GEPP (Northern Victoria) (17:23): I too rise to speak on the Appropriation (Parliament 2020–2021) Bill 2020. I was wondering where my colleague Ms Shing was going when she completed her contribution with a reference to antiques in the Parliament. I looked straight at Mr Finn, and I thought: how did he get into this conversation? But he manages to find his way into most conversations.
Like everybody, I too want to pay my thanks in regard to the staff of the Parliament, who do a wonderful job. I think we all share in that sentiment in very, very difficult and trying times, and I am sure they are particularly glad that we are debating this bill and that there will be support across the chamber for this appropriation bill, because of course it will make sure that some money flows and people can continue to be paid. It is a very important bill that the Parliament is dealing with.
All of those staff—be it the clerks, the table office, the library, the committee staff—play such a very, very important role. It takes a lot of them to keep us functioning, and it has taken a heck of a lot, I am sure, this year in particular, given the unusual circumstances of COVID-19, for them to be able to develop the processes and systems to ensure that we were able to continue to work and deal with the important business of the Parliament during this year.
Like every speaker before me, I would also like to send out a big thanks to everybody’s electorate office staff, who really have done it very, very tough this year. They have all had to work offsite of course and in difficult situations—probably aided by one small advantage, and that is that they have not had to see the member every day when it is not a sitting day. So they have not had to deal with us. But they have done a mighty, mighty job. Regardless of who they work for, they would have had many, many constituents ringing, emailing and reaching out, during what has been an exceptionally tough year, and maintained those contacts with constituents and importantly some of the other key groups that have performed also so admirably through this year—people like our local governments, our councils, who have done a lot of work certainly up in my neck of the woods in Northern Victoria. The amount of work that the various shires have done during the course of this year to make sure that people in their catchment have had the services and support that they have needed during this year has been absolutely marvellous. So I too pay tribute to all of the electorate office staff right across the board, and to my team in particular I want to say a big thank you.
I share the electorate of course with the Deputy President and with others. It is the biggest electorate in this state, and I can assure you that just in the last 12 months in one corner of our electorate we have had many people dealing with drought and all of the associated issues with drought and in the other corner bushfires. We quickly forget the devastation felt in the north-east of my electorate and of course down in Gippsland throughout the latter course of 2019 and the early weeks of 2020. We have had it all, and we spun out of those catastrophes straight into COVID-19, so many in our electorate have been doing it tough for most of the past 12 to 14 months, and our electorate office staff have done a mighty, mighty job over that period of time, particularly in Northern Victoria, reaching out to our communities and being available for our communities to reach in to us.
I have heard from both Mr Rich-Phillips and Mr Ondarchie the conspiracy theories—the grassy knoll theories—that pervade their thinking around the funding of certain organisations in this budget. I do not know where they come up with these sorts of things, but they seem to be able to go to these dark places. One can only imagine that there is some sort of familiarity with these places to be able to draw on them so quickly in these sorts of debates.
I will talk more I think on Thursday when I get the opportunity to talk on appropriations for the whole of government. I will be a bit more expansive on the finer points of the budget. But suffice to say, not everyone or everything is funded to the level that everyone or everything would like in any budget. This budget has been particularly challenging because it is dealing with the most unusual set of circumstances. We have seen similar budgets handed down at the federal level and in other jurisdictions in attempts to try to deal with what has been the craziest year certainly of my lifetime, and I am sure that is the case for many people in this chamber.
This appropriation bill appropriates funds for core parliamentary services, as I mentioned earlier, provided by the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Department of the Legislative Council.
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
Mr GEPP: The bill also appropriates funds for important integrity institutions, Mr Ondarchie, such as the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, the Parliamentary Budget Office and the parliamentary committee system.
Can I say, I did listen to Mr Rich-Phillips’s contribution, and I draw on the very salient point that my friend and colleague Ms Shing made earlier. That is that despite the carping from Mr Rich-Phillips about parliamentary services and the funding thereof, when he talked about the amendments that he was going to move there was no mention of them. That is pretty typical of what we hear, I think, from the opposition. They like to cast the lure out to see if there are any nibbles in the pond, to see if anybody outside of this place is going to bite—will they latch onto that bit of the contribution?—and when that does not work, then they flip to Mr Ondarchie and Mr Ondarchie’s conspiracy theories. When you combine all of those together, they go on a fishing expedition. But when they had the opportunity to do something by way of amendment, they chose not to. They chose to go down a different path. I understand—well, I think I understand—where they are coming from, but as I said it is not a place that I am necessarily familiar with, in terms of grassy knolls and the like. But I will leave that up to them. It must be a product of being in opposition. That must be what one does.
Importantly, what this bill will also do is, as my friend and colleague Ms Shing identified, fund the ongoing funding to the charity meals program. This has been a wonderful program during the course of 2020. At this point I want to congratulate the Speaker of the lower house and a former President of the upper house, Minister Leane, for their work, particularly in terms of that initiative. Not only were they able to keep people employed in the kitchen areas and the hospitality areas of the Parliament when many, many workers right across this state and indeed the country were facing a very bleak period, but through their initiative and work they pulled together this charity meals program. It has been a wonderful initiative, and this appropriation bill will continue to provide funding to that program. Not only has it had the benefit of retaining those people in work during this difficult period, but of course the wonderful spin-off in that has been the food that has been provided to those in our community—particularly through the Salvation Army, but other community groups also—to ensure that our homeless and vulnerable people in our community were fed during that difficult time, and we will continue to do that.
Ms Shing also talked about the upgrade to chamber technology, and perhaps many would argue that that is probably not the only upgrade this chamber could do with. Fortunately, every four years people get the opportunity to refresh the chamber. They push control alt delete, but they also get to hit the refresh button as well. I do not know if anybody is watching, but please tell me that the presence of the broadcast is not so we can just sit in our offices and watch each other. I am sure it is not. I am sure there are people that listen. It is an important thing. It is important that people are able to switch on, and if they choose to participate in democracy through the broadcast and see what people are saying in real time, then it is an important initiative. I am very supportive of technology.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr GEPP: I will come back to antiques in a minute. I am very supportive of us investing in better technology for this chamber to enable greater participation in our democracy. There will be some small increase to electorate office and communication budgets. There will be some modest improvements there as well as some upgrades through this bill to safety and security for our electorate offices. And of course that will include some funding to ensure that new COVID-19 safety standards are applied in our offices and allow for equipment upgrades to facilitate remote working arrangements.
Ms Shing did touch on the restoration work that is going ahead on this building. That is important work because when everybody in this chamber has come and gone there will be other people that sit in this place long after all of us have tapped the mat—although I am not sure; gee, Mr Finn has been here a very long time. You may well be the exception to the rule, Mr Finn. But as for the rest of us, when we have come and gone, wonderful buildings such as this are the beacon for our democracy in this state. They are important buildings. On that note I can say that I reject Mr Rich-Phillips’s amendments and I commend the bill to the house.