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No Confidence in Minister for Housing


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 September 2020

Tags: No Confidence Motion, Misleading Parliament, Tenant Rights, Ministerial Code of Conduct

No Confidence in Minister for Housing, Full Debate, 24 September 2020

 

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam 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 Housing for the following reasons -

(1) In response to questioning on 24 September 2020, the minister said he is not aware of any decision to make it easier to evict tenants without genuine or just reason.

(2) A Cabinet minute shows that a previous Cabinet decision was made to remove the genuine or just requirement from section 45 of the Residential Tenancy Act 1997.

(3) It is implausible that the minister was not aware of a Cabinet decision in his portfolio.

(4) The minister has misled the House over a serious matter of fairness and reasonableness in his portfolio.

My colleague, Dr Woodruff, is at the moment distributing copies of our no-confidence motion.

To be a minister of the Crown is a great honour and enormous responsibility. It requires the highest standard of integrity and honesty. On the Ministerial Seal, the Letters Patent, a minister is described as trusty and well beloved. The minister, Mr Jaensch, proved himself in question time today not to be trusty. He lied to the House. That is a grave offence to the parliament and the people of Tasmania. Mr Jaensch has betrayed the trust of the Tasmanian people.

Madam Speaker, this goes to the entire Government because there has been a culture of dishonesty and spin in this Government. It was telling that when we asked the first question today, the minister's default response was to lie. As he walked to the lectern, he said, 'I am not aware of any decision', but he was and the Cabinet decision proves it. That is a most serious offence for a minister of the Crown. The default position was to lie.

If we go to some background here, on 4 June last year the Supreme Court handed down a decision in relation to Mr Gregory Parsons. There was an appeal led by the Tenants' Union in a case that Housing Tasmania took to the full bench of the Supreme Court which found that Housing Tasmania is obliged to provide security of tenure, safe tenure and affordable housing on the basis that it is part of the objectives under which we operate.

Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me, I have been told that you have to address the subject of leave.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Madam Speaker, that is right and I am doing that. I am presenting why it is urgent and a matter of public interest.

That case was about a 55-year-old intellectually disabled man who was convicted on the basis of the end of his lease without being given an opportunity to appeal or an explanation for the reasons for his eviction. The appeal was found in favour of the tenant.

In last year's budget Estimates hearing on 5 June, my colleague, Dr Woodruff, pressed Mr Jaensch on the Supreme Court decision and what the Government's response would be. The minister, Mr Jaensch said, 'I confirm that Housing Tasmania will consider the implications'. The minister was well aware of the circumstances of this matter and he confirmed in Estimates that, 'Housing Tasmania will consider the implications'. It is not plausible that the minister was not aware of the decision to remove the fair and just provisions from the Residential Tenancy Act.

Madam Speaker, the Code of Conduct for Ministers says:

Ministers are expected to behave according to the highest ethical standards in the performance of their duties, as they hold a position of trust and have a great deal of discretionary power which can have a significant impact on citizens of Tasmania. Therefore, ministers must commit themselves to the highest ethical standards to maintain and strengthen the democratic traditions of our state and its institutions.

The minister has breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Further, on misleading statements, the code of conduct says:

Ministers must not mislead parliament or the public in statements they make and are obliged to correct the parliamentary or the public record in a manner that is appropriate to the circumstances as soon as possible after any incorrect statement is made.

Madam Speaker, the minister rose to his feet and tabled some papers shortly after question time and did not take the earliest opportunity to correct the record. The minister has misled the House.

We have seen this before, when previous minister for mining, Adam Brooks, misled parliament at the Estimates table and ultimately had to resign. Steve Kons, in the famous 'shreddergate' case, blatantly misled parliament, and he paid a price for that too. He resigned.

Mr Jaensch should resign. It is a most serious offence to get up in this place and your first reaction is to tell a lie. The minister, Mr Jaensch, was well aware that Cabinet had made a decision to amend the Residential Tenancy Act so it would be easier to evict tenants. He knew that, and yet he walked to this lectern and lied.

