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Estimates Reply - Archer

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Tags: Transparency, Right to Information, Justice

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Deputy Chair, I want to make some comments about the parts of the minister's portfolio responsibilities I asked questions in.  They were in relation to Attorney-General and Justice and Arts.

There is a lot to talk about in Attorney-General and Justice, but I want to point to the conversation that we had about right to information and funding of the right to information.  I asked the minister to reflect on the Premier's commitment that he had made earlier on Monday 6 June when he said in his Estimates committee that he was keen to increase transparency in relation to media inquiries, departmental responses, and the timing of right to information requests.  It comes on the back of evidence that was provided to the commission of inquiry where it was very clear that the failures in the right to information processes that are numerous and ongoing from this Government are at least in part symptomatic of a cultural problem.

I asked the minister what she is doing to address the cultural aversion to transparency that afflicts this Liberal Government.  We have heard from the previous premier, Peter Gutwein, exactly the same words as those uttered by Mr Rockliff.  It is all very well to talk about making a commitment to increasing transparency but we all know we can see from the evidence of the sports rorts and the cover up of the election pork barrelling commitments that were made by Liberal candidates before the 2021 election that nothing has changed.

It was only because the Greens uncovered this by accident ourselves when we came across some hardware that had been in the Government's use at one time, I understand, that we found a list of the documents used by the Liberal Party to provide forms to election candidates and to incumbent MPs so that they could go forth into the community and buy votes by making commitments in a non merit-based process to people in the community.  Buy off a few votes here and a few votes there.  We do not know yet, Chair, we have not got to the bottom of it but we are not going to stop until we know the truth.

It is that sort of transparency that people crave.  It is pretty clear from the results in the federal election that Australians voted with their feet for an integrity commission and they want one with teeth.  They want one which has public displays of openness where we can see what is happening.  We can see public servants and members of parliament be accountable for the decisions they have made with our money, being accountable for the cover-ups that are made to try to hide a trail of bribery, or preferences, or influence.  There are whole range of ways that people can misuse public money.  It is not always about bribery.  It can be a whole lot of forms of soft power.

People have a right to know how their hard-earned dollars are spent and the Greens are on the people's side.  We are with the people in wanting to know how our taxpayer's money is spent.  We are quite keen to hold Premier Jeremy Rockliff to his word and make sure that he is as good as his promise to do something about right to information.  It has not happened under the previous two Liberal premiers.

This is why I was hoping minister Archer would talk about her portfolio responsibilities and what she would do to deal with the cultural aversion to transparency.  Instead, she did not go there.  She went straight to the Ombudsman and tried to talk about funding to the Ombudsman; not the question I asked.  It is quite clear that the Ombudsman should have as much money as he needs to do the work that he does; that is not the question.  The point is that the Ombudsman is at the end of the trail.  The beginning of the trail of transparency and accountability starts with governments providing information to people in the community. 

That is where right to information officers sit in each department.  They are responsible for each department's inquiries.  What we have are right to information officers who clearly work in a culture where they are being required to do whatever they can to overly redact requests for information, to hide things under commercial-in-confidence when they should not be there, to delay the process and make it as drawn out as possible, to put essentially as many hurdles in place as they can so that people's questions either never get answered, or they might take months and months before they do.  Often, they will end up in the Ombudsman's office because the right to information section in departments simply will not play ball, and they end up running people into the ground.

The minister, Ms Archer, did not address that question at all.  Talking about culture setting, when we heard the evidence from the head of the State Service, Jenny Gale, during the commission of inquiry, it is pretty clear that senior public servants in Tasmania have no idea what setting culture is about.  They have no idea about the responsibility of people.  Most senior people - the most senior secretaries in the state - did not see it as their responsibility to be setting the culture for child safety principles.  That is something they thought front-facing workers would be doing.  It was not their job.  Well, it is the job of every minister, it is the job of every secretary, to make sure that we have departments that are committed to transparency and accountability.  It is not just about throwing some money at the Ombudsman.

I want to also mention the discussion we had about the Arts portfolio, and I make no bones about completely disagreeing with minister Archer's argument that there has not been a $25 million cut to the Arts budget.  There has been.  There has been $25 million less investment over the forward Estimates in Arts.  You can call it a cut or you can call it a lack of investment, but $25 million less is going to support and nurture development funds and arts sector funding in Tasmania over the next four years.

Ms Archer - It was COVID‑19 money.  It was COVID‑19 funding for COVID-19.

Dr WOODRUFF - I know the minister likes to pretend that funding stops, but it was actually a pool of grants funding which has been discontinued.

Ms Archer - For COVID‑19.

Dr WOODRUFF - The minister makes the argument that COVID‑19 is over when that is not the reality.

Ms Archer - I didn't say it was over.

Dr WOODRUFF - You said we are in the recovery and transition phase or in the relief and recovery phase.  That is not how people in the arts sector are experiencing the current situation in Tasmania.  They are experiencing extreme cost‑of‑living pressures.  They are people who are in insecure work with very low wages relative to other people in the community in general.  It is not a sector which is well endowed.  There are tiny little echelons in that sector that are well endowed but they sit on top of a huge mountain of people who have barely a wage to rub between their hands when it comes to trying to find money to buy groceries and just getting on with life.

We have a sector which has been hard hit and unsupported for the last two years by the federal government, and now the state Liberals are pulling the rug out too.  It is shameful and it is a joke that Minister Archer pretends that something that is not in the forward Estimates does not mean it is a zero.  If it is not there, it is not there.  We had an amusing conversation, if anyone wants to go back and look at the Hansard, about what the forward Estimates mean.  The forward Estimates are an indication of how the Government is going to spend its money.  Ask the Treasurer.  That is what they do.  What we see in the Arts Budget is that there is a gap in those years, and that means money is not going into that area that ought to be.

There is also a gap in the two years of money that is going to the Ombudsman so there is not a great commitment to increasing right to information transparency when we have zero going towards the Ombudsman in the out-years of the Budget.

Time expired.