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Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Tags: Integrity, Transparency, Big Business

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Thanks, Mr Deputy Speaker; the Premier was talking at the time.

This is not a particularly edifying debate to be had but it has been the subject of debate in this place over the past five years on a consistent basis because, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition outlined that litany of crimes against integrity, there have been a number of instances and a number of ministers, policies and practices where there is not a commitment to accountability or transparency and where the code of conduct often seems, for ministers, not worth the paper it was written on.

In the Premier's contribution just then he was trying to persuade the House yet again that the way they conduct themselves in relation to right to information requests is the same as the previous Labor-Greens government. That is completely, 100 per cent untrue. We have talked to the Premier at the Estimates table and asked him questions in here about continuing to use the loophole in the Right to Information Act that ensures decisions made by ministers' delegates are not subject to internal review which therefore cannot be reviewed by the Ombudsman. We have pointed that out to the Premier a number of times but it continues to be used. We saw it at the Estimates table this year when Mr Gutwein had delegated a decision to his secretary, Mr Evans, and it was clear that that RTI request which related to the expressions of interest process, a corrupted process for development in protected areas, was not able to be reviewed and therefore the people of Tasmania are no wiser.

We have the question of integrity before us, and as I was listening to the contribution before I was thinking about the state election campaign. If you ever wanted an example of a government that has a problem with integrity, it is the policies they took to the election on gambling, the money they accepted from the gambling industry and the money they knew was flowing to other backers of the Liberals. That is what points to a hollowness inside the Liberals in government. As Ms O'Byrne pointed out, we have had Mr Brooks three times tell an untruth at the Estimates table. We had the former minister, Mr Groom, in that short space of about four metres between his ministerial chair and the dispatch box, decide to tell a lie.

This Government has a problem with integrity. There is an evasiveness about them. There is a lack of respect for parliamentary processes. There is a degree of contempt for the public's right to know. We have seen that at the Estimates table, going right back 2014. We see it in the sneakiness around right to information applications. We see it in the absolute opacity of the process to allow commercial exploitation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and other protected areas.

We see it in that quango, the Office of the Coordinator-General, which rolls out the red carpet for private developers, hawks public assets on behalf of the Liberal Government, refuses to be open with the people of Tasmania about its negotiations, the leases and licences that are signed through that office. It is absolutely an entity which has huge potential for corruption. When you have conversations happening behind closed doors between big business, big private developers and government and the result of those conversations is hidden behind commercial-in-confidence every single time, that is a recipe for corruption.

We have an expressions-of-interest process which requires proponents do not speak about the development they have put forward. They cannot speak about it unless they have the approval of the minister. We are talking about public protected areas, public Crown lands - we know they are being hawked - public resources funding the Office of the Coordinator-General, public resources funding the minister's salary and that of his advisers and yet, on every count, those decisions and negotiations hide behind commercial-in-confidence.

We are here talking about integrity because of the spectacular fall from grace of the former minister for Primary Industries. As I said in front of the cameras yesterday, we need to acknowledge people make mistakes. We do not always think about the consequences of our actions when we are in the middle of making a mistake. This goes to every decision that was made by the previous minister, whether it was on the basis of independent and impartial advice. When you look at the ministerial code of conduct, which may or may not be worth the paper it is written on, the section that relates to conflicts of interest says:

Any material conflict between a Member's private interest and his or her official duties which arises must be resolved promptly in favour of the public interest.

We do not know when this relationship began but it would appear there was not a resolution promptly in favour of the public interest. The Code of Conduct for Ministers says:

So as to protect and uphold the public interest, Ministers must take reasonable steps to avoid, resolve or disclose any material conflict of interest, financial or non-financial …

Ministers must declare any such conflict of interest in writing to the Premier as soon as possible after becoming aware of the conflict.

Ministers are individually responsible for preventing conflicts of interest.

Did the former minister for Primary Industries inform the Premier in writing? That is an important question for the House to know the answer to.