When you lie in this place, you are not just lying to parliament. You are lying to the people of Tasmania. You are lying to people who trusted you, who voted for you, who trust you to come into this place and be honest and have integrity, and have their best interests at heart. Mr Jaensch should resign, and if he will not resign, the Premier should sack him.

This is extremely serious. Some members in this place may think we have moved past the age of consequence, but there has to be consequences for a blatant lie to the people of Tasmania.

Time expired.

 

Mr FERGUSON (Bass - Leader of Government Business) - Madam Speaker, the Government will not be supporting this motion of the Leader of the Greens for the reasons I will outline. First of all, I make it clear that while the member who has just resumed her seat may feel like she is onto something, she has actually made no case to substantiate her claim, which she has made over and over again.

In answering your questions, Ms O'Connor, Mr Jaensch has given a commitment to return to the House and provide advice and if necessary update or add to his answer.

He has given that commitment. Ms O'Connor has sought to make her principal argument about why the business of the day should be thrown out in favour of her suspension motion -

Ms O'Connor - That a minister of the Crown lied? It is so serious.

Mr FERGUSON - on the basis that when he tabled his papers he did not choose that moment to provide that extra information. He is currently engaged -

Members interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. This is a serious matter before the House. I ask that the minister is offered the same courtesy as was offered to Ms O'Connor a little while ago. Thank you.

Mr FERGUSON - Madam Deputy Speaker, the minister and his team are currently engaged in reviewing the nature of the question that was asked by Ms O'Connor in examining the exact words that he said when he spoke to his first answer.

Ms O'Connor - He lied. It was a blatant mistruth.

Mr FERGUSON - You may say that, but people are entitled to natural justice to examine the record to check what they have said, and also to look into the substance of the original question.

Members interjecting.

Mr FERGUSON - Madam Deputy Speaker, it is half past 11 and the minister has given a commitment to you, Ms O'Connor, but you are not prepared to wait for him, are you? These other interjectors are also not prepared to give anybody the grace or the benefit of the doubt even for a moment. The minister has given a commitment -

Ms O'Connor - He had his moment after question time.

Mr FERGUSON - If you would care to listen to a different perspective, the minister has given a commitment to respond further to those questions. You cannot expect to throw out all the business of the day on the pretext of, 'Well, I think is a -

Members interjecting.

Mr FERGUSON - You have moved it; you are wanting to move a no-confidence motion but you have not even given the minister the chance to respond further. You were playing 'gotcha' politics during question time today, making your various claims, but you have not established your claim at all -

Ms O'Connor - The facts speak for themselves.

Mr FERGUSON - You have not established that claim at all. The minister has given an undertaking to provide further advice.

Every minister of this Government is sworn to Cabinet-in-confidence. We are not permitted to discuss Cabinet items and we will not be making an exception today because we are not allowed to. We are not supposed to and that will not be happening.

Ms O'Connor, you have left no room in the way you have comported yourself today for anybody to make any kind of omission in their answer, or to get a word wrong here or there.

Ms O'Connor - It was a blatant mistruth.

Mr FERGUSON - I do not know that because I have not even heard it myself from the minister. We are prepared to allow him the opportunity to give his further answer to the House. I am not going to put words into his mouth. Many of us, and I am one of them, have at times had to add to an answer. In fact, the Attorney-General just now added to an answer. That is the way this House is supposed to work.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor. I ask that you stop injecting.

Mr FERGUSON - If a member wants to move a motion of no confidence on the basis of misleading the House they have to establish that it was deliberate. They have to establish that it was deliberate lying. You have to do that. You have failed to do that, because you have not even accepted that minister Jaensch has given an undertaking. I do not know when, but it will be today. He will provide you, Ms O'Connor, and members of this House, with the benefit of him taking advice, looking into the matters that were raised, and adding his answer if he feels that it is necessary.

On this side of the House, for the reasons of decency and natural justice, we are not supporting the motion seeking leave today. You continue to interject and make these -

Ms O'Connor - True claims.

Mr FERGUSON - You are being unreasonable. You have not allowed the minister to respond.

On this side of the House, we have confidence in minister Jaensch. For us there is no question before us in relation to that. He is an outstanding minister who cares about his portfolios. He is a caring and decent and truthful minister who is doing an exceptional job in his portfolio.

