Regulatory Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2021
Thursday, 10th February 2022
Mr McCURDY (Ovens Valley) (10:47):
I am delighted to rise and make a contribution on the Regulatory Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2021. As you have heard from the member for Brighton, we will be opposing this bill, and there are many reasons to oppose this bill. If for no other reason, after we heard the explosive comments yesterday from the former minister of the Andrews government, it is clear to me that this government should not be making any changes at all to the election procedures in this state. They simply cannot be trusted and certainly cannot be trusted as they manipulate the election procedure. And although we are told the aim of this bill is to ensure that Victoria’s regulatory system continues to be effective in managing harm, what we have seen with most bills that come into this place is that the name of the bill rarely reflects the substance that is in the bill. The narrative that the minister argues is that this will be achieved by having different bodies that are more resilient and flexible in the face of a crisis such as COVID-19. In reality the bill covers a variety of issues that are very loosely held together and attack the electoral procedures in this state. As with most Victorian government bills, some of the proposed measures are not contentious at all but others are highly risky and have been inserted into the bill with the hope that they are glossed over and waved through.
The bill will increase the flexibility for regulators and agencies to provide fee relief to businesses during emergencies by amending the Financial Management Act 1994. That on face value seems fine to me. It will modernise requirements for public notices to be published in newspapers by amending the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 and those requirements for the publication of electoral boundaries by amending the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act 1982. Well, to me that is not fine, and I will talk about that in a moment. It will implement the government’s response to the recommendations of the Electoral Matters Committee into the conduct of the 2018 state election by amending the Electoral Act 2002, and again you should never leave Dracula in charge of the blood bank. It will streamline reporting arrangements for registered housing agencies and ensure the boards of registered housing agencies certify reporting against performance standards by amending the Housing Act 1983.
Now, the bill is reacting to the changes that organisations and public bodies were forced to make to accommodate the government’s response to COVID-19, including online meetings, AGMs, fee relief to accommodate loss of earnings and things like the lack of tobacco inspectors because they have been roped into COVID-compliance work. The bill is also reflecting the change to a more digital world and the changes to print media by online forms of communication, but there are consequences, and the government has either overlooked them or ignored those consequences, including the changes that mean public notices can be online instead of in print newspapers, which I will mention again shortly, and electoral maps will be online and printed upon request.
The bill is a response to the August 2020 report into the Victorian state election. Can I say, the Electoral Matters Committee is stacked in favour of sitting Labor MPs, so the outcome was always predetermined. The bill claims to fix issues raised in the report in time for the 2022 election. It dictates the number of posters that can be displayed, sets a100-metre ban on mobile advertising near a polling place and prohibits any person or entity other than the Victorian Electoral Commission from providing postal voting applications, which the member for Brighton discussed in detail. Allegedly the reform was requested by the VEC in its submission to the Electoral Matters Committee inquiry based on 77 complaints.
After the admissions by the former minister yesterday, the admissions of corruption by a former senior minister, one wonders how this government should have any say on future changes to the election process. The behaviour of this government is nothing short of corrupt. No further changes should be allowed until the red shirts rorts are thoroughly investigated and those responsible charged and brought before the courts. The red shirts scandal is again in the headlines due to one of Labor’s own MPs, someone game enough to stand up to the dictators and not afraid of the consequences. The direction from Labor powerbrokers to MPs to not cooperate with police is living proof of the corruption that exists within this government.
Mr Fowles: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, the member for Brighton had a very wideranging contribution, but I think it is the practice of this place that subsequent contributions are generally more confined to the subject matter at hand. The member for Ovens Valley has well and truly walked off the reservation in the last couple of minutes, and I would encourage you please to encourage him to perhaps return to the matter before the house.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you, member for Burwood. Can you be succinct in your points of order, please. I think the member for Burwood was referring to relevance. Member for Ovens Valley, I ask you to come back to the bill.
Mr McCURDY: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I was just trying to draw parallels between what happened at the last election and changing the rules going forward. I think it is unwise that we allow this government to change those rules because history has suggested they have a very strong record in their corrupt manner. That is what I was going to with that.
I also want to talk about the signs that cannot exceed 600 by 900 millimetres, or another size as prescribed by the regulations, and if there are two or more candidates endorsed for the Legislative Council by one party, they do not get extra signs. This would result in major parties having six posters at a centre: two for the lower house, two for the upper and two for the party itself. There are new rules for billboards: they cannot be displayed within 100 metres of a voting centre, but certain premises such as homes and electorate offices are exempt from this rule.
Early votes will be counted at 8.00 am on election day instead of 4.00 pm, and the bill will prohibit the distribution of postal votes. As I say, that was well covered by the member for Brighton. Again, these changes are being determined by the Andrews Labor government, which worries us, particularly after we heard the explosive comments yesterday. I do have concerns around a central—
Mr Fowles: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, the member for Ovens Valley is misleading the house. He asserts that these are recommendations solely of the government. The Electoral Matters Committee, on which there is a minority of Labor members, has made these recommendations. Specifically it made the recommendation regarding prohibiting the distribution of postal vote applications to which the member for Ovens Valley has referred.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Burwood, that is not a point of order.
Mr McCURDY: I have also got concerns around the central website with a vic.gov.au domain. The choice to print in newspapers is a discretionary one, but some regional communities rely on their local newspapers, and the minister’s discretionary power can declare a new website for approved publications. I have been contacted by community members and businesses about this legislation because there are concerns about just this. The reforms will take away the government-legislated mandate for local councils to place their public notices and community information classifieds in regional Victorian local newspapers—papers in Swan Hill, Yarrawonga, Bairnsdale, Horsham and others will be affected. I heard the honourable member say before it is 10 per cent of their income. Well, 10 per cent of their income is a substantial amount, but if you have never been in business you probably do not understand that.
This will take away another revenue source and effectively negate even more council connection with the local communities, and it will potentially lead to all government classified advertising migrating to the purpose-built government website. This will weaken our regional newspapers, some of which will certainly die because of this. Just to give you an example of that, recently I have been dealing with an issue in Mount Beauty where North East Water claimed to be having a consultation and put out an offering for people to put submissions in, and when we got to the bottom of it we found out their consultation and their mode for communicating was in the North East Water newsletter. Now, who reads the North East Water newsletter? It turns out nobody does. That was their way of communicating with the community, and by this I mean the public notice has been and is—
Mr Fowles: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, on relevance.
Ms Staley: On the point of order, Deputy Speaker, briefly, this is clearly a clause in the bill that goes to how things are advertised. The member is clearly being relevant.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I do not uphold the point of order.
Mr McCURDY: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. This is why we need to make sure that public notices remain in local papers where the message can get out, rather than on a government website which is not exactly mainstream.
Can I say that the interference with postal voting is a concern. We believe this legislation should be voted down, and I certainly cast my eye across the chamber to see whether there is anybody over there who has the courage to cross the floor and do what happened in the other place. I doubt that will happen, but certainly we live in hope, because this legislation should be voted down.