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Motion to Refer Brooks to Privileges Committee

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Tags: Misleading Parliament, Integrity Commission, Privileges Committee

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Premier, you have had a very bad week-and-a-half, a very bad year, in fact.

Mr Hodgman - The election result was a shocker.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was for you, Premier. Despite soliciting and obtaining millions of dollars from the predatory gambling industry to secure your re- election, you scraped in with a one-seat majority, which is entirely precarious.

Mr Hodgman - Scraped in? You lost two seats. Don't talk to us.

Ms O'CONNOR - The term that comes to mind right now is chickens coming home to roost. In the past five years under this Premier and this Government, there has been such disrespect for proper processes or a high standard of ethical conduct. We had to sit in the previous term of the parliament before a measure of independence was brought into the Chamber, listening to ministers repeatedly not answering questions, waffle on, obfuscate, and sit across the Estimates table and refuse to provide the most basic answers on matters of administration of a minister's' portfolio . We listened to it all for four years, and if there was one person in this place who was going to end up before the Privileges Committee, I would argue it is Adam Brooks. Anyone who has spoken to Adam Brooks about what he thinks of politics will know he thinks it is a game. He said to me, 'It's a funny old game, isn't it?'. That is the problem and why we are here at this point today.

The most serious breach of the standard of conduct people expect from elected representatives, I would argue, is his utter misleading of the people of Braddon. It is the people of Braddon who elected Mr Brooks to this place and who are entitled to hear the truth from Mr Brooks after misleading parliament three times and misleading the people who elected him and gave him the honour and the privilege of sitting in this place to represent the north-west of Tasmania.

Regrettably for Mr Brooks, he will go before the Privileges Committee, because he deserves it. We had to listen in the last term of parliament, and in fact in the term before that because Mr Brooks was elected in 2010, to him constantly warp the facts, distort the truth, make false allegations and treat this place as a playpen, so it is no surprise to us that Mr Brooks will be referred to the Privileges Committee.

We heard the Premier just then make multiple excuses, if you like, and point to parts of the Integrity Commission report that favour a glossing over of the facts here. Tomorrow the House will debate the long overdue Code of Ethical Conduct for Members. This is the standard we should all apply to ourselves and each other and that the Tasmanian people expect us to adhere to. The preamble starts with this:

Members of parliament recognise that their actions have an impact on the lives of all Tasmanian people. Fulfilling their obligations and discharging their duties responsibly requires commitment to the highest ethical standards to maintain and strengthen the democratic traditions of the state and the integrity of its institutions. Compliance with the law may not always be enough to guarantee an acceptable standard of conduct. Members must not only act lawfully but also in a manner that will withstand close public scrutiny.

Madam Speaker, Mr Brooks' behaviour does not withstand close public scrutiny. When we go to the section about ethical standards and conflict of interest - and there is no word 'material' in front of this either - it says:

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. A conflict of interest may be financial or non-financial and may be potential, actual or perceived.

There is no question that Adam Brooks had a conflict of interest when he was appointed to Cabinet, and it is a failure on the part of the Premier to have made sure that his ministerial code of conduct was upheld.

The parts of the Integrity Commission report that the Premier studiously avoided reading out, the pages he swerved by, are the findings on the basis of the evidence obtained by the commission that:

Mr Brooks omitted to accurately inform the Premier about the true nature of his ongoing involvement in the operation and management of his relevant business interests while he was a Minister.

Conflict of interest.

Mr Brooks did not provide the Premier on 7 March, 20 May or 10 June 2016 with an accurate update about his ongoing involvement in the operations and management of his relevant business interests.

Conflict of interest.

Mr Brooks did not properly advise the Premier on the 7 March, 20 May or 10 June 2016, that the objective of the Protocol - that he have no involvement, in any form, formal or otherwise, in the management and operation of any of the relevant businesses - was not being met.

Mr Brooks did not provide the Premier with an accurate account of how a filtering system prevented him from accessing or seeing business-related emails on 10 June 2016.

The Integrity Commission further found:

Mr Brooks proposed an audit of his email account on 10 June 2016 to the Premier knowing that he had deleted emails from that account on 910 June 2016 that indicated he had: ongoing involvement in the operation and management of MSS, exercised influence over the operational decisions of MSS, and not removed himself from the management and operational decisions of MSS.

The Premier can stand in this place and selectively point to parts of the Integrity Commission report that find Mr Brooks did not have a material conflict of interest, but that is the only thing the Premier can hang his hat on here, because the rest of the report is utterly damning.

I do not know if Mr Brooks is watching this debate. If he is not feeling mentally well I would hope he is not, but I agree with Mr Bacon that Mr Brooks should consider his position as an elected member. He was elected on a lie. The people of Braddon cast their vote for Mr Brooks in good faith, trusting him to have told the truth about his connections to his former company when he was a minister, to have told the truth to the Premier, but he did not tell the truth. He is a serial liar, and that is a shameful and disgraceful tag to have associated with your name. It certainly does not adhere to or uphold a high ethical standard of conduct. It is certainly a source of frustration to Dr Woodruff and me that every time a Tasmanian elected representative misbehaves we are all smeared. It drags us all down, because out in the community often there is no distinction made between members of parliament from different parties.

When Mr Brooks, through his conduct over years in this place, demonstrates himself to be a serial liar, we are all smeared. It is a further erosion of public faith in the institution of parliament. This is a very, very serious matter. A duly elected member of parliament, a Liberal Party member, has been found by the Integrity Commission to be a serial liar. He lied to parliament three times on that unforgettable day in Estimates. He lied to the Premier repeatedly, lied to the people of Braddon, and lied to the Crown Solicitor. This is a very, very serious matter and must be examined by the Privileges Committee.

I was having a look earlier at some of the extraordinary powers of the Privileges Committee. Under section 3 of the Parliamentary Privilege Act 1858, which still stands, it allows either House to punish a person, including a member of either House, by imprisonment at any place of its choosing. This power may be exercised summarily, and rules of evidence and due process do not apply to the exercise of parliamentary powers. The power to imprison a person summarily applies in relation to a range of listed contempts, including to the creating of or joining in any disturbance in the immediate vicinity of the House. The summary exercise of the power to imprison in relation to the latter offence may infringe on the implied constitutional freedom of political communication. The power also extends to the historical offence of sending a challenge to fight a member.

We thank the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party for bringing this referral on. This is exactly the kind of work the Privileges Committee should be doing. We continue to argue that for this process to be as robust and impartial as possible and, in fact, to be owned by all of us, the Greens should have a position on this particular Privileges Committee hearing. We believe that would be procedurally fair and will be looking to take that up at a later time.

Madam Speaker, it is not surprising to see so few Government members in here during this debate. Clearly the conduct of Mr Brooks has been an embarrassment to everyone in the Government.

I will finish where I started. This is called 'political karma'. This is Premier Will Hodgman's chickens coming home to roost. The standards he set, not only for his members but for his minister, were so low that now we have a former minister and duly elected current member of the Government being referred to the Privileges Committee to examine some of the most serious allegations that can be made against a member of parliament.

Madam Speaker, it is a damning indictment on the Premier.