Were this House to agree to Ms O'Connor's various motions today, minister Jaensch would not be able today to deliver on major legislation for major projects in this House, which he is delivering on behalf of Tasmanians -

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, I do ask that you stop interjecting.

Mr FERGUSON - because we believe in jobs. We want to see this economy even stronger and rebound through economic recovery.

The Labor Party has no substance, no plan, nothing to offer Tasmanians as we navigate economic recovery. You only have stunts and distractions that you want to throw at important economic reforms that this House needs to look at today. That says an awful lot about the Rebecca White Opposition.

This side of the House will not be distracted. We will not be thrown off course about the economic recovery that we need to see happen in this state.

As for my friend and colleague, minister Jaensch, we are backing him. We are prepared to allow him the opportunity - as we all need at times - to take advice, to look at the record, and if - and I make it a big 'if', because I do not know - minister Jaensch needs to correct his answer, he will do so. If he needs to add to the answer, he will do so with the usual apologies that would be accorded.

We are not going to take lectures from the most dishonest Opposition I have ever seen.

Time expired.

 

Ms WHITE (Lyons - Leader of the Opposition) - Madam Deputy Speaker, that tells you everything you need to hear. That was a woeful attempt at defending a minister who clearly misled the House today. We will be supporting the seeking of leave that has been put forward in this motion, for reasons that have been explained by the member who moved the motion, but also because the Government's defence was flimsy.

The minister had an opportunity, twice, to answer a direct question today, and also at the end of question time could have got up to his feet and corrected the record, which would have been the earliest opportunity. He failed to do that.

The minister who just resumed his seat said that the House has to be able to prove that he misled deliberately. That is not the case, according to the Standing Orders.

Mr Ferguson - It is the case.

Ms WHITE - The case according to whom, to you?

Mr Ferguson - You have to be satisfied that it was deliberate.

Ms WHITE - Are you the judge and jury here? You are not. The parliament will determine whether this minister misled the House. I will read Standing Order 2. The Leader of Government Business does not know the rules of this place. It says very clearly -

A Member must only make statements in Parliament and in public that are, to the best of their knowledge, accurate and honest.

A Member must not mislead Parliament or the public in statements that they make.

Whether any misleading was intentional or unintentional, a Member is obliged to correct the Parliamentary record, or the public record, at the earliest opportunity -

Madam Deputy Speaker, the Attorney-General got up on her feet and corrected her earlier answer at the end of Question Time. The minister did not.

The minister was asked a very serious question today in parliament that pertains to the wellbeing of a number of Tasmania's most vulnerable housing tenants, and whether this Government was to going to - or had considered - making changes. He said they had not. He was cautioned by the member who asked that question to be very careful, which should have given him an indication that there was more to this question - but he gave an emphatic answer and resumed his seat.

He was then asked a second time whether or not he would like to address that question, and there was a Cabinet minute that was provided as evidence.

I do not know how the member got hold of the Cabinet minute, but maybe the splits in the Liberal Government are much bigger than we are led to believe. Who is leaking Cabinet minutes? Someone is out to get the minister, and he has been called out today. He misled the parliament, and he did not correct the record at the earliest opportunity.

What the Government has said, in trying to defend this minister, is that he has to check what he said. He has to check whether he lied before he comes back in to correct the record? He cannot correct the record until he goes checks what he said, because he cannot remember his lie?

It gets worse. The more Government ministers speak in trying to defend the activities of this minister, the deeper the hole they dig. They do not know the Standing Orders, and the minister clearly misled the House today. It is an incredible breach of his responsibilities as a minister and as an officer of the Government.

We support the seeking of leave. This is an urgent motion that has to be debated now. This Government claims that there is important business they need to get on with. They did not table a single bill today.

This is important for a number of reasons, not only because the minister misled the House, but he has form here, misleading the House earlier this week when he claimed his Government had built 400 houses each year since they came to office. That is a direct quote from the answer the minister gave in this place on Tuesday this week, when he said that they -

have a track record of building around 400 new social housing dwellings each year.

The minister did not correct the record when he made that statement to the House, either, which was also a lie. This minister has a record of lying to this parliament. He did not only do it today, he did it on Tuesday as well, and he did not correct the record then either.

