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Infrastructure and Transport - Ministerial Staff Conduct

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Housing, Local Government, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Is this a good place to talk about your staff in your office and whether or not they are behaving in a proper manner on the public dime?

Mr FERGUSON - If you want to make political point scoring on my staff, I can't see a better opportunity for you than today, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. It's not about political point scoring, it's about the expenditure of public funds. You have an adviser, Mr Behrakis, who is an elected representative from the Hobart City Council.

Mr FERGUSON - You don't like him, do you?

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't mind Simon at all, to be honest. But what I do mind is him trolling Hobart City Council when he's apparently supposed to be working for you. I gather that at 10.45 a.m. on Thursday 26 August he was in your office when he was trolling council about North Hobart parking on 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 25 August, trolling council about a development decision and at 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 August trolling council. What do you know? And on it goes. For many days, minister -

Mr FERGUSON - Looks like you've been trolling him.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, this has been provided to us by frustrated people. Do you think it's appropriate to have someone on your staff who spends a fair bit of time in your office self-promoting and trolling the Hobart City Council?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, thank you for the question. I think you're opposed to Mr Behrakis's politics -

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I am definitely opposed to his politics.

Mr FERGUSON - And I think that you are quite challenged by the fact that he calls out anti-development people on the council who may well be close friends of yours.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am challenged that he does it on the taxpayer's dime.

Mr FERGUSON - I will happily take advice on the matter but I do not have any advice in relation to that. I have had no complaints raised with me that I am aware of but he is a very hardworking and effective member of my staff. He is -

Ms O'CONNOR - What sort of advice do you need to get?

Mr FERGUSON - Excuse me. He is doing a great job supporting the Government in delivering thousands more homes for people who need them.

Ms O'CONNOR - What sort of advice do you think you need to get to know that Mr Behrakis, on the taxpayer's dime, is using his time and his council profile to attack the Hobart City Council when he should be helping people find affordable homes?

Mr FERGUSON - I assure the committee that I will do due diligence on this matter but I assure the committee that Mr Behrakis is fully committed to the task. He does not work from 9 to 5. I will explore the matter further. If I feel that there is any discipline or recriminations that should be levelled at him I will let you know. I would be very doubtful and I am happy to take advice. Mr Behrakis works at all sorts of odd hours as a ministerial staffer, as most of them do.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you saying that he does not work Monday to Friday?

Mr FERGUSON - No, Ms O'Connor, you have completely twisted that. What I am saying is that Mr Behrakis works weekends, nights and outside of the usual working hours as any ministerial staffer does. So as to not allow you a free kick on this, I am happy to take advice on the matter and respond accordingly.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is my last question. When you say you are happy to take advice, you are the minister, you are the boss in that office, there is evidence. All you have to do is check his and the Hobart City Council's Facebook pages. What sort of advice could you possibly need to know that this is an abuse of taxpayers' money?

Mr FERGUSON - I have answered the question. I am very comfortable with my answer. Unlike yourself I have not had the time to go and look at Mr Behrakis's Facebook page but I am happy to do so. That is my answer and thank you for your question today.

Ms O'CONNOR - This information was presented to me. All we know is that on any given day of the week at all times, Mr Behrakis is trolling council.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you confirm your adviser, Mr Behrakis, was at work as your adviser at these times?

10.45 a.m. Thursday 26 August

10.30 a.m. Wednesday 25 August

11.30 a.m. Tuesday 24 August

10.30 a.m. Tuesday 17 August

10 a.m. Monday 16 August

2.11 p.m. Tuesday, 10 August; 10.16 a.m. 10 August

He was very busy that day trolling council and describing environmental protestors as 'scumbags'.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, how many of these times are there?

Ms O'CONNOR - That's a very good question, actually. There are only two, Chair.

2.07 p.m. Monday 9 August

11 a.m. Friday 6 August

Mr FERGUSON - Are you asking me to confirm if he was at his desk at those hours?

Ms O'CONNOR - At work under a Crown prerogative contract at those hours.

Mr FERGUSON - Thanks for the legal advice. I'll take advice, as I said that I would do, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Who from?

Mr FERGUSON - You're attacking a member of my staff.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I'm not. I'm asking you.

Mr FERGUSON - You don't like him because he exercises his free speech rights. He is an alderman on the Hobart City Council.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's not the question.

Mr FERGUSON - He manages his time appropriately, but I will further check the matter and if I have anything further to say, I will let you know.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, this is the third time you've said you'll seek advice. I'm not sure who the higher authority is other than the Premier and why the Premier would have any role in the workplace arrangements that you have with Mr Behrakis or any of your staff. Do you think it's appropriate that a person being paid under a Crown prerogative contract somewhere in the vicinity, I gather, of $90 to $100 000 a year is - on the taxpayer's dime - spending significant amounts of time, on an almost daily basis, attacking Hobart City Council or environmentalists?

Mr FERGUSON - I'm not squeamish about this, and I can inform you again, that all of my staff work hours much in excess of nine to five, Monday to Friday. We are a seven day a week Government, and I have great support from my staff throughout the week. I'm forever in touch with them and asking them to do things for me, for example, responding to community and media inquiries at all hours of the day and night. I've told you that I will seek advice on this matter, but I won't be letting you get a free political pot-shot on this. I'll take advice, and if I have anything further that might reflect that I'm as concerned as you are about it, I'll let you know.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is not about a political pot-shot.

Mr FERGUSON - It is, because you're defending your Greens friends on the Hobart City Council.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I'm not. I'm trying to discern how taxpayer's money is being spent through your office, when we can wait weeks and months for acknowledgment of correspondence. Your office is one of the worst offenders. Now we find out that Mr Behrakis, on a Crown prerogative contract, is spending a lot of working time posting about Hobart City Council. Will you ensure that Mr Behrakis ceases to self promote and troll council while he's working under a Crown prerogative contract?

Mr FERGUSON - I've answered the question, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you haven't. You need to reassure the committee that you'll have some control over your staff who are on a Crown prerogative contract.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, we're moving on.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will ask the question again in Housing -

CHAIR - As you're entitled to do, Ms O'Connor.