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Estimates Reply - Treasurer

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tags: Corruption, Lake Malbena, Coordinator-General, Parks EOIs, Federal Group, Treasury Building

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Chairman, again, this year the most mindnumbingly frustrating and dishonest Estimates session from my point of view was with the Treasurer. If you want one example of why this Treasurer holds the public's right to know in contempt it is what Mr Bacon was saying about the expenditure review committee of Cabinet. The breathtaking arrogance of a Treasurer who thinks he can sit at a parliamentary committee table scrutinising the Budget and not tell members who is on the razor gang of Cabinet is unprecedented in this place. It is just one example of this Treasurer's complete disdain for transparency, accountability and the public's right to know.

We got into a patch of unpleasantness towards the end of that subcommittee session where I said that I found what Mr Gutwein was doing to this island depressing and bordering on corrupt. Now I am going to elaborate on why I used the word 'corrupt'. I go now to the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics from the Harvard School of Ethics. It talks about institutional corruption defined by Lawrence Lessig. Here is the definition:

Institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal or even currently ethical that undermines the institution's effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public's trust in that institution or the institution's inherent trustworthiness.

I would argue that over the past five years, the public's faith in institutions in this state has been eroded by the Government. From a Greens point of view, there is no clearer and sadder an example than what the Government is doing to the Parks and Wildlife Service. The Parks and Wildlife Service has gone from its core objective, which is to protect and manage Tasmania's reserve estate, that is, to protect those attributes that made those places so special, the parliament decided to set them aside in the first place.

What we know about the Parks and Wildlife Service and what we saw at the Estimates table last week in the Premier and Minister for Parks' Estimates and in the Minister for State Growth's Estimates, is that the Parks and Wildlife Service has become a sad shadow of its former self as its core objective now apparently is to facilitate the exploitation of Tasmania's reserve estate and protected areas.

The institutional corruption goes deeper than that. It is engrained in this Government and in this Treasurer. In last year's Estimates we had to put up with the Treasurer, when answering a question, saying 'I don't believe' or 'I do believe'. We had three different answers to one question about whether the Treasurer was active in the seeking of Solicitor-General's advice on the Lake Malbena appeal. The first answer was 'I don't believe'. The second was 'I don't recall' and the third answer, after some back and forth between him and his advisers, was 'I didn't'. We had three separate answers. We still don't know which one of them is true, so we have that.

We have the dishonesty over the expenditure review committee. We have the complete opacity over the expressions of interest process for development in protected areas. What we found out at the table last week, is that a process which is already opaque, which already provides almost zero opportunity for public input, has been made more opaque. There was stage 1 of the expressions of interest process where the developers lined up, were given the red-carpet treatment to the Office of the Coordinator-General, have their proposals approved by the former minister for state growth, Mr Groom, and then three years later the public finds out about it. Then we have the Lake Malbena appeal.

Now it is worse. At least then you could have a look at the Department of State Growth website and work out what proponents wanted to exploit what parts of our reserve estate. Now it has been confirmed by this Treasurer, that process will not even happen anymore. Stage 2 of what we now know is an open-ended expressions of interest process has been made more secretive. It is scandalous. It is a classic example of institutional corruption. That is what I accuse this Treasurer of, standing here today, just as I did at the Estimates table last week. He has, through the expressions of interest process, along with the Minister for Parks, corrupted the purpose of the Parks and Wildlife Service. He has made them a tool of the Department of State Growth.

We ask the Minister for Parks about the expressions of interest process. He says, 'Talk to the Minister for State Growth'. We ask the Minister for State Growth about the expressions of interest process and he says, 'Commercial-in-confidence and you should have raised this with the Minister for Parks'. Around and around we go.

Anyone would think that these reserved lands were the Liberals to hawk. They are not. They belong to the people of Tasmania. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is the only World Heritage Property with the word 'wilderness' in its name. It belongs to the people of Tasmania. It was never ceded by the palawa pakana. It certainly was never ceded to commercial developers. Again, the decent processes of government have been corrupted by the Treasurer and by this Government. We have developers actually calling the shots for the expressions of interest process.

When I asked the Coordinator-General why there would be no transparency on stage 2, he said that the proponents had said to him that the process before was a bit too bureaucratic and unwieldy. What happened? Immediately the Government, through the Office of the Coordinator-General, then makes that process less transparent. Institutional corruption.

Then we have the lingering stench of the amount of money that poured into the Liberals' election campaign from the gambling industry. The foul and overpowering smell of money that has been pulled out of the pockets of some of our poorest people and funnelled into any one of Federal Group's 3500 poker machines in this state; money that was used to fund an election win. Money which was repaid in full after the election when the Tasmanian Hospitality Association is gifted an extra $4.8 million. The THA gets its $6.8 million after the election. When we put to the Treasurer during the campaign, or the journalists put it to him on our behalf, that the donations law might need some reform he said, 'We think the current system is working well'. Yes, of course, he does because he is the beneficiary of a corrupted system where dirty money, blood money, money that comes from misery, is being funnelled into a Liberal election win. I will never retract the statement that I made at the Estimates table last Tuesday night because it is true.

Anywhere you look at definitions of institutional corruption, this Government and this Treasurer come to mind. I went back earlier to my submission to the Joint Select Committee on Ethical Conduct which I made in August 2008, about a month after I was elected, but it was through the prism of campaign to save Ralphs Bay. Academic Max Philp has a definition of political corruption which I opened the submission with. It is -

The sense of a thing being changed from its naturally sound condition into something unsound, impure, debased, infected.

What has happened to decent government in the last five years is, I believe, political corruption. This Government has taken money from the gambling industry. This Government rolls over every time a developer walks in and says, 'I want this'. They say, 'Yes'. We now have a Treasurer going to an election, not having told the people of Tasmania that he wanted to flog the Treasury building, coming back in here three weeks after the election and announcing that it is his plan to sell the Treasury building. That building, like the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, belongs to the people of Tasmania. It is not Mr Gutwein's to sell. Even if it were, even if he had the power, truly the power, he should talk to the owners of that building. It is very clear to me that the Liberal establishment has got through to Mr Gutwein because his language most certainly has changed in relation to the sale of the Treasury building. It went from last year, saying, 'We are going to sell this place', to this year, 'Divestment comes in many forms. We may even keep part of the building'.

I certainly hope, Mr Gutwein, that those good old Liberals got in your ear and told you how corrupt they thought that decision was to sell the Treasury building without reference to the people of Tasmania, who own it.

Again, we get the answers back from the questions on notice. Again, complete dishonesty on every page. Does not answer questions. It is typical of this Treasurer.