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Estimates Reply – Archer

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Justice, Commission of Inquiry, Royal Commission, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - I have a few comments on Ms Archer's portfolios. We had a thorough airing of a lot of issues and that was a useful conversation. I want to go to the royal commission recommendations. This is very important year for Tasmania because we will shortly be receiving the commission of inquiry report and the response to that. It is our great concern that the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse, which handed down its findings five-and-a-half years ago now, on 15 December 2017, has shown for us some of the difficulties that we have as a state in the way that agencies and their relationship between them are structured. We have had difficulties that have come to light in the commission of inquiry hearings in the Attorney-General being able to progress some of the commission's recommendations and this was not testimony from the minister, obviously.

Ms Archer - Some commenced, but not finished yet.

Dr WOODRUFF - It was from, I believe it was from the secretary. It relates to the capacity or perhaps the incapacity of the Department of Justice to be able to direct other agencies to hurry up with fulfilling requirements to make changes that are necessary to uphold the full spirit of particular royal commission recommendations. Where it stands is that there were 304 of the 409 recommendations made by the royal commission that relate to Tasmania; of those, 70 per cent have been completed. The minister is responsible for the completion of those and I believe that she has done some very good work. Five-and-a-half years is a long time, but I accept that the changes that have been made have been substantial and important law reforms, and that takes time to do it well.

However, the Greens are concerned that a number of them are being unreasonably delayed. I am not pointing to the minister in this, but I think it is a whole of government responsibility and so I would take the responsibility, ultimately, to the Premier, Mr Rockliff, and the Cabinet in failing to be very clear about prioritising, in particular, recommendation 14.4, which relates to independent, state and territory oversight bodies implementing the Child Safe Standards, establishing a free email subscription function, and it is a recommendation relating to the sport and recreation sector.

This is very important - and they are all important - but this has not been done and it will, as Ms Archer said, 'be considered with the progression of the Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework'. That just leaves me cold because that means that these are probably within Mr Jaensch's portfolio responsibilities and I have deep concerns that that minister's incapacity and his lack of strength of will to be able to progress things quickly in his portfolio. To have this very important responsibility sitting in that portfolio, I think there is a problem with progressing through these recommendations that is going to stand the Government in poor stead when it comes to the commission of inquiry, unless a process is established that enables an agency, such as the Department of Justice, that gives power to that agency and the secretary of that agency to be more directive to secretaries of other agencies or a process in Cabinet - I do not know, I am not there - to give some real teeth. To me, from watching the commission of inquiry hearings, it was very clear that there were times where agency heads did not act as they ought to have done under the law and everyone was pointing fingers at everybody else. Someone has to be in charge and we have to have a process. I am sure the minister is turning her mind to how we can do things better with the commission of inquiry findings so that we do not end up with some ministers progressing essential recommendations quickly within their portfolio responsibilities and others letting them languish for months or years. That is not good enough. I will just park that because I know the minister is capable of understanding the complexity of what needs to be done.

Ending on a less happy note, I am sorry to say, minister, but we did have a robust conversation about the TASCAT appointments. I understand the argument you are making, that you were presented with the recommendations of a panel for who should be new appointees to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal. You did not appoint a number of people who were recommended and you did make appointments for people who had not been on the list of recommended people. The people who did not make the cut were Robin Banks, the former anti-discrimination commissioner, and Greg Barns SC, both highly credentialed and esteemed people. We do not accept that this is satisfactory and we do not accept the argument that it is about keeping the good name of TASCAT appointees away from politics because there are many people who have made the cut, who have views that would sit very comfortably with a certain side of politics and maybe not be so well supported in others. It is more about the capacity of a person in that role to do the job in that role in a completely professional way. I think it smears the good names of Robin Banks and Greg Barns that they were overlooked for those positions. Yes, they are outspoken and they are passionate people; yes, they care deeply for the community and they have very strong feelings about justice and they speak out when they see injustice. Still, both of them appear all around the state and the country in a range of legal roles and there is no doubt that in each of those roles, and each of the areas that they speak, they attend to the matter at hand and give it the full focus outside of any of their personal views. They look at the matter at hand. That is why they are so well regarded because they attend to the details in front of them. It sets a very poor standard for the Government to be dipping into these recommendations and overturning them.

What it says it that when Mr Ferguson, the Minister for Planning, has taken under his wing the responsibility of considering what we should do with local councils and their roles as planning authorities, the same minister who, as a kind of planning overlord, has been seeking to reach in and has overturned decisions of councils. When you have that sort of stuff happening and you see that the responsibility for looking at the role as councils as a planning authority has been taken out of the local government reform process and given to Mr Ferguson as Planning minister, I am very concerned about where that might go in terms of making decisions about people who are politically unpalatable. I think there is a precedent that has been set, unfortunately. I know we disagree on that but it is precedent that shouldn't have been set because it sends a bad signal.