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Conflicts of Interest

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 2 March 2023

Tags: Conflict of Interest

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: conflicts of interest.

We thought it would be timely for the House to debate a matter of public importance on conflicts of interest. What strikes me is that the raggedy, manky old chickens are coming home to roost for the Liberals in government. This problem with integrity goes back to Will Hodgman, and then after Will Hodgman, Peter Gutwein, and then Jeremy Rockliff, who I genuinely and mistakenly thought would be different.

I remember, going back to 2014, that first Estimates table and listening to minister after minister be fudgy and slippery with the facts. We have a long, sorry history over the last nine years, of government members and ministers unable to manage conflicts of interest or breaches of the ministerial code or standards of ethical conduct that we all sign up to as elected members. If we go to the Local Communities Facilities Fund, which was a massive $15 million slush fund set up to try to buy votes in a 2021 state election, we have story after story of benefits flowing to organisations who happen to be fortunate enough to have a Liberal candidate associated with them somehow.

The minister, who was a subject of the previous seeking of leave, Ms Ogilvie, was the new, newly minted Liberal candidate for Clark. What a great thing for the Sandy Bay rowing club that Ms Ogilvie's daughter was a member of that club. That club received a $150 000 in taxpayers' money through the Local Communities Facilities Fund. There was a $156 000 grant awarded to St Vincent de Paul, the workplace of the then candidate for Bass, Lara Alexander, for new vans. Mrs Alexander also signed off on the receipt of one $75 000 grant as president of the Rotary Club of South Launceston. I stop at this point. I have no doubt that these organisations had a fair case for a bit of public funding.

The issue here is that the process was unfair. It was decided by whether an organisation had a connection to a Liberal Party candidate in a seat that they wanted to win. Then, there was the $45 000 awarded to the Bracknell Football Club, the notorious town of Bracknell today, with, as we know, Mr Shelton the member for Lyons, his family members have served on the Bracknell Football Club's committee in positions such as treasurer, kiosk manager and groundsmen. The club was given the money from the $15 million Local Communities Facilities Fund for the purchase of nets for behind the goal posts. There is also the $400 000 awarded to the Bracknell Hall redevelopment that was given outside any proper merits-based process or any transparent budgetary process. The Tasmanian Echidnas Volleyball Club, with their Vice President, the candidate for Franklin, Mr Dean Young MP, procured a $100 000 grant as a result of Mr Young's connection to that organisation.

Again, I really feel for these organisations that have been singled out and dragged through the muck because of this Local Communities Facilities Fund. It is not fair on them that they were targeted in a cynical vote-buying exercise.

If we go back to the notorious Adam Brooks, former member for Braddon, who wilfully failed to comply with the protocol established by the then premier to address Mr Brooks' conflict of interest issues between his ministerial role and his private business Maintenance Systems Solutions. Mr Brooks had failed to accurately inform the Premier about the true nature of his involvement in the industry, in his company.

We have former Liberal member for Denison, Matthew Groom whose mate, Adrian Bold, was a campaign contributor and also the advocate for the cable car, which Mr Groom put a lot of energy and effort and the resources of the department that he was administering at the time into progressing. Then, there was the changing of the management plan of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in a manner that manifestly benefited Mr Groom's brother who was part-owner of the Bernacchi Lodge, which got a special carve out in the newly re written 2016 TWWHA World Heritage Management Plan.

Just today, we saw the Pharmacy Guild of Tasmania, whose five donations worth $22 100 to the Liberal Party in the last disclosure round, paid off with the Premier announcing pharmacies can now dole out behind-the-counter medications without current repeat scripts. This is after nine years of Liberal governments driving the Health system into the ground. Another example from the recent disclosures, the Australian Forest Products Association - three donations totalling $19 150 and surprise, surprise, the Liberals' unconstitutional protest laws specifically targeting forest protestors, climate activists were pushed through the parliament. Minister Ellis belled the cat on their plans to go into the future potential production forests or reserves. Then, there is the $4000 per ticket dinner with the Premier and other ministers which was attended by a representative from the Brazilian butchers, JBS and Cooke, companies which brought Tassal and Huon Aquaculture. At that dinner, the Premier effectively said - and I am paraphrasing but I know it is true:

'We know it will be unpopular, we are committed to our 10-year salmon expansion plan', which as we know, would see fish pens in inshore waters right around this beautiful island, something that is fiercely resisted by coastal communities who recognise the damage it does to the marine environment.

Then we have ministers who own short-stay accommodation properties, like the Premier and the Deputy Premier. I understand the Deputy Premier's short stay was priced at about $2000 a week over summer. We have a massive problem with short-stay accommodation. It is unregulated and out of control and we have the Treasurer who owns a short-stay accommodation, ruling out any action to rein in short stay accommodation, so more Tasmanians can have homes.

What we know here is that the Liberals have a huge problem in understanding what a conflict of interest is and it goes back almost a decade.