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Attorney-General and Justice - Integrity Commission

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: Integrity Commission, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to talk to you about the operations of the Integrity Commission and a concern that's held in the community about whether the commission sufficiently bares its teeth; that is, whether it exercises its existing powers under the act. Have you ever made inquiries with the commission as to why they've never held, for example, a public hearing?

Ms ARCHER - I'm aware that they have never held a hearing. From the discussions I've had it is because they've never felt they've needed to do so. I can't speak for them directly but I have had conversations and I know their view is that they are content with the extent of their powers.

We are currently in discussions in relation to what was done in the Cox review and others things that the Integrity Commission would like to do - streamline and modernise their processes and all of those sorts of things. I've spoken in parliament about this. We're currently looking at any amendments that may need to occur to the act.

In relation to their current functions and powers, members often refer to it as a toothless tiger. We’ve never had a case of corruption in this state. Members in this place bandy round the use of that term quite freely and often unfairly, alleging that there is corruption when there is simply not. The Integrity Commission is incredibly thorough. Those of us who have been on the receiving end of that know that. It's not a nice process to go under and for very good reason. There's never been a finding of that nature.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's a contradiction. You said, 'There's never been a finding of that nature', but earlier you said, 'There's never been a case of corruption in this state', which is a very bland assurance, given that that there's no reason. Do you agree that the governance and administration, the conduct of public officers in Tasmania should be substantially different from what it is in other states where corruption and malfeasance and misconduct have been established? It goes back to the issue over whether or not the Integrity Commission is sufficiently baring its teeth, why it's not having public hearings in nearly 12 years of operation? We're not prepared to accept a bland assurance that there's no corruption in Tasmania and -

Ms ARCHER - You would have to ask the Integrity Commission that question, Ms O'Connor. I've told you what my conversations with them have been. They feel that their powers and functions are adequate in that they've never had to hold a hearing but in -

Ms O'CONNOR - They've never chosen to hold a hearing.

Ms ARCHER - You can verbal but -

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm not verballing you, that's a fact.

Ms ARCHER - No. Chosen or never had to, that is a question for the Integrity Commission to answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - For a number of years -

Ms ARCHER - That's not my decision.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay.

Ms ARCHER - Members know under the act that I don't, as minister, direct the Integrity Commission to do anything. To do so would be improper.

Ms O'CONNOR - In two reports to government the Integrity Commission under previous administration has strongly recommended to government that we enact an offence of misconduct in public office. I note that the Budget papers have an allocation of funds for the Integrity Commission to talk to people about what misconduct is and ethics and education. Why is your Government so resistant to joining the rest of the country and establishing an offence of misconduct in public office?

Ms ARCHER - Because a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Cox, and former governor of this state did an extensive review and said that it wasn't needed. The crime of misconduct is already within our Criminal Code and we don't need it.

Ms O'CONNOR - The Integrity Commission has previously twice said it's needed.

Ms ARCHER - I have answered that question, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Attorney-General, perhaps you could explain why it is you think it's acceptable that the Integrity Commission does not have the capacity, apparently, to examine sitting members during a campaign, given that those sitting members - particularly if they're the Premier or government ministers - have all the tools of government at their disposal; they have access to the potential for treasury funds in order to make election promises and yet the Integrity Commission can't examine their actions during the campaign period.

Ms ARCHER - Sorry, what was the original question? That I think it's acceptable?

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think it is acceptable?

Ms ARCHER - I have answered this question on the basis of the flip side of that argument is that there also needs to be an even playing field.

Ms O'CONNOR - But there's not.

Ms ARCHER - That's your opinion.

Ms O'CONNOR - Because you're a minister campaigning -

Ms ARCHER - That's your opinion.

Ms O'CONNOR - and then there's another member who is just a candidate in Clark, for example.

Ms OGILVIE - Who was very happy with how it rolled out.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm not interested in what you have to say, Ms Ogilvie.

CHAIR - Order, Ms Ogilvie.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you understand it's not a level playing field when, first of all, government can use public money to promote itself before a campaign and then, during a campaign, make numerous promises involving public funds? You don't have a level playing field during a campaign if you're part of government or a sitting member.

Ms ARCHER - Any party or member can develop their own policies and say that if we get into government we will fund this.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you're still a minister of the Crown during a campaign.