for the duration of the 59th Parliament. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house.