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Ministerial Standards

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 18 August 2022

Tags: Ministerial Accountability, Political Leadership

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: Ministerial standards.

We thought it was important that the House have a debate and discussion about ministerial standards, particularly this week and in the context of industrial chaos. For example, there is now a Facebook post from the United Firefighters Union of Tasmania who are, flat out, calling Michael Ferguson, a liar. Now, Mr Ferguson can take offence to me restating that but this is the union representing firefighters, who say the Government just told journalists that the UFU have walked away from negotiations:

We were in the meeting room at the agreed time today and the Government did not turn up. We remain willing to meet and negotiate.

We still have not had an explanation from Mr Ferguson about why the UFU believes him to be a liar. It is the sort of accusation that you would think a minister would come in on the adjournment to address but we have not heard from the minister on this issue.

I guess from the Greens' point of view, when a new premier came on the scene in Mr Rockliff we wanted for there to be an elevation of ministerial standards, for there to be some obvious change. We went from a premier in Will Hodgman who really stood for nothing, whose government was characterised by spin and a total lack of substance, to a premier in Peter Gutwein where the truth became an ambiguous thing and we had some very loose language from that premier, particularly around, for example, the circumstances of the 2018 state election and the rivers of dark money that flowed into the Liberal Party and the sweet deal that was given to the gambling industry after that election. There were a number of examples of Peter Gutwein as premier not upholding a decent set of standards. The one that really comes to mind is during the allegations made about a former member in this place whose pseudonym was 'Terry' Brooks and women who had come forward saying they had been catfished by Mr Brooks under a false identity, and we had the premier of the day accusing ABC journalist Emily Baker of tricking up a video.

The reason I go back there, Mr Speaker, is because there needs to be a change. Despite the obvious decency of Mr Rockliff as Premier, so far we have not seen enough evidence that ministerial standards have lifted. We still have ministers who think it is okay to be a bit flabby with the facts, who think it is okay to get up here at the lectern and not give a straight, detailed answer.

For example, Mr Jaensch walked up to the lectern when we had a Cabinet minute that said the Government was moving to weaken tenancy protections and denied the Government was doing that when it was a fact. Mr Jaensch tries to pretend to Dr Woodruff that the Environment Protection Authority is, in fact, independent when every move it makes shows that it is a creature of industry.

We have Mr Barnett, who is the worst offender by a long shot, who worked with his department not to see or release a critical report on river health and then was at best vague with the truth at the Estimates table and at worst downright deceitful. We also think he was misleading about a minute from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, where his own advisers advised him not to hold the duck season. Again, we could not get the truth out of Mr Barnett over that. This is the same minister who issued an unlawful lease to Chinese state-owned mining company MMG.

We also have a new minister now, a young minister in Mr Ellis, who has a history. This is the Mr Ellis who has been RMIT fact-checked as completely wrong on forest carbon, who calls vegans 'terrorists', who tells women that their delicate hands make them good for fine manufacturing jobs, has compared ancient Aboriginal petroglyphs with house bricks, and was not elected in his own right - but we will not hold that against him - for the second time a bit over a year ago. Yet, this minister has been given weighty portfolios. He has the climate-related portfolio of Resources, and Police, Fire and Emergency Management. Yet, this is a new minister who does not appear to take seriously or understand the science of climate change.

I have noticed in the House this week that Mr Ellis has restrained himself and has not resorted to some of his previous behaviours. However, given the weight of his portfolio responsibilities and the significance of those portfolios, we hope that the Premier has had a conversation with his new minister about the standards he expects of his ministers. We hope the Premier has had the same conversation with every member of his Cabinet to say that things have changed. We want the Premier to make it clear to his secretary of Premier and Cabinet that the right to information process must be more transparent and that agencies must act within the spirit of the act.

In some ways, this matter of public importance debate is a plea to the new Premier to make sure we have a new and better set of standards than his predecessors had that enabled ministers of the Crown not to be honest, whether it is at the lectern here or at the budget Estimates table because, if you cannot be honest in this place you are, in effect, misleading the people of Tasmania. We want to see an elevation of ministerial standards. We would like to think that Mr Ellis recognises the enormous weight and responsibility he has been given and acts like a grown up.