Crossbenchers claim credit for ‘more transparent’ state parliament

The Andrews government faces a tougher task getting its legislative agenda passed through the upper house after being forced into concessions over two bills and a crucial oversight committee in the first three sitting weeks of Victorian parliament.

The opposition, Greens and crossbench have vowed to continue pushing Labor towards greater accountability and warned the government to step up negotiations for bills being introduced to parliament.

The new kingmakers. Clockwise from left: Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, Legalise Cannabis MPs David Ettershank and Rachel Payne, and upper house Greens MPs Sarah Mansfield, Katherine Copsey and Avi Puglielli.Credit:Joe Armao; Jason South; Simon Schluter

The new kingmakers key to the government’s success over legislation in the upper house for the first sitting weeks of the new parliament have been four Greens, led by Samantha Ratnam, and two Legalise Cannabis MPs, David Ettershank and Rachel Payne.

The government was last week forced to park one piece of contentious legislation, the so-called Lawyer X bill, and amend another two weeks earlier to give greater oversight and privacy protections to the centralisation of Victorians’ health records.

Labor also agreed to a deal with the Greens and Legalise Cannabis to install a non-government chair to the integrity and oversight committee in return for the crossbenchers opposing a probe into the government’s treatment of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell said without a majority in the upper house, Labor so far appeared to be looking to the Greens, Legalise Cannabis and her party to support legislation where it could not get opposition support for bills.

Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell.Credit:Twitter

Labor needs an additional six votes in the upper house to pass its bills.

“There’s been two bills that the crossbench has been uncomfortable with, that have had to be amended early on in the term,” Purcell said.

“And I think it’s sent a really clear sign to the government that they’re probably going to have to be a little bit more collaborative in the early stages [of drafting legislation] with us.”

Purcell, who was an adviser to former Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick in the previous parliament, said the government had been negotiating more with the crossbench on its bills than it had during the last term.

“Obviously, we’re meant to be a house of review, and that review has resulted in one big bill being amended and passed and another bill being proposed to be amended.”

Georgie Crozier, leader of the opposition in the upper house, was quick to point out the Liberal Party had worked on amendments in the Health Information and Human Sources bills.

“We are putting up the amendments, and we are doing the work that is holding the government to account,” she said. “The amendments are an important part of the scrutiny and improving flawed bills.”

Ettershank, the Legalise Cannabis MP, said his party was getting government briefings on proposed legislation “a week before it hits the deck” in the upper house, and said left-wing parties had pushed the Andrews government to more progressive legislative outcomes.

David Ettershank, from Legalise Cannabis, is one of the kingmakers in the Victorian parliament.Credit:Simon Schluter

“There has been a need for critically supportive people in the upper house,” he said.

“Both Legalise Cannabis and the Greens bring a progressive perspective, but at the same time we’re not as constrained as the government in [our] responses, so I think we can afford to be critical [of government policy].”

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said the crossbench had achieved important concessions in the first three sitting weeks of the new parliamentary year.

“The size of the crossbench is the same, but the composition of the crossbench is the thing that’s making the big difference here,” she said.

“I think we’re seeing the result of a constructive progressive crossbench able to push the government to go further and faster in a number of areas, [and] also playing a really important role in holding them to account and delivering really significant reforms like we saw last week with the integrity committee revamp.”

Lee Tarlamis, government whip in the upper house, was contacted for comment.

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