TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT BILL 2015 Second reading

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria) — I too wish to make a brief contribution to the Transparency in Government Bill 2015. As we have read in the second‑reading speech, this bill seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to governance processes. It is human nature to want to know where we are at and what we need to do better. It starts at birth with an Apgar score and maternal health nurses checking the percentiles of babies so parents know what they should be looking to improve in relation to the health outcomes of their children. The same goes for the duration of our education, be it NAPLAN testing, for example, or school reports. I have actually got my five‑year‑old’s literacy test next Wednesday for prep.

Ms Pulford — That is a big day.

Ms SYMES — It is, and it is followed by a numeracy one. We are conditioned to want to know how we are performing and whether extra support or changes are required to ensure that we reach our full potential. Obviously there is also the workplace. As adults we are performance reviewed, business health is measured via complex assessments and performance reporting systems and indeed governments are assessed every four years by voters on their performance and are turfed from office if their performance is not seen to be up to scratch. It is reasonable and important therefore that we apply this need for assessment and measurement to areas of government so that government and constituents alike can benefit from information that tells them what is working, what is not working and what needs to be changed, supported or fixed to work better.

No area of government is more in need of transparency than that of the emergency services, whose success or failure have the potential for lifelong catastrophic consequences for Victorians. If information is power, then this government is truly giving power back to the people through the passage of this bill, which delivers on both transparency and accountability for a system which during the last term of government was devoid of both. Indeed paramedics being ramped outside our hospitals instead of being on the road ready to respond to emergencies was commonplace. It created an image that there was almost the need to add additional parking bays outside our hospitals to cope with the sheer volume.

This bill will address issues raised by the Victorian Auditor‑General’s 2015 report entitled Emergency Service Response Times, which identified the very compelling need to publish meaningful data in relation to response times. This bill will create a new statutory framework which will see the regular release of government information and data concerning the performance of Victoria’s ambulance and fire services, public health services and, in some cases, other hospitals. This bill provides for the release of three different kinds of information that will help us all determine where things are working well and where things need to change. These include: response times for Ambulance Victoria, the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade; statements of priorities agreed to by Ambulance Victoria, public health services and other hospitals; and performance data for public health services and other hospitals against the performance indicators in their statements of priorities.

We appreciate that response times are not the sole indicator of how effective or how well an agency is performing and that there are a range of factors that can and indeed do affect an agency’s response time performance, such as geographical and seasonal impacts. For this reason the bill expressly clarifies that further information can be included in these reports to promote greater transparency by contextualising the information and providing more meaningful commentary. This will ensure that response times are given in the context of any relevant circumstances. The bill also recognises that there are likely to be times when the resources of an emergency service are devoted to addressing a major emergency, such as a major bushfire. In such circumstances the bill does allow for the minister to delay the publication of quarterly reports until a major emergency has been sufficiently addressed before reporting, and then at that time reporting can be resumed.

The bill also recognises the potential impact of sustained and prolonged industrial action on the ability to collect and prepare response time data, and it also allows for delayed publication in such circumstances. The bill ensures that there is transparency when these exceptions are relied on by requiring the minister to publish a statement so that the public is aware that a report will be delayed. We all know that our dedicated healthcare providers, paramedics and firefighters do an incredible job. It is a difficult job, and we are all very proud of the work they do. None of us know when we might find ourselves in need of their care and expertise. It is our job as the government to ensure that information that relates to improving the systems that we operate is regularly accessible, transparent and available to every Victorian. If we do not know about the issues, we cannot fix them. Assessment and measurement will facilitate doing things better and making things better.

As a government we are not afraid of the hard work, the challenging situations and the need for change, and we will work with our dedicated emergency services personnel, our nurses and our paramedics to make sure that we are delivering better services across the board for all Victorians. I do understand that there are amendments that have been put forward by Mr Gordon Rich‑Phillips, which we will no doubt go over in detail during the committee stage of the bill. They are a rather elaborate set of amendments that appear on the face of it to be impractical, but I will leave them for the minister to respond to during the committee stage.

With that, I would like to commend the bill to the house.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.

Ordered to be committed next day.