June 11, 2014  |  Assembly Debate

Member for Frankston

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat  East)— I am offended by this motion before the house. I am offended by its timing, I am offended  by its detail and I am offended by the fact  that  in moving this  motion  the  Premier wants to  argue  that it is not centred around political expediency.

Let us reflect on the timing of this motion brought forward by the Premier,  and let us not forget that only one week ago the member for Frankston announced that he was in a  position where he would move  against this government and support a motion of no confidence in this government if it were put. Of course it  has not been, but only a week later the Premier  has brought  forward this motion, which he argues is not a matter of political expediency.

It centres around the actions  of the member for Frankston, particularly actions that took place through 2011 and which came to public light in May 2012, and although most of  us  in the house did not know  all  the  details, we knew they related  to  the  member  for  Frankston on a  number  of  occasions  using  his parliamentary vehicle for  the benefit of his  private hardware business and  we knew these actions were not appropriate for any member of Parliament.

At the time I would have expected any Premier to act, to say that the member for Frankston — his member for Frankston in the Liberal Party — had done wrong and to  discipline him. I think if that had happened at  the time, this motion would not be before us now. But we all know that the Premier at the time — the member for Hawthorn, who was the  Premier elected by the people for Victoria — did not act against the member  for Frankston. We know he  is no longer the Premier.  We know the member for Frankston continued on his  way, then deciding that he could be in a position to influence this Parliament and particularly the government to act in a range of ways.

We know he did not show  remorse and acknowledge that he had done  wrong  at any point along the way, and his party did not ask or require him to.

We know that in 2012 the then Speaker was provided with  information with regard to claims made against the member for Frankston and that he referred them to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman did a great deal of work over the following five months and  delivered a  damning report  in regard  to the  behaviour of the member for Frankston. It  outlined  more  clearly  for  the public the regular abuse of the member  for Frankston’s parliamentary  vehicle,  which he  used  for his private benefit.  It also  revealed that  there was a case when the member for Frankston asked his  staff to  use his  parliamentary fuel  card to  fill his  own private vehicle, which was backed out so that the cashier  at the  petrol station  would not  see  the  numberplate  on  the  car to see  that  it  was  not  in fact the parliamentary vehicle that the fuel card applied to.

A number of  cases were  brought forward  in October  2012. You  would then have thought, ‘Now the government  will act against this member, who has clearly done the  wrong thing’. But no,  the government did not take  action. We know why the government did  not take  action. It  was because it still wanted the member for Frankston’s vote to assure it of the ongoing rite  of passage  in government  in this state. So the government did not take action when this matter came to light in May 2012, nor did it take action when the Ombudsman’s damning report came out in  October 2012.  Then what  did the  government do? It  did what  Sir Humphrey Appleby would have told it to do: if you do not want an outcome, refer a  matter on  to  a  parliamentary committee where you have the  dominant  hand.  That  is exactly what happened.

Even  though we all knew what the facts were — the Ombudsman had made them very clear — this  parliamentary committee, controlled by  the coalition, then  took until last month to eventually present a report to this Parliament.

The  Privileges Committee took a great  deal of time to bring down its report — more than twice the time  the Ombudsman took to bring  down his. But it  brought down a report and — surprise, surprise! — government members on the Privileges Committee said, ‘Yes, the member for Frankston has done the wrong thing, but  we do not know that  he did it deliberately’.  It would have been expected  that if the government had acted on  the  report  at  the time, government members would have  said, ‘He  has  done  the  wrong thing,  but  because  he  did not  do  it deliberately we are not going to take action against him’.

It is only this  week — a week after the member for Frankston said he was going to try to damage the government —  that the Premier has suddenly decided he had better take  a stronger hand, and he has come before us  with this motion today. The motion says action  should be  taken, not to expel the member for Frankston, because that would not  be  the right thing  to  do,  but to suspend  him  until September.

Because we could not possibly expel him today on  the damning information before us, we have to suspend him until  September, and then if he  does not apologise, we would have to expel him! How absurd is this motion? As I said at the start, I am  offended by the nature of this motion —  that we could expel him in October or in September but we cannot  expel him now. The difference would be whether he has apologised or not.

We all know the member for Frankston has offended the sentiment of the house. We try  to do the right thing — to use our  parliamentary resources to benefit the people in our electorates and to undertake our duties — but  clearly the member for Frankston has  not  done so here. What  we  have heard from members  of  the government is that it would be dreadful to be motivated by political  expediency to act on this matter and that they are not doing it. We know they are. They are trying  to  accuse  us  of showing political expediency in saying the member for Frankston should be expelled now.

He  probably should have been expelled some time ago, but we are saying now that the matter has come to  a  head  he should be expelled and  the  people  of  his electorate should  get a by-election and  have somebody else represent  them for the remainder of the  member’s  term,  but  this  is  not  what  this government proposes.

We have heard that  the former Speaker, the  member for Bass, said last  week he was so infuriated  by the actions of the member for Frankston he would cross the floor and support us  in a motion to take real action. That is another reason we have this motion before  us today — because the former Speaker has argued that, ‘We have  to take some serious  action against the member for  Frankston or I am out of here — I am supporting the Labor  Party’. We know this motion before the house is very much about political expediency. It is about  putting  the  member for Frankston on the backburner for the  next two and a half or three months and then, if  he  has  not apologised, expelling him from the house without allowing the people  of Frankston  to vote  in a by-election, so that this government can limp on until 29 November.

This is not  a situation that is fair. It is  not  appropriate for the people of Frankston, who should have been given an opportunity to vote for a new member of Parliament.

The  government  should  have  been  serious  about  dealing  with  this  matter decisively and should have called out the member for Frankston a long time  ago, but it has not. It has dragged the situation out in the hope that the member for Frankston would be onside enough to keep voting with  it and  keep the coalition in  government  until  November this  year. But  only now, when it has been made clear that the government is  going to lose either  the  member for Bass or  the member for Frankston, who are threatening to cross the floor, has the government brought this motion before the house today, but it is not an appropriate motion.

I support the amendment moved today by the Leader of the Opposition to expel the member for Frankston, and I commend the amendment to the house. I continue to be very  offended by  the whole  process that has been followed in this  matter. It reflects badly  on us all that the  government has not been  decisive  in the 18 months to two years since this matter arose in the house.

When the Ombudsman’s report was tabled the government should  have acted against the member for Frankston. We should not be in this position today.

  The SPEAKER — Order! The  time has arrived for members of this house to  meet with  members  of the Legislative Council in this chamber  for  the  purpose  of sitting and  voting together to elect a  member to fill the vacancy on the board of the Victorian Responsible Gambling  Foundation and to choose a person to hold the seat in the Legislative Council  rendered  vacant  by the resignation of the Honourable Candy Broad.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended 6.14 p.m. until 8.01 p.m.