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Supply Bill (No. 4) 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tags: Treasury, Legislation, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, this is a supply bill that contains the provisions for ongoing parliamentary services. The minister read out from the 2020-21 Budget paper that said -

the decrease in Parliamentary Library Service reflects the transfer of funding provided for legislative drafting under the 2019-20 Budget Initiative Additional Resources for the Parliamentary Library to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Thank you very much for that, minister. I was quoting the 2019-20 Budget, which made it really clear that the resource was intended for members of parliament to be able to access, and non-government members of parliament, too, which may well include Liberal backbenchers. But the very clear language in the 2019-20 Budget papers - because we negotiated it - was that -

funding of $150 000 per annum is provided to enable legislative drafting support for members of parliament in consultation with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

Now, I understand there was a concern about having the person, whoever that would be, who was to be funded by the $150 000 per annum allocation, potentially cast alone and adrift in the library. I get that from a workplace health and safety point of view, but I do not accept that the Government has been honest about what that allocation was intended for. We negotiated that with your predecessor in that chair, Mr Speaker, not out of self-interest - as I said, we have drafting capacity - but on a matter of principle. The principle was laid out in the 2019-20 Budget. It did not insert the Speaker of the day as the middle man to filter requests.

There is no place for the Speaker to do that. Why should the Speaker be the filter between requests from members for OPC support? There is no argument for that, other than a partisan argument. Pardon my cynicism, but for two years that money has not been spent on its intended purpose, which was to provide drafting support for non-government members. That is underhanded. A footnote in last year’s Budget that says it has been put into DPAC does not explain why no member of this place has been told that there is a resource there that they can access.

That money was just hoovered up by the Premier's own agency - $150 000 a year. More money going to a Liberal Government at the expense of quality drafting in this place, and good legislation and solid amendments. I believe it is a $300 000 swindle, because we were not told that we could have access. I kept asking. I asked the former Speaker, I asked senior officers in this place, when are we going to get access? Again I will state the Greens are not champing for this out of self-interest. Our bills are really solid, they are well drafted, and we know what we are doing. To be lectured by a freshman who has not taken legislation though this place, or even moved a single amendment, is not something that I have a lifetime to waste.

Our legislation is robust and rock solid. You only need to talk to some of the terrific people in OPC. They look at our legislation and they know it is good. This is not about us; this is a principle. Now we understand with absolute clarity that the Government took the money which was intended for non-government members to have access to Parliamentary Counsel support. The Government took that money, put it in the DPAC budget, did not tell members what the new deal was and used that resource for itself. That is shifty, and we would still be sitting here in the dark if the Greens had not asked the question earlier this year about that support, if we had not written to the Speaker to try to draw that information out.

It was a budget allocation for MPs. It was not a budget allocation for Government to beef up its own OPC capacity. We are now being told we have to run it through the Speaker. That was not in the 2019-20 Budget papers, nor was it in last year's Budget papers - because it is a rubbish proposition. If we had a truly independent Speaker maybe we would be having a different conversation; but we do not, and we never have, in this place. It is not the way it works.

I believe the Government owes members of this House, who are not sitting in Cabinet, an apology and an explanation. That is $300 000 worth of support for MPs who are not in Cabinet to draft legislation, and it was hoovered into the Premier's own department - and we were not even told about it. That is dodgy and unacceptable.