Victorian government fails to respond to cannabis and homelessness inquiries before deadlines

Under parliamentary rules, government had six months to respond to recommendations

The Victorian government has failed to respond to formal recommendations that it consider legalising cannabis for personal use, improve conditions for homeless people and expand access to school buses, in a breach of state parliament’s rules.

The recommendations form part of seperate inquiries tabled in parliament last year, which the government hasn’t responded to within a six-month deadline.

A response to the 500-page inquiry into homelessness – which called on the government strengthen early intervention services and provide more secure, long-term housing for homeless people – is a year overdue.

The government is also seven months late in responding to an inquiry into cannabis use.

The inquiry recommended the government consider legalising cannabis for adult personal use, under a similar model to that used in the ACT, where people are allowed to possess, use and supply small quantities of cannabis, as well as to cultivate two plants per person at home.

Fiona Patten, the chair of Legislative Council’s legal and social issues committee that led two of the inquiries, said the government was “showing significant hubris” by failing to respond.

“Not to mention it’s actually contemptuous of the parliament to refuse to respond to these reports,” Patten said.

Patten said the homelessness inquiry was one of the most comprehensive she has been involved in during her eight years in parliament. It took more than two years to complete, with 450 formal submissions and 18 hearings, the majority of which took place during Covid-19 restrictions.

“For the government just to ignore that body of work is completely disrespectful to all of the hard work that the community and the committee put into that really important inquiry,” she said.

Transport Matters party MP Rod Barton was instrumental in establishing the homelessness inquiry and another into taxi industry reform, which was tabled in parliament in November 2019, making the government’s response 18 months overdue.

He said he requested the government “take their time” in drafting a response to the latter but didn’t expect it would remain unaddressed with one sitting week remaining of the term.

“I said I didn’t want them to respond in the middle of everything that was happening with Covid-19, but that was in early 2020. Now it’s just ridiculous,” Barton said. “We are five minutes from wrapping up and nothing’s been done.”

Barton said he was also concerned about the government’s nine-month delay in responding to an inquiry into the public use of school buses in rural and regional Victoria.

“Opening up that service to the public will do an enormous good for people in those areas suffering loneliness, who can’t get a job or access education, just because they don’t drive,” Barton said.

Three other parliamentary inquiries, examining environmental infrastructure for growing populations, the health impacts of air pollution and ecosystem decline in Victoria, have also not been responded to within the legislated timeframe.

A spokesperson for the government said it is considering the reports and will table responses as they are finalised.

“These reports outline important and at times complex policy reforms which require appropriate consideration,” the spokesperson said.

Ellen Sandell, the deputy leader of the Victorian Greens, said it appeared the government was “refusing to listen to what the experts are telling them”.

“What do they have to hide?” Sandell said.

Louise Staley, the opposition’s spokesperson for government scrutiny, said the failure to respond to the inquiries forms part of a consistent “pattern” of the government dodging accountability and transparency.

“As we’ve seen with the triple zero report, this government will go to extraordinary lengths to hide bad news,” Staley said.

“The reports cover a wide variety of topics and have been undertaken diligently. Victorians deserve to see the government’s response to their recommendations prior to the election.”

Contributor

Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

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