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Integrity in Government

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Tags: Integrity, Ministerial Accountability, Conflict of Interest

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, before I make my substantive contribution on this matter of integrity, I want to note that has not been noted by the Government, the Premier, or the Health minister today, and that is today we have seen an uptick in confirmed, reported COVID-19 cases, from 734 yesterday to 957 today.

If we are talking about the Premier's integrity and the integrity of his Government we are not going to let the opportunity pass to remind Tasmanians that this is the same Premier who, after being warned effectively by the World Health Organisation not to describe Omicron as 'mild', kept using the word 'mild.' He has never acknowledged long COVID and the devastating, disabling effect that can and will have on Tasmanians. He has not acknowledged that at this point today, as far as we know, 46 000 Tasmanians have been infected by a deadly disabling virus. We had the Premier in here this morning trying to claim credit for the fact that hospitalisations have been kept low. How about giving credit to the people of Tasmania, who effectively shielded themselves from 15 December by wearing masks, socially distancing and staying at home?

The Government cannot claim credit for the numbers that we are seeing so far, but if they want to claim credit for anything it is the fact that 46 000 Tasmanians have been infected by a deadly, disabling virus that produces long-term consequences. We have had the Premier not telling the truth to Tasmanians about this virus and the effect that it may have on them.

We are talking today about two things. We are talking about the conduct of a minister for the Crown in relation to a relationship that she had with a high-profile CEO of the JackJumpers. People fall in love and lust all the time. That is not the issue here. The issue is whether there is a conflict of interest that affected a minister of the Crown's capacity to do her job properly and within the confines of the ministerial code of conduct. We do not know the answer to that question.

The Labor Party today peppered the Government with a series of questions that were uncomplicated, that simply sought to establish some facts around this matter. What we got from the Premier was his most aggressive and defensive performance I have seen in this place in some time. What it did, regrettably for the Government, is fanned the flames. It is the old adage: where there is smoke there is fire. If you do not have a Premier who can stand up and honestly answer questions about the conduct of a former minister, it does simply fan the flames of suspicion.

In relation to Ms Howlett's given reasons for resigning; on behalf of the Greens I want to express my sympathy to Ms Howlett. It is the most devastating thing to lose a sibling. I know. I was a minister of the Crown when my sister took her life in July 2013. It is fair to say that at the time on the Opposition benches, the Liberal benches, the milk of human kindness had curdled because we got question after question, including to a minister whose sister had killed herself, about a tragic spate of suicides at Taroona High School. There was no sympathy then for a minister who was grieving.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Point of order. The record will show we apologised to Ms O'Connor at the time because we were unaware of that situation. We did give our condolences and express our regret to Ms O'Connor because we were not aware of that situation. Again I express my condolences to Ms O'Connor. At the time we were not aware of that situation otherwise we would not have asked that question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Petrusma. I might point out at the time at least one of your members was aware because they texted me their sympathies before that question time.

Mrs Petrusma - After the case was -

Ms O'CONNOR - No. I've still got the text. No. One of your members at the time who chose to ask me questions about suicide after my sister had killed herself knew full well. I would like that placed on the record.

I do express sympathy to Ms Howlett. I can imagine right now that she is having a very difficult time. It would be really good if we could have this discussion without harming or causing more grief to Ms Howlett but a parliament's task is to seek the truth, a parliament's task is to aim for transparency

Ms Archer - If it is relevant.

Ms O'CONNOR - and get governments to be accountable. I think that is relevant, Ms Archer. It is very relevant to understand whether a relationship between the minister of the Crown and the head of the JackJumpers led to extra funds being given to the JackJumpers. That is a question of very legitimate and serious public interest. Today we have had no acknowledgement from the Premier of what is locally well known. We had the Premier feign ignorance about the reasons for Ms Howlett's resignation. It does not instil faith. We know the Premier is under enormous pressure. Despite his protestations it has cocked up a response to COVID-19. We know this Premier allowed his Education minister to go ooh la la, au revoir, to France for a holiday while there were huge question marks hanging over the safety of schools. We now know this Premier - certainly at face value - is not being completely honest about why his Sports minister resigned.