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Public Accounts Committee - Appearance of Treasurer

4 April 2017

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

[10.14 a.m.]
Your Government's growing reputation for arrogance and secrecy reached a new low last week with your Treasurer effectively telling the Public Accounts Committee, and by extension the people of Tasmania, that he is not answerable to them. Why is your Government being so obstructive and secretive over the decision to sell the Tamar Valley Power Station? Why is it prepared to face a charge of contempt in order to withhold the truth?

Can you explain on what basis a letter between two ministers over the decision to sell the Tamar Valley Power Station was withheld from the committee, particularly given it was not a Cabinet document but correspondence between two ministers the content of which is very much in the public interest?


ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for the question. The Treasurer was perfectly happy to turn up before the Public Accounts Committee. He made that clear. He said he would have turned completely voluntarily; he did not need to be subpoenaed. It was a political stunt and -

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order. This is a serious question, I am sure, so allow the Premier to address it.

Mr HODGMAN - It, sadly, has further tarnished the reputation of this important parliamentary committee, which has already been tarnished through the leaking of information into the public arena - to journalists - and often, in the case of this subpoena, before the Treasurer even knew about it. That is contemptuous; that is an abuse of process. That is a matter still unresolved.

It is clear the Treasurer has no problem fronting the Public Accounts Committee, and he did. What is not clear is how information from this committee is leaking into the public arena. If anyone has confidence in how this committee is operating, given this information has been leaked into the public arena, they should think very carefully because it is undermining and tarnishing the committee's reputation and standing. It does not give us or Tasmanians any confidence that it is operating appropriately.

The point is simple. It is one that has been made in this place repeatedly by governments over many years, decades and centuries. That is, governments will not release information or material that is cabinet in-confidence, as this letter was and is. We are not going to release it. You did not release cabinet in-confidence information when you were in government. I have very good authority for that; coming from the former premier, my predecessor, Lara Giddings, who wrote to a parliamentary committee to say that it has been the long-established practice that governments in Tasmania and other Westminster system governments elsewhere to claim public interest immunity when considering such requests. It goes on, citing High Court decisions, to make that very well-made point. As the member concluded, she intends to uphold the fundamental principle of Cabinet confidentiality. If it is good enough for the goose it is good enough for the gander. It will be the case that we will uphold these important principles. What we are seeing from members opposite is more of the same. It is like Bryan - political game playing. It is all about political gains from members opposite.

Governing the state of Tasmania is more than a game. We take these responsibilities very seriously. We do not want to call into question the independence of RTI officers or a process which was established by the former government. We do not want to call into question long-established principles that preserve cabinet in-confidence. They were fine for the member opposite, who asked the question to you when in government, but now wants to recklessly abandon for her own political self-interest.

I will make the obvious point to the member for Denison, who is so far removed from what average Tasmanians care about: does she seriously think they are worried about a piece of paper? Do you think they are worried about Facebook posts? They are worried about what we are doing and what we have done. What we did was keep the lights on. We did not sell the Tamar Valley Power Station. We did not force power rationing on consumers, as the Opposition would have had us do. We delivered a plan that kept the lights on. That is what Tasmanians care about; what we did and what we are doing. That is what we are focused on while you play your silly political games.