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Ministers Failing to Answer Questions on Notice

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Tags: Right to Information, Pokies, Tasmanian Forest Agreement, Water Quality, Drought, Irrigation, Ambulances, Dorothy Dixer, Federal Group, Standing Orders

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I was flicking through the notices of question that arrived on our desk today.  It is disappointing to see the number of questions that were put on notice some time ago that have not yet been answered by ministers.  At risk of sounding matronising -

Mr Jaensch - You can't help that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I cannot help it from time to time.

Mr Jaensch - Natural style.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right but it is okay - as a mother of four I can be as matronising as the next mother of four. 

The questions on notice perform a really important function in Parliament and in the capacity of members to obtain information from ministers and agencies that may otherwise be sought through correspondence, and then you have a long period of time and you will not necessarily get the detailed answers in your correspondence, or right to information, which under this Government is a big ask to get access to information through.  We have questions here that have been asked on notice from 30 October last year. 

I put a question on notice that asked how much in state taxes Federal Hotels had paid in the past 12 financial years.  That is a question of public interest.  It is relevant to the current debate we are having about the Liberals cop-out on pokies in Tasmania.  It is now some six months since that question was put on notice.  Yes, we have had a parliamentary break, but government agencies have been working all through that time bar a short period over Christmas/New Year and there has been plenty of time for these questions to be answered.  It is a sign of respect on the part of the government and the ministers of the day to ensure that questions put on notice are answered accurately and in a timely way.

The second question I put on notice relates to Forestry Tasmania undertaking research into alternative pesticides for their forestry operations.  It is a reasonable set of questions that was lodged on 30 October last year.  I asked, 'Has the Government paid private forestry companies that accepted compensation under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement to re-enter the industry?'  I suspect the answer to that question is, yes, of course they have.  Under the former minister, Mr Harriss, contractors in the forest sector took a taxpayer-funded payout to exit the industry and were then potentially paid to get back into the industry or allowed back into the industry after they had taken money to leave.  The question relates to the eligibility criteria, economic assessment projections or other factors that were used to assess the industry re-entry impacts of each company. 

We have questions here from Ms Dawkins about water modelling and quality and this is very relevant to the people of Tasmania and the work of this Parliament.  'Has any water modelling been applied to Tasmanian waterways that takes into account any increase in pressure as a result of a three year green drought and any increase in irrigation?  What measures, if any, has the government undertaken to improve water quality in the past 12 months?'  A very important question, a matter of public interest and not something that should be too onerous for the minister and his department.  That is right, we are not sure which minister in which department.  We are talking about water governance in Tasmania.  That question was put on notice on 19 November last year. 

We have questions here from Ms Woodruff on ambulances and volunteer ambulance officers in Tasmania - not answered.  There is a question from Ms O'Byrne - a whole suite of questions on notice that are still sitting on notice.  I do not know if ministers have forgotten they belong to a parliament and there are processes for the Parliament where members can seek information.  I know there is nothing in the Standing Orders about time frames for questions on notice.  It simply says under standing order 100 that 'When notices of questions are given, the Clerk of the House shall place them at the commencement of the Notice Paper and a reply shall be given by being laid upon the Table of the House and a copy thereof supplied to the member who has asked the question.'

Every day in this place we have to cop four Dorothy Dixers.  We, the Greens, need an opportunity to have questions answered.  That is for the 50 000 people who voted Green at the last state election.  We represent Tasmanians who vote Green and we represent Tasmanians who care about the environment and care about pokies, for example.  They have been abandoned by the major parties on that.  We have to be able to obtain information from the Government and from its ministers and I would urge this Government and the Leader of Government Business in the House to have a look at the notice paper of questions and make sure respect is paid to members who are putting those questions on notice and they are answered in a timely way.  At the moment they are not and it is not acceptable.