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Motion of No Confidence in Minister for Resources

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Tags: Mining, takayna / Tarkine

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Mr Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion without notice for the purpose of moving the suspension of Standing Orders to debate the following motion -

That the House has no confidence in the Minister for Resources for the following reasons -

(1) On 10 August 2021, the minister approved a mining lease application made by Chinese State-owned company, MMG Australia, over five kilometres of Helilog Road and an area of rainforest near Rosebery. 

(2) MMG Australia's application specified its purpose as mining for gravel.

(3) The company's intention for the area subject to the minister's approval was not to mine gravel. 

(4) MMG was undertaking testing works for its plan to pump mine tailings across the Pieman River into a cleared rainforest gully off Helilog Road. 

(5) The application approved by the minister had the effect of preventing public access to public land in takayna, including beekeeping sites and the Forest Walk tourist site. 

(6) Between early May and late July, prior to the minister's mining lease approval for MMG, 71 peaceful protestors were arrested under dubious charges.  They were people of all ages and from across the Tasmanian community, who stood up to defend the Tarkine's rainforest.

(7) On 27 August, the minister received a formal request from Bob Brown Foundation to provide a statement of reasons for granting this mining permit. 

(8) On 24 September, the minister replied in writing that he was not empowered to make this decision, and that therefore, there had been no valid grant of the mining lease. 

(9) In his apparent haste to prevent peaceful protest on the site, the minister signed an approval in breach of the Mineral Resources Development Act (1995), an act he administers. 

(10) The minister broke the law, a fact that would not have come to light but for the Bob Brown Foundation. 

(11) After his lawlessness that worked to advantage a foreign-owned multinational corporation was exposed, the minister refused to admit he had broken the law, and sought to mislead Tasmanians by blaming a 'lodgment error' on the part of the applicant, and an 'oversight' on the part of Mineral Resources Tasmania. 

(12) This explanation defies credibility. 

(13 The minister's public statement did not address his involvement in this matter, and ignores one of the fundamental principles of the Westminster system - that a minister doesn't blame others, but holds responsibility for their decisions.  

(14) Minister Barnett's conduct in this matter again brings his competence and integrity into question. 

(15) Since being elevated to Cabinet, minister Barnett has shown no respect for transparency, has degraded accountability mechanisms through his constant misleading and obfuscation, and worked against the public, and the planet's, interests.  

(16) Across portfolios, minister Barnett has long track record of secrecy, misleading Tasmanians, and enacting highly questionable decisions, and it's well past time parliament finally held him accountable.  

(17) He is unfit to be a minister of the Crown. 

Mr Speaker, on or around 10 August, MMG Australia Pty Ltd had a lease approved by the minister unlawfully under the act.  A little over two weeks later, the Bob Brown Foundation wrote to the minister and sought a Statement of Reasons.  That letter says:

"We refer to your decision to grant a mining lease to MMG on Helilog Road (4M/2021) on or about the 10 August 2021.

The decision to grant the lease is one to which part 5 of the JRA Act applies, pursuant to section 29 of the Judicial Review Act -

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, I remind you that this is about the urgency of seeking leave, not about the issue itself.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Speaker.  I need to read in the relevant correspondence which makes it urgent: 

"… pursuant to section 29 of the Judicial Review Act of 2000 we request that you provide us with a Statement of Reasons as to your decision to grant the lease.

Please ensure your reasons for the decision comply with the JRA Act and provide findings on material questions of fact relating to the decision and reference to the evidence or other material on which any such findings were based as well as the reasons for the decision."

That letter was sent to minister Barnett on 27 August.  On 24 September, minister Barnett responded: 

"Dear Mr Jordan

I refer to your letter of 27 August 2021 seeking a Statement of Reasons for a decision to grant a mining lease to MMG on Helilog Road.  Following due consideration, I was not empowered to make the decision …

Mr FERGUSON - Point of order.  Mr Speaker, you have already given direction on this matter.  The purpose of the motion in front of the House is whether this matter has to supersede everything else today.  You have asked the member to be relevant to that question.  What she is actually doing is prosecuting her main arguments around the substantive motion which has been distributed and noting she is asking for special privilege to bring the motion before the House today and not tomorrow during her private member's time.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is a question of confidence.  You do not wait on confidence.

Mr SPEAKER - I have asked the member to be relevant to the actual seeking of leave, so on urgency, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Speaker.  The reason I am reading in this correspondence is because it points to a minister who is either incompetent because he approved an unlawful lease and then only was it revealed because of the Bob Brown Foundation, or there is something going on here.  We know that MMG wanted protesters off the site.  We know that minister Barnett wanted protesters off the site.  We know that illegal lease would have stayed in place if the Bob Brown Foundation had not asked for a Statement of Reasons.

We do not have confidence in this minister.  He broke the law, he blamed others and he stitched up an exclusion zone with a foreign-owned company to keep Tasmanians off their own land.  Minister Barnett said:

"Following due consideration, I was not empowered to make the decision.  In consequence, there has been no valid grant of that lease.  MMG has been informed.

On this basis, there is no need to provide for reasons for the decision."

My time is about to run out but if it is okay in Tasmania for a minister to break the law, and for it only to be exposed through the Bob Brown Foundation, and then there be no consequence for a minister who clearly had no respect for the law, then we are in a very difficult place.

This should be debated -

Mr SPEAKER - The member's time has expired.  Thank you, Ms O'Connor.