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Estimates Reply - Premier Gutwein

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Political Leadership, Transparency

Ms O'CONNOR - I rise to provide some observations of Estimates Committee A with the Premier, Treasurer, Minister for Climate Change and Minister for Tourism last Monday. As I was going through the Hansard and reflecting on the exchanges across the table, I wondered if the Premier had not had a sip of chamomile tea or something. It was a very different Premier from the one I have encountered at the Estimates table in recent years, a very different Mr Gutwein. I thought you were somewhat less combative and I felt that we -

Mr Gutwein - I am sorry if I disappointed you.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, the Premier did not disappoint me. I expected there to be something a bit Leon Compton-esque about some of the exchanges but that was not to be. Given the gravity of the announcement the Premier made that morning, it was appropriate that there be a measure of calm at the table.

The first thing I want to say on behalf of the Greens, is how pleased we are that a commission of inquiry will be established into how children have been and are treated in Tasmania, particularly those children who are in state settings or whose safety is affected by the processes and policies of the state, at places like the Launceston General Hospital, Ashley Youth Detention Centre and in our public education system.

In 2003, the now Premier crossed the floor to support a commission of inquiry. Those calls for a commission of inquiry first came from my predecessor as the member for Clark and former Greens Leader, Peg Putt. It is a gutsy move to establish a commission of inquiry, particularly for a Government that has a streak of control-freakery about it and always wants to control the message. As the Premier has said, this process of the commission of inquiry is going to be very difficult. It will be particularly difficult for survivors and their families. It is going to be difficult for people who hear the evidence. It is going to be quite hard for some people who have worked or are currently working in government agencies. It will lead to some very emotional scenes. When it comes back to this House, it will be a reckoning.

I encourage the Premier to make sure that the scope of the terms of reference are as broad and inclusive as they can be and that there is full protection provided for witnesses and whistleblowers who come forward. We now know that there has been a cultural and generational culture of secrecy and cover-up about how children and young people are treated in Tasmania. It has to end.

On this rare occasion, I do not agree with the commissioner for children's observations about when we talk about this, and how we talk about it. If we do not talk about the abuse of children, if there is not sunlight cast on this wicked problem, then predators will continue to find their way into paid or volunteer employment positions where they can continue to harm children. We need to have an inclusive terms of reference protection for whistleblowers, a capacity to hear difficult truths, and the greatest measure of transparency that it is possible to have.

The observations that the Greens made this morning about the fact that the commission of inquiry will take at least a year to do its vital work and then there will be implementation measures that will need to be put in place, should not take away from the Government dealing with obvious flaws in the system that have been laid bare by the Griffin matter.

There are things the Government can do right now so that when someone reports either historical or current abuse allegations, for example, the officer who takes that report should be able to go straight to the working with vulnerable people database and determine whether that person, who is the subject of a sexual abuse allegation, is still working with children.

We have put together a time line painstakingly of the past two years as they relate to the Launceston General Hospital and to the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. As we know, Mr Griffin worked at both places. What we can see when we examine that time line rationally is that there were decisions made along the way, following the original complaint, which arguably allowed for a predator to be in a state setting with responsibility for children for longer than they should have been.

There are still many outstanding questions about why it took three months for Griffin's working with vulnerable people registration to be cancelled. Why it took two months or more for Tasmania Police to work out that Mr Griffin was employed at the Launceston General Hospital. Why there was not a more immediate notification of Northern Tasmanian Netball Association. There are a whole series of questions here but while the commission of inquiry is being established the Government needs to have a look at some of those processes, some of those decision-making points and determine what immediate action can be taken to make sure, to the greatest extent possible, every law, every regulation, every policy, every procedure is about creating the safest place in Australia for children and young people.

We are long way from there right now. I encourage the Premier to have a look at some of those matters that have come up. We are happy to share the time line we made with you. I am sure you have your own.

It raises some serious questions about how we respond to people who come forward alleging abuse. I encourage the Premier, who I know feels very strongly about this, to take a close personal interest in that matter.

We talked at some length about the regrettable brand that the Liberal Government has made for itself going back some six years of being the most secretive Government in my living memory. That unfortunate label has now been attached to Tasmania, particularly as a result of the Ombudsman's report, that we are the secret state. This is the consequence of a series of decisions that have been made going back to 2014. The Premier's former chief of staff, who now works for a lobbying company in Hobart, was probably right in the thick of that decision-making matrix which decided that it was better to withhold information from the public so that all we have of the Premier is good news.

It is clear from the Greens' point of view that what has happened as a consequence is departmental agencies have worked out what the Government wants. That is being reflected in the right to information responses that we are getting. It has become cultural. That kind of secrecy that has led to that culture, regrettably, comes from arrogance. It comes from a sense of entitlement. At some level it comes from a fear of exposure or loss of power. As I have said many times, good governments have nothing hide. It is not too late to turn this around on this Premier's watch in this term of the parliament. Having a conversation with the Ombudsman was a good start but we need to see tangible and concrete responses. There needs to be a clear directive given to government agencies that they will apply the full letter and spirit of the Right to Information Act. As the Ombudsman's Report makes clear, not only is the act not being followed but the spirit and intent of the act is being undermined.

What a shame that members only have 10 minutes to cover four portfolios.