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Mr Shelton Privileges Committee referral

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Tags: Integrity, Pork-Barrelling, Conflict of Interest

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, we are debating this motion because of the ABC's revelations today. We are debating it because it is a national story and people care about this stuff. They care about accountability and transparency. They deeply care about standards in politics. They are sick of the Liberal way of operating. They are sick to their back teeth of what Scott Morrison did. They voted him out. They voted them all out. They care in Tasmania too. It is not just at the national level that people care about democracy.

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, order. The member for Franklin has the floor. Other members should not be interrupting. Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - They want to end the pork-barrelling. They want to end the favouritism. They want to end the cronyism and the nepotism. They want to end the special deals. They want a merits-based process for money going to regional communities. They want everyone to have a say. They want their local hall, their local team, to get a say.

What we have had here from the member for Lyons - yourself, Mr Speaker, but I am speaking to you as the member for Lyons - they did not even know there was a process in place for what they wanted. The RTI documents that we obtained from Meander Valley Council show that four days after a budget meeting on 2 July, Mr Shelton met with council's general manager to discuss the hall project. The funding, and how to secure more of it, was clearly on the agenda at that meeting - very curious timing.

It is reasonable to ask if the member for Lyons had some privileged access to official information about the Local Communities Facilities Fund budget, and if he used it. That is a legitimate question, given what subsequently transpired. That is what we tried to get from the Treasurer this morning: we want to know what the process was. Given the direct of involvement of the member for Lyons and members of his family in the hall project, it is highly questionable as to whether Mr Shelton could have met with the council's manager, but when he did, the proper thing to do would have been to ensure that the council knew he could not be involved any further. The Integrity Commission is clear about this. In their own words in the report that was tabled in parliament yesterday, they said:

The systemic misconduct risks in recruiting local government employees are high.

And they note:

Conflicts of interest occur when a public official exercises their duties and functions influenced by their private interests. When conflicts of interest are undeclared, concealed, understated or mismanaged, they may give rise to misconduct. They are, of course, also a particular risk when large sums of public money are involved.

This situation is problematic on so many levels, including, and especially, as a breach of the Code of Conduct for members of parliament. That code, which we have all signed up to, clearly specifies that a conflict of interest can be financial or non-financial. 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.

If the member for Lyons was acting in keeping with the members' Code of Conduct, he would have explained he had a clear conflict of interest between his position as a member of the state government and his position as a member of the hall committee. He would have told the Meander Valley Council he could not help them. The member for Lyons did not do that. Mr Shelton progressed the request, he pushed it up the chain. That is very clear to the Greens from the RTI documents we have been able to obtain. Less than two weeks after that meeting, the general manager wrote to Mr Shelton to request state government assistance. That letter says state government funding was required to make sure the hall building was not split into two stages. It says:

As you may appreciate, this would be a disappointing outcome for all involved.

Doesn't that sentence speak volumes, Mr Speaker?

Then in August 2021, the then-Premier's office directed the Department of Communities Tasmania to fund the Bracknell Hall project from the unused balance of the Local Communities Facilities Fund. It is a matter of historical fact that although a request for additional funds was later required, there were no unused funds after all. In other words, after Mr Shelton received this request, the funding was approved in what is surely close to record time for a sum of this size. Things must move faster when there are no annoying obstacles like proper process in the way.

Mr Shelton had the opportunity to avoid this conflict of interest and did not, which already puts him in breach of our Code of Conduct. In fact, rather than avoiding a conflict of interest, Mr Shelton was instead the avenue through which this funding was arranged. That was $400 000 of public money, which no other community in Lyons knew about or was able to access for their own community's needs. No other community in Tasmania knew about it either.

Not only that, given the council's attempt to access a grant through a merits-based assessment had been knocked back previously in 2020, it appears the member for Lyons' personal interest and involvement in the project clearly weighed in favour of this hasty funding decision that was made. Furthermore, Mr Shelton also failed to appropriately disclose or manage his conflict as required by the code, and is an option to every member through our annual return of interests.

This is obviously and objectively misconduct. Any MP with a shred of integrity should recognise that with their vote in the Chamber today. Non-government members in this place are accustomed to watching different rules apply to the ruling class in government, but there simply has to be accountability. I draw again to members' attention that this was a national news story this morning. The ABC does not do political parties favours. It is a national news story because people think it stinks, and it stinks because it does.

It is our responsibility to do what this parliament should do, which is hold members to account for breaching the Code of Conduct. Misconduct is a very grave thing for a member of parliament. That is why there has to be accountability and we are moving to refer the member to the Privileges Committee.