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Commission of Inquiry Report - Culture of Secrecy

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Transparency

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I will continue with my comments about the commission of inquiry and talk about this Government's culture of secrecy and how we believe it has affected a culture of enduring behaviour that has infiltrated the echelons of the public service and filtered down throughout it. It leads to the sort of behaviour that means that people do not speak up; and people, particularly in the higher levels of the public service, the department heads and people just below them, see their job as about managing the risk to ministers, managing the risk to government, and making sure that the government and senior public servants end up misleading and not answering questions in a direct manner, not being honest and transparent.

There are no consequences for telling a lie or covering things up. For people who have been watching the Government's response and following this for months leading up to the commission of inquiry report's tabling yesterday, there are two elements of enduring political behaviour which infect the manner of this Government and that have made a significant contribution to the culture that has allowed child sex abuse in institutions to occur and endure over decades.

When the Government creates a culture of secrecy, of putting electoral considerations above basic human decency and morality, managing the risk for ministers, managing the political risk for governments, then we have these situations which have led to the commission of inquiry that has been undertaken. The Government would very much like to focus us, as members of parliament, on the response to the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and on collective responsibility. The Premier has made that very clear in his comments.

As I have said before, the Greens do not resile from the importance of doing this work and we will not. I have already committed on our behalf as a party to continue this work over the months and years and, indeed, decades to come. It is important to acknowledge and address the rot at the centre of politics that allows this sort of thing to happen.

All the policies, procedures and systems we could put in place in the world would not be sufficient, and have been shown not to be sufficient, if the culture of secrecy in the upper echelons of the public service and, especially, in Cabinet do not change. There has been an intentional, political culture of secrecy.

Ministers and senior public servants have not set out to do this explicitly, to institute a culture that prevents the appropriate handling of child sex abuse allegations, but they have set out, and they continue to set out, the expectation the public service will not disclose, will hide, will mislead any and all information that causes them political harm. It is that culture which has, at the very least, contributed to the really shameful, woeful and inadequate responses we have seen, that has nurtured the promotion of individuals within the public service who see protecting the government as a higher order duty than serving the public interest and doing their legal and moral duty of serving the public interests.

When government is engaged in the practice of installing their own staff who are politically aligned with them into senior positions, this then contributes to the culture where this sort of thing can happen. When governments recruit and promote people based on whether or not they rock the boat, rather than their competence and dedication to the genuine service of the public, then that type of culture is reinforced. When governments and senior public service mislead in question time and Estimates, where there are no consequences for being called out when they lie, then that culture is reinforced.

We only have to look at how difficult it has been for this House, even with an order of the House, to get information out of Government ministers about the decisions on the stadium. These are decisions on the largest piece of infrastructure investment in Tasmania's history and we are still waiting to get the details, because the Government is calling cabinet in confidence.

We know that the Right to Information Act is abused daily. There is obfuscation and a deliberate culture of holding out and stringing out people's responses to right to information requests. Basic matters that should be in the public domain do not get an answer and have to end up going to the Ombudsman's office where they sit there for years, waiting to get an answer from an under resourced Ombudsman. We have seen this week that the Government's response is not going to be made public until 4 December, many months before the next sitting of parliament. Of course, there is the potential an early election could be called before we return.

This week, the commission of inquiry was tabled. It is grand final week and we have a Government which seems to be more serious about managing the message about not providing scrutiny for response. We will be calling for the Government to give us an extra week of parliament.