Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion without notice for the purpose of moving the suspension of Standing Orders to allow the Speaker to make a statement to the House regarding his involvement in securing and administering the Bracknell Hall grant.
Mr Speaker, there is only one person in this place who can provide real clarity on the disbursement of a million dollars in Commonwealth and state funds to the Bracknell Hall redevelopment, $400 000 of that completely outside the election and any proper merits-based process and that, of course, is yourself.
The questions that we believe need to be answered in the public interest are; why does the Speaker not think his involvement in securing and administering the Bracknell Hall grant is a conflict of interest? Why did the Speaker, as the member for Lyons, not declare a conflict of interest in this matter? Did the Speaker, as the member for Lyons, have a personal or business relationship with anyone the Bracknell Hall funds were dispersed to?
Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, again, as I have done many times, in the seeking of leave you need to be explaining why the orders of the day should not take precedence and that your motion should.
Ms O'CONNOR - I have done that.
Mr Speaker, I encourage you, with the greatest of respect, to be quite careful about how you pull me up as I make the case. I am encouraging caution, particularly given what happened in here yesterday. I believe there are a series of questions that need to be answered in the public interest.
Was the Speaker, as the member for Lyons, informed by anyone in government that there were Local Communities Facilities Funds surplus funds? If so, who? Did the Speaker, as the member for Lyons, have privileged access to official information which he then used to advance his personal interest? How did the member for Lyons' meeting with the Meander Valley Council in early July 2021 come about? Was the meeting requested by the council or by the member for Lyons?
At that meeting with the general manager, did the member for Lyons encourage the council to submit a funding request? If so, did he make any indication about the prospects of such a request receiving funding? Did the member for Lyons have any contact with the general manager or any other council representative about the Bracknell Hall project funding request between 15 July 2021 and when council was advised they would receive funding? Did the member for Lyons contact the council to advise the funding request had been successful? If so, on what date and in what form - email, phone or in person?
Who did the member for Lyons lobby following the Meander Valley Council meeting? Given evidence of misconduct over the use of public funds to advance the member for Lyons' personal interests, does the Speaker believe he is a fit and proper person to hold the role of Speaker?
Mr Speaker, the Integrity Commission describes conflict of interest in the following way:
This risk arises when there is a conflict between the performance of a public duty and a private or personal interest. Having a conflict of interest is not necessarily wrong; in fact, having a conflict of interest is very common, especially in Tasmania. What is important is that conflicts of interest are properly managed when they occur.
The Integrity Commission further describes an actual conflict of interest as:
… when there is an immediate and tangible conflict between an official duty or responsibility in serving the public interest and a public sector employee's personal interests.
In other words, an actual conflict of interest is when an employee in a position to be influenced by their private interests when doing their job.
The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament states:
A Member protects and upholds the public interest by taking all reasonable steps to avoid, disclose and manage any conflict of interest that arises, or is likely to arise, between their personal interests and their official duties. [ok]
A conflict of interest may be financial or non-financial and may be potential, actual or perceived. [ok]
The Code of Conduct also states:
A Member makes appropriate use of official information strictly for the purpose of performing their role as a Member of Parliament in the best interests of the public. [ok]
A Member makes proper use of their office to represent and serve the community, conducting themselves in ways that maintains the trust and confidence of the public.
A Member must not use their influence as a Member to improperly appoint, obtain appointment, promotion, advancement, transfer or any other advantage or benefit on behalf of themselves or other persons. [ok]
Mr Speaker, we believe this House should be given the opportunity to hear from you in relation to this matter. We are concerned that as a member for Lyons you used your privileged access to official information to seek and gain funding for the Bracknell Hall redevelopment. The funding was for a project that failed to gain funding through a process that involved assessment criteria; that is, an application to the Tasmanian Community Fund, and the Bracknell Hall redevelopment did not get past stage 1 of a merits-based process. The funding was for a project overseen by a committee that included yourself, Mr Speaker, and three members of your family. The disbursement of this funding was in part administered by the committee, of which you yourself, Mr Speaker, and your family were members.
Mr Speaker, the Greens argue that you have a clear personal interest in the future of Bracknell Hall, given your and your family's membership of the committee. We are concerned that you used your position to influence the disbursement of grant funds. As a member of parliament and the Liberal Party, we are concerned that you had access to official information which you may have exploited for personal gain. Of course, if this matter had gone to the Privileges and Conduct Committee yesterday, there would be an opportunity to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, because you used your casting vote to prevent any further debate on that matter, the Privileges and Conduct Committee will not have the opportunity to investigate this matter.
Mr Speaker, as a member of parliament you have an obligation to act in the best interests of the public. Instead we are concerned that you used your influence to see government funding go to a project in which you had involvement in determining how the money would be spent, without any merits-based assessment.