I rise to speak on the motion brought to this house by Mr Grimley. This is very sad, this subject, and I want to thank you for coming here today and sharing. An apology to those who have suffered abuse in government schools is appropriate, and it is needed. We know how important an apology can be in acknowledging the unfair pain and suffering experienced by victims and their families. It is not always closure, but it goes a long way in making victims feel heard and understood and loved.
A public apology allows us to all agree that what occurred was unacceptable and that we must always work to make sure that this does not happen again. There is a precedent for Victorian government apologies, and I can see no reason why this apology cannot be done.
On the matter of governments and departments acting as a model litigant, I have some experience in this. I have stood in this house multiple times and reminded ministers and the Attorney-General of their obligations to ensure departments are acting as a model litigant. Clearly this has fallen on deaf ears. As the courts have firmly held since 1912 it is an expectation that the state and its agencies will act as a model litigant—that is, that they will act with propriety, fairly and to the highest professional standards. In particular the model litigant guidelines also include that the state and its agencies are to keep litigation costs to a minimum and to deal with claims promptly so as not to cause any unnecessary delay. In my experience, when I consider Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria (CPVV) and the Department of Transport, they have failed to meet all these obligations. After four years in court, taxi and hire car families—some of the poorest people—in the Supreme Court received a ruling for Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria to hand over the requested documents and pay 80 per cent of the families’ legal fees. One year later taxi families were forced to renegotiate. It is obvious that the regulator was trying to run these families out of money. There is no doubt.
Not only is the CPVV trying to cripple families who have already faced discriminatory regulation reforms in the CPVV, but this agency has also behaved questionably in other court battles. I am told the regulator employs over 20 lawyers within their department, yet they have gone outside their organisation to spend big bucks on the government’s preferred secret keeper, Mick Batskos. This was after Victoria’s privacy commissioner ruled in my favour that the documents requested in the freedom of information request should be handed over for a trial in Geelong. Taxpayer money is being used by the ER regulator merely to hide the outcomes of a six-person trial that ran for eight weeks in 2020. With such money involved to fight the privacy commissioner’s ruling, we all wonder what the regulator was hiding at this trial. After multiple hearings at VCAT we have resolved the matter and most documents were released. Imagine how many taxpayer dollars would have been saved if they had just handed the information over, as they are required to do, in the beginning. This causes enormous stress to those families, having to go through this. This is not transparency. This is not accountability. These are not the actions of a model litigant.
Only yesterday I saw the Age report on the secretive nature of the Victorian government’s departments. The Victorian information commissioner revealed that more FOI requests were lodged in Victoria than in any other jurisdiction in Australia, including the Commonwealth. This is unbelievable. Clearly this government and the bureaucracy have a lot they do not want released. In 2021 alone over 42 000 FOI requests were lodged in Victoria. This was a new record, and it is expected we will exceed that record again. It comes down to this getting of information. Who is responsible for ensuring departments behave as model litigants?
I thank Mr Grimley for bringing attention to this issue. It is a very important issue. We need a commitment from whoever is to hold government come 26 November that these departments will meet their obligation to behave as model litigants and operate transparently and with integrity. Certainly much needs to be done to bring the bureaucracy into line with community expectations. I commend this motion to the house.