Opinion

MPs’ bush sitting has merit

by
May 11, 2018

Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy and Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell.

During a fiery debate in parliament this week, the merits of Victorian Parliament visiting the regions was up for discussion.

Local upper house MPs Wendy Lovell and Mark Gepp emerged as the key protagonists trading comments in parliament over an issue which, at its heart, is about the best measures to consult with regional Victorians.

The Opposition had previously pledged that if elected in November, it would ensure parliament returned for sitting weeks in four regional areas across the next term.

Shepparton is one of these.

Debate was prompted this week when Ms Lovell moved a motion for a sitting in Shepparton next June.

She argued parliament coming to Shepparton would present a rare opportunity for locals to experience decisions being made on the region’s doorstep.

The government countered, citing a number of measures it already had in place to consult with regional areas like Shepparton and questioned the logistics of the policy.

While members of the major parties regularly visit, Ms Lovell argued having a full chamber of parliament visit presented many opportunities for consultation with all MPs.

If locking in positive and comprehensive consultation with the regions is the key drive behind this policy platform, the alternatives should be considered.

For example, the government’s existing regional assemblies and partnerships.

It is difficult to argue that recent assemblies across the Goulburn Valley area have been unsuccessful.

They have seen local community members and groups sitting shoulder to shoulder with members of Victorian cabinet, relaying their ideas and challenges.

They have also led to priorities for the region, some of which have already received plenty of attention and funding in subsequent state budgets.

Both the policies have merit, and if they have the potential to improve consultation with this region, and boost engagement with the state’s decision-makers, they should be considered.

While economic boost would be attached to parliament moving to Shepparton for a week, the logistics in making it happen clearly need detail attached.

While not an insurmountable task, it is also a significant endeavour to host parliament remotely.

To make such a venture worthwhile, it would need to be for at least a sitting week and, one imagines, incorporate a host of other consultative elements, to avoid it becoming a ‘‘spectacle’’, a term the suggestion had previously been described as.

While not perfect, if the challenging logistics of moving a house of parliament to Shepparton can be achieved, at a reasonable cost, and a case was made for it to be more than a spectacle but an opportunity for legitimate consultation, the proposal should be seriously entertained.

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