We do not have confidence in this minister. We do not have confidence in him to be truthful to this place, which is a fundamental requirement of any minister of the Crown.

We also do not have confidence in his ability to uphold the responsibilities of his portfolio, which is looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our state. The minister for five houses - that is what he will be known as - who built only five of the 80 houses that were promised with the waiver of the Commonwealth debt to Tasmania.

More significantly, on Tuesday when he misled the House, he did not correct the record. He was given ample opportunity to do that. Today, when he misled the House, he did not correct the record at the earliest opportunity.

Instead, we have heard from the Leader of Government Business that he has to go off and check what he has said, to see whether he had lied. He should have the guts to get up here and say what happened as a matter of truth. It is a test of his character and integrity.

We will be supporting the seeking of leave. It is critical that we have this debate, and that it is debated today.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor. This is your first warning. I do not think you want to have three warnings and have to leave on your own motion.

Ms WHITE - The minister has breached the standing orders of this House. I was shocked to hear the answers that he gave today. The mover of this motion has given historical context around this matter and the decision by the Supreme Court. We all understand what occurred at that time. I would have expected the minister to be well enough across his brief to be able to give an honest and truthful answer in this place about that matter, which he seemed to have no recollection of.

More significantly than that, he should have been able to recall a Cabinet minute in which they had discussed making a decision about changes to how public housing tenants are treated in this state. If he cannot even do that, he is not fit to be minister.

 

Mr JAENSCH (Braddon - Minister for Housing) - Madam Deputy Speaker, consistent with my previous response, in response to the question from the Leader of the Greens, my answer was correct. Any decision by the Government to change the law would need to be tabled in this place and until it is tabled no final decision has been made. Any Government legislation -

Ms O'Byrne - That is the best they can come up with in an hour and a half.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Byrne. I have asked you before not to interject.

Mr JAENSCH - Any Government legislation would go through the usual process of public consultation.

I will not breach Cabinet confidentiality. I will not provide a running commentary on Cabinet deliberations. The process is quite clear. In this case, amendments have not been finalised.

Ms O'Byrne interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Ms O'Byrne this is your first warning, thank you.

 

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, this makes the matter even more urgent because it is clear that the minister is lying again. It is outrageous and unbelievable - the first time I am aware of that a Government is not prepared to test their confidence in their minister by having the debate. This is an urgent matter. It is much more important than the other matters on the Blue today because it goes to the heart of confidence of ministers in Government.

The Standing Orders make it very clear that ministers must not mislead the House and must correct the record at the first available opportunity. The minister did not correct the record. Ms O'Connor asked a very clear question this morning about the Supreme Court decision against Housing Tasmania in the case of Gregory Parsons, who was evicted without genuine or just reason. The question was, 'Can you confirm in a response to that judgment that a decision was made by you and the Government to change the law to make it easier to evict tenants without genuine or just reason'.

Mr Jaensch said, 'I am not aware of any decision', but the Cabinet paper that we have makes it very clear on 24 August in the matter of the Residential Tenancy Amendment Bill, the decision of Cabinet was to agree and approve drafting to finalise the bill subject to the following amendments: Amendment C was to vacate the previous Cabinet decision in regard to the Director of Housing versus the Parsons matter, and not proceed with the proposed amendment to remove the 'genuine or just' requirement in the context of an order for vacant possession. That means a decision had been made to remove the 'genuine and just' reason for eviction.

The fact that the minister pretends otherwise is a lie. The minister has lied. It is quite clear that there was a decision taken to change the Residential Tenancy Act so that people like Mr Parsons, and all the other tenants in Housing Tasmania who have been bullied and evicted by this Government without genuine and just reasons, would be able to be evicted in future if they change the law. For whatever reason, they chose to remove that amendment. On behalf of tenants in Housing Tasmania properties, we are glad they never proceeded with that.

