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Integrity Commission - Investigations into Government Members

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 10 March 2022

Tags: Integrity Commission, Integrity

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, before I make my substantive contribution on the adjournment, I too want to acknowledge the courage and extraordinary bravery of the victim/survivor who is the subject of questions today. I know that the response of some government members to the question that was asked today has caused that wonderful person deep trauma. I acknowledge that the Premier has come here and done the right thing and there are a number of other government members who need to do the same. We need to, at every step of the way, respect victim/survivors. We did not see that in here this morning.

Today the Australia Institute released its damning report on the Tasmanian Integrity Commission. What we know is that only six of 55 recommendations from the Cox Review have been implemented over the past six years. We also know that the Integrity Commission has lost public trust because it has never held public hearings because it has only made two referrals on further investigation.

One of the concerns we have in respect to the Integrity Commission is the soft touch the Integrity Commission often takes in respect to allegations against members of government. The first report I want to discuss is the report of an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the then minister for Human Services and her chief of staff. In a nutshell, the allegations were that the then minister for Human Services' chief of staff attempted to stop the then commissioner for children, Mr Mark Morrissey, from corresponding and writing with the minister to prevent this correspondence from being captured by right to information requests.

Throughout the report the commission consistently accepts the chief of staff's version of events without much justification. This is despite the fact that the former commissioner for children had no motivation to lie and made contemporaneous notes of the meeting.

In their findings against multiple allegations, the Integrity Commission cites the 'Commissioner's tendency at times to perceive a slight when none was intended' as a reason for the 'misunderstanding'. No evidence is proffered for this character assessment of the former children's commissioner. It is not a character trait the Greens believe Mr Morrissey possesses. He is a deeply thoughtful, honest, and reasonable man of great integrity.

The chief of staff in question claimed that the motivation for the request to Mr Morrissey to cease putting matters in writing was effectively to avoid unnecessary work. This alleged motivation was not critically examined at all by the Integrity Commission. It seems unlikely the chief of staff would risk breaching the independence of a commissioner for children solely to save a little time. Furthermore, the chief of staff claimed she had no recollection of referencing the RTI Act, but observed if she had, it was likely as a means to persuade the commissioner on the basis that would put the personal details of the children at risk. Frankly, it is hard to swallow that Mr Morrissey was not aware of the need to protect the privacy of children and young people.

This was also accepted by the Integrity Commission, despite the fact that it was a very detailed hypothetical proposition. It seems unlikely that the commissioner who made the contemporaneous notes, Mr Morrissey, would not have heard this context. It is also worth noting that both the Right to Information Act and the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act would prevent this information from being released anyway. Both the chief of staff for the then minister of Human Services and the commissioner for children and young people at the time would have known this very well.

When reading this report, it looks very much like conjecture - bold claims, that seemingly come from nowhere and the benefit of the doubt is extended at every turn to support the claims of a ministerial staffer. Yet there is absolutely no critical analysis of the credibility of the staff person's claims. The lack of the use of integrity tribunals means a reader of this report, the one I refer to, is left with no evidence to support some of the claims made by the report.

The other report I want to discuss is the summary of an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the Work Health and Safety regulator, government ministers and ministerial staff. Again, in this report the commission comes down firmly on the side of the minister and their staff at every turn. The report claims:

No government member or ministerial staff will pressure the regulator to serve the notice.

It does not preface this claim with observations of insufficient evidence to conclusively determine this. It just says it did not happen.

This is despite the fact that the then WorkSafe regulator, Mr Cocker, claims that he was pressured by both the Attorney-General and a staff member of the Attorney-General. In support of their finding, the Integrity Commission cites the denial from the Attorney-General, the AG staff and claims from two agency staff that they did not recall this. Again, critical analysis is lacking when it comes to any support for Mr Cocker's claims but plenty of supposition is used to support the Attorney-General. The report claims that:

If such questions had been asked, one would expect such experienced and senior public officers to recognise them as improper and have some recollection even several months later.

The report, however, does not mention this query being put to the agency staff. Rather than simply making this claim, why not put it to the officers and see what they have to say? Indeed, you would expect that agency staff would say some words to this effect if they were confident that these events did not occur. They did not.

Nor does the report acknowledge the reality that agency staff might be hesitant to throw their minister under the bus. Despite this supposition in respect of what senior staff would likely be able to recall, they do not go anywhere near the more obvious question - this is the Integrity Commission - why on earth would Mr Cocker lie? Mr Cocker maintained that although the Government pressured him to serve a notice on the BBF, an act which he eventually did, this pressure did not influence his decision.

If Mr Cocker fabricated the government pressure in his testimony, he would have fabricated evidence that worked against his claims that he did not act under pressure. He would also have fabricated evidence that would make it difficult for him to find future employment in the State Service. What would he have to gain from such fabrication? Nothing. On the other hand, he had plenty to lose.

Again, if this matter had gone to a tribunal as the seriousness of the allegations would warrant, the full context of testimonies would be public. Instead, all we have is this analysis/ hypothesis and supposition of the Commission outside of their proper context, an assessment that any objective observer would know consistently comes down on the side of ministers and ministerial staff and rarely applies the same degree of analysis of evidence against the interests of a minister or their staff.