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Premier's Suggests Sit-Down to Smooth Over Hidding Bullying Incident

11 October 2016

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

[10.12 a.m.]

In taking precisely no meaningful action in response to allegations of bullying and intimidation squared at one of your ministers, you cited advice from the Solicitor-General and the Department of Premier and Cabinet to deny there had been any breach of the ministerial code of conduct.  Without knowing exactly what was said between your minister and Ms Forrest, it is difficult to understand how the Solicitor-General, your departmental secretary or indeed you, could have come to the conclusion there had been no breach of the code and therefore for you to do nothing to address this serious allegation.  Can you confirm you ignored the advice you were provided with?  In fact, neither the Solicitor-General nor the Secretary of DPAC advised you that there had been no breach of the code.  If not, will you release this advice?  Will you admit now that your weak, nothing-to-see here response has escalated this situation to the point where links are being drawn with family violence and threats are being made to sue for defamation?

Government members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am going to repeat that, Madam Speaker, because they have obviously misunderstood what was said.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  Well, repeat it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Will you admit now, Premier, that your weak, nothing-to-see here response has escalated the situation to the point where links are being drawn with family violence and threats are being made to sue for defamation?  You have just proposed a nice sit-down between Mr Hidding and Ms Forrest.  Is that your best response to Ms Forrest's request for a proper independent code of conduct investigation?

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.  It is not true to say that I or anyone else does not know what has been said about the events in question.  Ms Forrest has made a statement in this place about her perspective.  She has made statements to the media outside this place.  She has written to me about this matter.  As you would expect, I have also come to understand Mr Hidding's version of events, not only through what he has said in this place but also from what he has said to me.  I have taken advice from the Solicitor-General from the secretary of DPAC.  I have formed the view, and I accept responsibility for it, on whether this matter might constitute a reach of the code of conduct.  I have formed the view that it has not. 

It is interesting that when a breach of the code of conduct was raised against a member of the former government, the set of words used by then premier, Lara Giddings, as to how she arrived at a decision on whether the code had been breached, was almost exactly the same set of words as mine. 

It is not customary or appropriate for governments to release Solicitor-General's advice.  I refer to what the former premier said about why that would be an undesirable thing to have happen.  There are good reasons as to why that is not typically the case.  It goes to privileged legal advice.  It also goes to the ability of members of the State Service to provide frank and fearless advice to members of government, without its being compromised.  On taking that advice, what I have done - and this goes to the lie you claim that I have done nothing - is make the determination as to whether there has been a breach.  I have determined there has not been.  That is my position.

It is entirely reasonable for me to suggest to propose that Mr Hidding and Ms Forrest might be able to sit down and work this through in a conciliatory fashion.  I would consider most people would think that is the reasonable thing to happen.  Members opposite, it would seem, would prefer alternative courses.  They want me to be judge, jury and executioner.  They want me to intervene in matters that go to an individual's legal rights.  They presumably want me to make a determination as to whether they have those rights or should be entitled to pursue them.  I do not think that is my case.  My responsibility goes to ministerial conduct under the code of conduct.  I have determined that code has not been breached in this instance.