Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Madam Deputy President, I only intend to make a very short contribution to this bill because much has already been said and many issues have been raised by members much more experienced in local government than me, who has no experience in local government.
Mr Farrell - But you have lived in a municipality?
Ms FORREST - I have, I have voted.
Ms Rattray - Fresh eyes.
Ms FORREST - Fresh eyes, that is right. It is often good to have people here who do not have a particular experience as they can bring a different approach.
There are a number of areas I had concerns about that have been raised by other members, and I do not need to re-prosecute those so I will not. I make a couple of points. I sought feedback from the local government bodies in my electorate, as I do with anything that relates to legislative change concerning local government, and the silence was deafening.
I hear there were consultations through LGAT but once the legislation hits the deck, it is now my responsibility to ensure that this is in the best interests of the state, the people I represent - which is all the people in Tasmania, not just my electorate, in this role. I was disappointed by that despite the fact that we had made a couple of representations to them. There was one response from one council saying, 'Just need it, just need to pass it'. I thought that was hardly good enough, in many ways. The council that this came from is one that clearly has had a problem and so it is reactionary, in my opinion. They have a problem, they want it fixed; they say this is going to fix it, so just pass it. That was quite disappointing.
As I do anyway, I do my own job but I do seek the feedback of those who I thought would have been interested in engaging in the debate because it directly affects local government and the elected members, and that is who I approached.
Ms Rattray - I had two responses out of seven councils.
Ms FORREST - Yes, similar in many ways - you have a couple more councils that you represent than I do. Does silence mean they approve or does silence mean they do not know what is in it?
I have a sneaking suspicion for many of the elected members it is the latter. That is pretty harsh, but when you talk to some people they think, 'Who did they talk to? I didn't see your email come through. I didn't see a request for information. What is in it?'. There would be people in those councils who know what is in it - I do not dispute that for a minute - but I am not sure that all the elected members do. It is a harsh judgement but in the absence of any other proof, that is the opinion I have been forced to get to.
Mr Gaffney - All of the documents that come through to council regarding this would have to be tabled in a council meeting over the last five years. Anything that came through from the division would be tabled as a document. Whilst we cannot guarantee that all councillors have read the document, we can guarantee that all councillors have had access and have been informed about the process. I cannot let it be said that councillors would not be aware of what has been happening over the last five years.
Ms FORREST - I am not saying that they were not aware of what has been happening.
Mr Gaffney - They would have had to table the documents within their council meetings.
Ms FORREST - Yes, but do they understand the process? That is what I am questioning here.
Mr Gaffney - Yes, okay.
Ms FORREST - That is something I could take up with elected members of local government individually. I am not disputing that they do not have the information; I am wondering whether there is an understanding of what it means and whether they agree that this is the correct process.
For example, I have a proposed amendment - as nearly every other person in the Chamber has - in relation to the annual general meeting. I believe that is a fundamental part of openness, transparency and accountability. The fact that a council could decide they are not going to hold one, in my view, is fundamentally wrong. Even if only one person turns up, that is still important. If no‑one turns up they can have a nice chat, have a cup of tea and go home. It is a matter of openness, transparency and accountability.
There might be plenty of opportunities for members of the community to engage with local government and ask questions but that is still a formal process and you do not receive a full set of accounts for the whole year, other than with the annual report. It is an established process that when an organisation, a department of the government, a local government body, or whoever, has their accounts audited, they include it in the annual report which should be open to scrutiny by their shareholders. Other members have mentioned that and for me that was a particular point. There was no comment on that, as to why that would be an appropriate inclusion in this bill.
I briefly counted the number of amendments. There are 103 individual amendments. I know a lot of those are flowing on as consequential to ones that are being made. This is not a bill that has 23 clauses. Clause 7 has 31 parts. In total, we have 54 clauses, to which there are 103 amendments.
Seriously, I question what we are doing. Are we trying to create policy that is the Government's job to do? I do not think that is right. If you do not support the bill in broad terms, do not vote it into the Committee stage. I do not think it should go into the Committee stage, if we are expecting to completely rewrite the bill, through a very ad hoc process. If we did it today, and I expect we probably will not, it is amendments on the run. Even so, to try to do it in a process in the Committee stage - if you think it needs that much work, send it off to Committee A. Not that I want to do it but that is the point. If it requires this much amendment, it is fundamentally flawed. If you believe that, send it off to the committee.
Mr Dean - Not necessarily. It depends whether those amendments are reasonable.
Ms FORREST - That is the point I am making. If there are 101 amendments that have been proposed because some believe that is the number of things that are flawed in this, then it requires greater scrutiny and not scrutiny as we sit around this Chamber, trying to fix it.
Mr Valentine - Consultation with the people who have put it together.
Ms FORREST - That is the point. Do we send it back? The Leader is quite within her rights to adjourn on her reply. Then there is a break now over the winter where she can look at the amendments that have been proposed, consult with local government I would suggest and as has been suggested by others, and see what they think about this. I hope by that stage I would hear something from my councils on what they think. They might if they take time to read Hansard and think we had a bit of crack.
I do not think we should be trying to make policy, which is what we are doing if we go down the path of all these amendments, without some consultation with local government and without the Government deciding what their policy is on this. It might have been driven by the sector, as we were told in the briefing, driven by local government, but this is the Government's legislation. The Government has brought this in so the Government supports this approach. If we are going to partially change the policy of the Government, we may be stepping outside our bounds.
We are here to scrutinise the legislation. We are here to amend things that are not right. But if we are altering policy, it begs the question, is that the right thing to do?
Mr Dean - We have done it with other legislation. We have had 100-and-something.
Ms FORREST - I know but it does not make it right. I made that point before.
Mr Dean - We have done it before and I know it does not make it right.
Ms FORREST - There has been a range of concerns raised around the process, around the use of a tribunal or an executive office, setting up a separate structure, and the costs associated with that, and a whole range of other processes that you raised and other members have. I am not going to go back through those.
I am not sure whether I should support it into the second reading, into the Committee stage. I am hoping we will adjourn before we reach that point, so we have more time to think about it.
Dr Goodwin - My preference would be that we vote on it at the second reading stage; otherwise all this could be academic, all the effort in these amendments and the consulting, et cetera, when we do not know whether there is sufficient support for the bill. We may as well vote on it and then adjourn it.
Ms FORREST - The Leader has made a fair point. If members want to kill it, kill it now. If members do not think it should be killed, we can put it to the Committee stage. I am sure the Leader, from comments she has made previously, would not seek to progress today, but would do that consultation and perhaps come back to us at a later time.
It is not necessary to proceed today - the question and answer sheet we received was helpful and the briefings were also very helpful, and I thank the Leader for those - because it will not come in until the end of the year at the earliest anyway. It is not imperative to do this now; there is no time pressure here. These things need to be as good as you can get them.
I will have to make a decision soon about which way I vote, but I am quite concerned about it. In principle I believe there needs to be one code of conduct that applies across the board and that there are penalties. I have had councillors in my areas that have had problems with this, where councils have flaunted it and said, 'Tough, you can't do anything about it. I can do whatever I like on Facebook, or here or there.' People who have been perhaps the victim of their behaviours have nowhere to go either, and that has been eternally frustrating over a number of years. There is merit in something like this, but is this the right thing? I am not certain, so it is a very difficult thing as to whether we proceed and pass this into the Committee stage, or whether we say, 'Go back to the drawing board and come back with something that perhaps might be more palatable'. I will get off the fence in a very short time.