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