Legislative Council Vacancy

17 August 2016

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I am glad that the Leader of the House has finally put the government’s reasons on the table because the member for Williamstown, in moving the motion, acted like it was a hot potato he had been handed by the Leader of the House. He was standing there shaking. He read it and could not get away from the podium quickly enough because he did not want to own this particular issue. I feel sorry for the member for Williamstown because he got the hospital handpass on this particular issue.

In what I have heard from the Leader of the House I have not heard one word that would sway me if I was looking at this particular issue objectively, because this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the Leader of the Government in the upper house or whatever the upper house has done. This is about fulfilling the things that were set out in the constitutional changes in 2003 and about a replacement in the upper house. It is very clearly set out in the constitution that there must be a replacement put in place.

If you go, as we always do, to the second‑reading speech of the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Bill 2003 delivered at that particular time by John Lenders, who was the then Leader of the Government in the upper house and who led this particular debate, he talks in the second‑reading speech about the filling of a casual vacancy being addressed, and as the manager of opposition business said, it is about maintaining the balance in the upper house and having a process similar to the Senate’s.

That is exactly what we should be talking about here, not some quid pro quo dirty little union deal — ‘You do this and we’ll do that’ type of stuff. This is about focusing on fulfilling the constitution and the practice. There have been eight members replaced in the upper house now since this came in. There has not been an issue with those previous eight members. It is only now some dirty little Country Fire Authority (CFA) type of grubby deal needs to be done to get this back in place.

Mr Pakula interjected.

Mr WALSH — I am not trying to win you. If you actually go to the second‑reading debate again, the Honourable Philip Davis asked a question of John Lenders at that particular time about what would be a reasonable time frame for there being a joint sitting to fill that vacancy. The response from Mr Lenders, as the Leader of the Government on this particular debate, was that a joint sitting would be held on the first meeting of the Parliament after that selection. We are having that discussion now. This is the first sitting of the Parliament after the preselection of Luke O’Sullivan to fill that casual vacancy. The process has been very, very clearly set out there, and it has been fulfilled eight times in the past.

In further questions from Philip Davis to John Lenders about the expectations of the parties there, the comment from Mr Lenders was ‘but a government that refused to convene a joint sitting would deservedly be held in contempt by the Victorian public’. I think that sets out very clearly what the people of Victoria will think of the Labor Party for what they are doing about this particular issue at the moment.

If you go to those eight members who have been sworn in over that time, in February 2009 there was a debate about filling the casual vacancy created by the resignation of Evan Thornley. John Lenders again, speaking on that motion, said:

I also put on record again the cooperation of the opposition in achieving this and also put on record the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to pair the vacancy of Mr Thornley until it is actually filled. That is important; proportionality is important; and this motion expedites these constitutional provisions to be carried out for the first time in this state. I urge a speedy passage of this motion.

So the history is there. John Lenders in good faith in 2003 and at subsequent times spoke about how this particular process worked.

I am glad the member for Essendon is still in the chamber after all the interjections he made throughout the contributions of previous speakers. If we go to 8 March 2016, the member for Essendon, Danny Pearson, said:

I think we have come a long way as a Parliament when members of both houses can get together tomorrow night and respect the fact that the vacancy to be filled should be filled by a member of the Liberal Party because the people of Victoria originally voted in a Liberal Senator. It goes to show that we have matured as an institution when we can come together and recognise and acknowledge that this is a choice for the Liberal Party and fulfil and discharge that duty to respect the contribution made.

The member for Essendon is being absolutely two‑faced. He talks about how it is a good process when he wants to do it, but now when there is some dirty little side deal wanting to be done the member for Essendon is prepared to compromise his integrity. If you have integrity in relation to what you have said, come over and vote with us: otherwise you are just plain bloody gutless.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — Order! The Leader of The Nationals will direct his comments through the Chair.

Mr WALSH — The Leader of the House went on with this long diatribe about ‘You do this and we will do that’. This is not the issue that is before us; the issue before us is clearly set out in the constitution as to how you fill a casual vacancy. They talk about the fact that there has not been negotiation in good faith about the issue that is not really part of this but is the issue with the Leader of the Government in the upper house. Comments have been made about how he has been trying to get in touch with the leadership to resolve it; I have not had one contact from Gavin Jennings. I have not had one contact from the government, so I do not see how those on the other side of the house can say that there have been constant requests for discussions around this particular issue, because there has not been any contact around that.

What this reminds me of very, very clearly is how the sale of the port of Melbourne negotiations went as well, because again the Leader of the Government in the upper house never ever communicated around that. There were letters that went from the opposition to him, and it was weeks and weeks before there was ever a response. That is exactly what is happening in this case. My understanding is that the opposition leadership in the upper house has put in writing to the Leader of the Government in the upper house how this can be resolved and there has been no response. There has been no response to that letter, and the last that I heard, second‑hand, was that the Leader of the Government in the upper house had been told by his lower house leadership group to break off negotiations, ‘We’re not going to talk anymore’.

They obviously had figured out this plan around the fact that there was a new member going to be sworn in to the upper house, so they thought they would have a bit of fun with that. They can have all the fun they want, but as the Leader of The Nationals, a party that has been around in this state for 100 years now, I know we are not going to be blackmailed. We are not the CFA board that is going to be bullied into something. We are not the CFA CEO who is going to be bullied out of her job. We are not that chief fire officer who is going to be bullied out of his job. We are not going to be bullied on some grubby little side deal whereby, ‘You do this, and we’ll let the new member go into the upper house’.

The member for Essendon is an absolute hypocrite. The member for Essendon would have to be the biggest hypocrite in this particular place, because he is the one who is on the record talking about — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr WALSH — I am. He is the one that is on the record about an upper house replacement, and he is showing absolute hypocrisy now in this process.

We oppose the motion by the government about not having this joint sitting. The joint sitting should proceed forthwith. The joint sitting should be held at 6.45 p.m. tonight so that Luke O’Sullivan, the duly preselected candidate for that casual vacancy in the upper house, can actually take up that position and fill his responsibility to Northern Victoria Region. What we are hearing from the other side is Mr O’Sullivan is not going to be able to take his place until December. They are saying he is not going to get into the upper house until December unless we cave in to blackmail. Unless we cave in to blackmail he is not going to get there until December.

If that is the way it has to be, that is the way it is going to be, because we will not be blackmailed by these grubby little bullies on the other side of the house. They may think they can play their union games and they can play their factional games with their side of politics, but this side of politics is not going to cave in to that sort of rubbish. I absolutely reject the motion that was moved by the member for Williamstown, who was too gutless to even speak to it himself.


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