You are here

Ministerial Standards

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Tags: Ministerial Accountability, Pork-Barrelling, Misleading Parliament

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, it is good to have this matter of public importance debate at a volume that is tolerable to people who work in this building beyond us. However, it is important that we have a discussion today about ministerial standards. I understand that Government members are seething about this morning. I am picking up the vibe very strongly in here. They feel a sense of injustice towards them. You have to be out of touch with or not properly understand the expectations in the Tasmanian community to think that Opposition and crossbench members asking legitimate questions about the expenditure of very large sums of public money is, in some way, a stunt. You only have to look at the series of stories that have been covered by local media, the ABC, and nationally to know that this is a real issue.

The Local Communities Facilities Fund has been a real problem for Government because it stinks, it fails the sniff test. We have seen ministerial and ethical standards take a hit on so many levels over this fund. We have had a minister repeatedly not tell the truth at an Estimates table. We have had a premier who, at best, has distorted the truth unknowingly over the 111 projects funded through the Treasurer's reserve. We have the previous year's budget papers which state as fact that the Local Communities Facilities Fund was set up in June 2020. No, it was not. It was established in April 2021 in the very early days of the election campaign and we have the correspondence here to demonstrate that.

On so many levels, this fund has a terrible stink about it and it is dragging ministers and the Premier down with it. We have seen a terrible slide in ministerial standards, but this goes back.

I know Mr Ferguson this morning was suggesting this is sour grapes. No, this goes back to 2014 when we saw under the then premier, Will Hodgman, that it was okay for his ministers to come in here, like Matthew Groom did over the proposed sale of TasTAFE, and tell an untruth at the lectern, which Mr Groom did and experienced no consequences for it whatsoever; no chastisement from the then premier. There were attempts made in the House to censure and move no confidence in the end, from memory, in minister Groom, but for premier Hodgman at the time it was fine that his then minister for state growth and the environment had told a blatant untruth at the parliamentary lectern.

Then we had, under the same premier, the infamous Mr Adam Brooks, who three times at the Estimates table was caught on tape telling blatant untruths. The then premier did not make a statement that he would sack Mr Brooks from the ministry; it staggered on for a few days and Mr Brooks apparently left of his own volition.

I recall the previous premier, Mr Gutwein, asking him questions at the Estimates table about the rivers of dark money that came into the Liberal Party for the 2018 election, the promises that had been made to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the extra $4 million they were given after the 2018 state election, and the pride that Peter Gutwein took at the Estimates table in being slippery and evasive, not giving a straight answer at any point. So it is most certainly cultural and that is why it is so disappointing.

Of course, who can forget the infamous Jaensch incident under the previous premier, where he clearly misled parliament because we had the facts there in front of us and there was no sanction again from Peter Gutwein as premier. It was okay for a minister to rise to the table and tell a complete untruth when we had the documents with us at the time, and then we had both Mr Jaensch and the then premier spinning frantically in an effort to mislead the Tasmanian people about what happened.

What happens in that situation, Mr Speaker, is that dishonesty becomes acceptable. Dishonesty or evasive answers, like minister Barnett gives constantly, become the name of the game; they become a modus operandi, and it goes to the absolute arrogance of people in positions of high power in this place. We have seen it for the last eight years, a slip in ministerial standards that I do not think we had seen previously.

I watched on the screen Steve Kons come in here and have to resign because he misled parliament - the then Labor planning minister and deputy premier - and it happened almost instantaneously. As soon as the Greens exposed him for telling a mistruth to parliament, Steve Kons had to go. Even Paul Lennon had a set of ministerial standards that he applied to his ministers out of a modicum of respect, I gather, for Westminster principles and this parliament.

We saw it again with minister Ferguson today, this sort of slippery language. If you go back and have a look at his transcript on that supply bill last year, I do not think you would call that being really open about the use of the Treasurer's reserve. What Mr Ferguson said was:

All election commitments will be funded through the budget appropriation bills, but also the Financial Management Act provides flexibility to enable the Government to fund election commitments.

Again, slippery language. I encourage this Premier to do better and save himself two-and-a-half years of extreme pain.