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Conflicts of Interest


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Tags: Conflict of Interest, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Political Appointments, Bernacchi Lodge

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin, Mr O'Byrne, for bringing this matter of conflicts of interest on as a matter of public importance debate today. Public faith in the institutions of government, of parliament, of ministerial decisions and of departmental officers must be upheld. It is a fair assessment that it has been eroded under this Government.

I remind the member that in November last year the Auditor-General brought down a report that examined conflicts of interest in the State Service. It examined eight senior public service appointments and found that three of them had conflict of interest situations that were neither declared nor managed. The Integrity Commission has also raised concerns about the Government's capacity to manage conflict of interest. We have two of the state's key integrity bodies pointing to a problem with conflict of interest management by this Government, yet it continues. The appointments the Auditor-General looked at were only in the year 2015 -16; on this Government's watch in the last term. We are talking about positions that attract massive salaries relative to what people living in Berriedale are earning.

The discussion we are having today is necessary because of an appointment to one of the most important independent statutory roles in Tasmania and that is the Commissioner for Children and Young People. As a human being, Leanne McLean is a fantastic person, a hard worker and a good person. The problem we have here is one of optics because we now understand that there were a number of recommendations made by the panel to the minister. It was the minister who singled out Mr Rockliff's head of office and took that appointment to Cabinet. We are going to get a briefing from the panel at lunchtime today and I look forward to that. The question I will be asking the panel members there is, did you ask all the applicants what they will do in the role if they are appointed when it becomes clear that a Liberal minister responsible for children - whether it be in the children's portfolio, education, any other portfolio of Government - when it is necessary to take on the government and the minister of the day over their administration of the portfolio? The Commissioner for Children and Young People must be independent and a fierce advocate for the wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania. Sometimes that means rubbing the government of the day the wrong way.

There is a litany of concerns with conflict of interest in Tasmania. We saw Mr Brooks, the former mining minister, disgraced. He only pointed to a perception of a conflict of interest. We do not know whether there is a conflict of interest because we have not seen the results of that audit. The former minister for state growth, Mr Groom, who had a close friendship with Adrian Bold, the proponent of the Mount Wellington cable car that would desecrate kunanyi/Mount Wellington. Mr Bold and the Mount Wellington Cableway Company got special enabling legislation, an email address in the Department of State Growth - special treatment every step of the way.

The other conflict of interest that Mr Groom did not manage related to Bernacchi Lodge in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Mr Groom's brother was one of the proponents of that development which was enabled as a result of changes to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area management plan. The final plan came out in 2016 on Mr Groom's watch and - what do you know? - it made a special provision to allow for Bernacchi Lodge to be privately operated. If that is not a conflict of interest I do not know what is.

In Estimates this year under questioning from Dr Woodruff we also had the very clear conflict of interest situation where in 2016 the Director of Prisons-designate Mr Ian Thomas sat on a panel that employed two of his former colleagues from a private prison in Victoria to the Department of Justice. The Director of Prisons declared a conflict of interest and stayed on the panel. That is not how you manage a conflict of interest; that is how you distort a conflict of interest potentially to undermine good governance in Tasmania.

We have a problem with this Government managing conflicts of interest. Apart from the appointment of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, one of the most stark relates to the current Minister for Resources, Ms Courtney, who clearly allowed a situation to continue for a month where there was absolutely a conflict of interest, unquestionably. A conflict of interest was allowed to perpetuate through government because of a secret relationship between the minister and her secretary. We know the minister got the approval from the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel for the massive expansion in Storm Bay three months before it became public.

If you want to talk about a tangled web, Mr Deputy Speaker, we have a minister in a relationship with her secretary, there is a confession to the Premier of the day so those two step aside briefly during a conflict of interest investigation, and the director of the EPA, who has overseen the industry's expansion, steps up to temporarily oversee the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in the secretary's role, and then there is an announcement. There is a significant and enduring problem with managing conflicts of interest by the Liberals in government.