We have pushed them repeatedly on this matter. Under questioning in Estimates last year, I asked the minister would he rule out the law being amended to give Housing Trust the chance to evict on the basis of the end of a lease. The minister said at the time, 'I can confirm that Housing Tasmania will consider the implications of the full bench of the Supreme Court'. He was well aware of it. So what Housing Trust obviously went and did was to come up with a proposal to get rid of that 'genuine and just' requirement that they have within their policies, that was the sticking point in the case that they lost to the full bench of the Supreme Court.

I am shocked that the Leader of Government Business was unable to support and provide confidence in his minister by having this debate properly. It is clear that they are scared and it is protection racket for a minister who has lied.

What he said just then was no correction of that lie. There was no confirmation of the truth in that the Cabinet document makes it very clear that his department, this Government, this Cabinet, was prepared, at some point before 24 August, to amend the Residential Tenancy Act and remove the 'genuine and just' requirement for evictions in the context of vacant possession.

What sort of Government would have a minister like this, who wheels himself out and lies to parliament under questions. The Greens have pointed out, numerous times, this minister's misleading of the House on a range of matters. We have caught him red-handed in this instance. We have never had the document, but we have the document, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is shameful to see a minister stand up, day after day, posturing, and not able to tell the truth on matters which affect the lives of people like Mr Gregory Parsons, an intellectually disabled man, who was harassed by Housing Tasmania. If it was not for the Tenants' Union standing up for him and appealing the case - Housing Trust took it to the Supreme Court and it was appealed to the full bench of the Supreme Court. Housing Tasmania lost.

This minister was not prepared in Estimates last year to commit that he would not take a case to the High Court against this. This is the level of bullying that this Government is prepared to go to for people who are like Mr Gregory Parsons: intellectually disabled; never given a genuine or just reason; never had any arrangements that were made that he breached; never had any evidence that he did anything other than live in his house and had no reason given to him for why he was evicted from his property.

This parliament has Standing Orders and we expect members of parliament to uphold them. This place expects ministers to uphold them, and the Ministerial Code of Conduct makes it very clear that ministers who mislead parliament must correct the record immediately.

Time expired.

 

Mr GUTWEIN (Bass) - Madam Deputy Speaker, what a stunt. The Government will not discuss the deliberations it makes during Cabinet. In fact, we swore an oath not to. Government deliberates about many things.

As has been correctly pointed out, when a decision is made to change the law, a bill will be tabled in this place. No bill has been tabled in this place and the minister has very correctly put on the record his views about this particular matter. The member who asked the question knows the processes of Cabinet. She has sat in Cabinet and knows those processes well. She also understands that as a government we will not discuss the deliberations of Cabinet. The outcome of those deliberations, relating to a decision to table a bill in this place, that is when a decision is made. That has not occurred.

The minister is one of the most hard-working, genuine, honest people that I have ever met. Regarding this stunt motion, there is no bill before this place, and until there is, no decision has been made on that particular matter.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Mr GUTWEIN - The member who interjects knows that what I am saying is absolutely true. There is a process of deliberation and until the bill is here in this place the Government has not made a decision to change the law. When we make a decision to change a law we bring legislation in and we defend it and argue for it. There is nothing before this House.

The minister, as I have said, has been one of the hardest working, most genuine decent people with integrity. There is a process and we will not go into the deliberations of Cabinet until there is a bill before this place and a final decision has been made by the Government on any legislation. When a final decision is made, a bill is brought into this place and is debated and the Government will stand behind it. There is no legislation before this place.

I will touch on the efforts of the minister in regard to the work he has done. He is building houses and putting roofs over people's heads. He is rolling out -

Ms O'BYRNE - Point of order, Madam Speaker. The motion before the House is to seek leave on the fact that the minister lied, not about whether the Premier thinks he is a nice bloke. That is not what is important here.

Madam SPEAKER - Okay.

Mr GUTWEIN - In speaking to the motion to seek leave, we will not be granting leave because the minister has done nothing wrong. As I have said, governments deliberate about many things. When a decision is made to change any law, that bill will be tabled in this place and until that occurs no final decision is made.

Regarding what Mr Jaensch has provided in his contribution today, we stand 100 per cent behind him. He has our full confidence on this side of the House.

Members interjecting.

Mr GUTWEIN - He is a hardworking, dedicated minister with integrity and this House should vote this down for what it is, a stunt.