Thursday, 9 February 2023
Questions without notice and ministers statements
Maribyrnong River flood review
Maribyrnong River flood review
David DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) (12:12): (27) My question is to the Minister for Water. Minister, Melbourne Water is an agency which is allocated as a responsibility of yours in the administrative orders. Melbourne Water has a model policy template for major agencies on conflict of interest on its website. It says at key principle 2c, ‘real, potential or perceived: a conflict of interest exists whether it is real, potential or perceived’. I therefore ask: does the minister accept that Mr Wimbush had a conflict of interest in his role as chair of the Maribyrnong River flood review under Melbourne Water’s own policy?
The PRESIDENT: Before the minister answers, I am a bit concerned that you might be asking the minister for an opinion. I will just have a little chat with the boffins.
Mr Davis, I believe you are asking the minister for an opinion, but I am more than happy to ask you to attempt to rephrase the question.
David DAVIS: I will do that. Minister, isn’t it a fact that Mr Wimbush had a conflict of interest in his role as chair of the Maribyrnong River flood review under Melbourne Water’s own conflict-of-interest policy?
Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Water, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Commonwealth Games Legacy, Minister for Equality) (12:14): Thank you for the question, Mr Davis. Yet again you have gone back to preambles to your questions which put assertions and invite conclusions that are not reasonably open for you on any reasonable ground to accept. It is really important, Mr Davis, that when we talk about these issues you understand, as I would hope in the general carriage of your own role you do understand, the distinction between an actual conflict of interest and a perceived conflict of interest. This, Mr Davis, is something which media outlets understand. The reportage of Mr Wimbush’s resignation has not been couched as an actual conflict of interest. It has been referred to as a perceived conflict of interest.
Mr Wimbush made a judgement, which was confirmed by Melbourne Water, to tender his resignation from the review and from chairing that review in order not to cloud a process which is intended to provide a means by which the residents affected by the floods in Maribyrnong in October last year can better understand the impacts of the flood wall amongst other things and to understand where and how we might as an area be in a position to build back better and also to understand the matters at play when we are talking about a one-in-50-year and one-in-100-year flooding event.
Mr Davis, you have also sought to infer that Melbourne Water as an authority which falls within my scope under the general order is somehow not undertaking its functions independently. Mr Davis, I take objection to that, and by way of analogy I would suggest that anyone who wants to say, for example, that Melbourne Water and its independent review are not taking place with that arms-length component that they require is also by inference suggesting that the courts, as funded by government, are not independent, that tribunals are not independent, that independent statutory oversight bodies are not independent – and the list goes on.
So, Mr Davis, you actually have to be clear about the purpose for which you are asking this question. This is a question again which goes to the heart of your inability to understand the nature of an independent review and providing remedies and solutions to those people affected by the floods in October last year.
David DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) (12:17): The minister clearly will not engage with the fact that there is actually on the website a clear description of what a conflict of interest is in her department and that Mr Wimbush was clearly in conflict with that. I therefore ask a further question: was Melbourne Water aware of Mr Wimbush’s conflict of interest at the time of his appointment? If so, what action did it take, and if not, when did Melbourne Water become aware of Mr Wimbush’s conflicted position?
Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Water, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Commonwealth Games Legacy, Minister for Equality) (12:18): Yet again, Mr Davis, you are seeking to have a debate about a matter that is not in fact in play. This is about the nature of actual versus perceived conflicts of interest, and it is about the fact that yet again you do not appreciate the fact that this is an independent review. In addition to that, you are seeking information from me about matters which relate to an independent review being conducted by Melbourne Water. This seems to me to be an attempt at a gotcha. On the one hand, if I have that information, then the review cannot be independent, and on the other hand, if Melbourne Water has that information, it must be some kind of cover-up. Mr Davis, these are questions for Melbourne Water, and if we are to have any confidence in the nature of an independent review –
David Davis: On a point of order, President, the member is seeking to assert that she does not answer questions for Melbourne Water. She is responsible under the administrative orders, and she needs to answer those questions.
The PRESIDENT: No, you are just debating. That is not a point of order, that is just debating.
Harriet SHING: Thanks, President. Mr Davis, I would really like to see the independent review be able to take its course. I would hope that you would be able to do so too in the interests of providing affected residents and communities with answers to the questions that they are currently seeking.