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Production of Cabinet Documents - Report to Parliament

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Tags: Transparency, Parliament, Stadium

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, it has been a series of broken promises to get to this point. As Ms White was speaking, I was reflecting on what trust means, and recalling the period before parliament rose for the winter break.

As you outlined, Ms White, there were a number of weeks - a month beforehand - where there was a very determined attempt by parliament to extract information from the Government about their decision-making processes for what has been recorded as a potential $715 million stadium. No one believes that. Given cost blowouts, it would be, in most people's 'back of the envelope' estimates, probably almost double that.

Given the level of public outrage at the fact the Government signed us up to a stadium that we do not need, instead of holding to the line of having the team that we deserve, and the team we have earned on our own merits, and sticking with the two stadiums that we already have in Tasmania - stadiums that have been shown to have been suitable for playing and filming AFL games in the past, and in the present - instead, the Government went ahead with going down the track, in secret, of making a decision to not just sign up to a deal with the AFL for a 19th licence, but to build a stadium with a retractable roof, on a place that nobody can support, including the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, the RSL, the majority of residents of Hobart, the Hobart City Council. The issues around Macquarie Point alone deserve a full inquiry about the choice of that as a site.

Leaving that aside for the moment, this decision, at that point, was the biggest infrastructure investment decision a government has made in Tasmania - but Tasmanians knew nothing about the finances, the debt, that the Liberals were walking us into. All we asked was to have the advice from departments and agencies relating to Cabinet's decision-making process. That was all we asked. We did not ask for cabinet in confidence documents. We asked for the agencies' advice. We asked, in particular, what advice did Treasury provide about this matter? Instead, what we had to suffer was a series of protracted failures, by the Government, to adhere to an order of the House.

At the last minute, the Premier lamely tabled a whole bunch of documents, which it turned out, once members had a chance to look at them, were already all in the public domain. I think that happened on 20 June. That was after he had been ordered on 24 May to provide all the signed agreements and documents relating to the AFL, and to provide the House with all the department and departmental commissioned assessments, advice and reports in relation to Macquarie Point stadium.

He did not do that by 1 June - but on 20 June, the Premier tabled some of these documents. As I said, the majority of these were already on the public record and did not contain the information we wanted. The Premier then used a blanket claim of cabinet in-confidence that he retrospectively applied, saying that any material that revealed Cabinet deliberations could not be provided - even, it seems, if it was advice that was given by an agency to Cabinet. Yet, we do not know whether that advice was provided or not.

Subsequently, on 22 June - the last day before the winter recess - we got the first tranche of information that included the correspondence from departments. According to Craig Limkin, the acting secretary of DPAC, this was after consultation with the department's records management team, and it was a search of all electronic records, including information to the Budget Committee, the Sub-Committee of Cabinet from the Department of Treasury and Finance in February 2023, and a number of other minutes in February 2023 around the preparation of the Budget. Clearly not advice that would have been available a year prior - when the decision to commit to signing a contract with the AFL to build a stadium at Macquarie Point was made.

What we did not get on 22 June, despite the Government being order to provide it, was any advice that had been provided by Treasury. We are still in the dark about that.

Then what happened was the Labor Party had a very sensible motion on the books, which the Greens were prepared to support, because it sought to provide exactly the sort of openness and transparency Tasmanians deserve on this and other matters.

The Premier's determination to hide the advice speaks volumes, in most people's minds in Tasmania, about the sort of slipperiness that has been going on here in the background. The slipperiness, we can only be forced to conclude, is ministers of the Crown signing deals to commit to a debt on behalf of Tasmanians, without having any advice about the reality of the costs they are signing up to, and without providing Tasmanians with the information about what they are doing. We are talking no small bickies here - well more than half a billion dollars, in more likelihood $1 billion of taxpayers' money.

One of the worst things, from my point of view, is that the business case was so shabby. What we ended up getting out of the Government was such a shabby, flimsy, high-school level business case to go ahead with an investment of what is likely to be over $1 billion. The idea that a government would go ahead and play poker with the AFL - which is essentially what they are doing with this amount of money - just to have the opportunity to say we have signed a deal. It was a dud deal, but we could not stand up to the AFL and we had to give them everything that they wanted.

We have ended up with a deal that means that the AFL has everything their way and Tasmanians have nothing our way. We are paying for not just a stadium, but a stadium with a retractable roof - as if it would be possible for Tasmanians to afford that. As if Tasmanians would decide to spend the money on a retractable roof over a stadium when you cannot spend the money on building schools and hospitals. As if people would make that decision. They obviously would not do that.

We cannot get ambulance centres built on the east coast or in south or the north-west. That is infrastructure money. It is the same infrastructure money that this Government has made a decision to spend on a retractable roof. This is not just a stadium, but a stadium with all the bells and whistles that no other state has had to provide. We are, by any measure, one of the poorest states in Australia and we, the poorest, have to come up with the biggest bells and whistles just so the AFL and Gillon McLachlan could get everything he wanted before he walked out of the door with a huge golden handshake.

This Liberal Government has chosen to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which will be on that stupid retractable roof, instead of ruggedising our infrastructure for the climate extremes we are already experiencing - the bridges, the roads and all the other things that we need to shore up against extreme weather events. There is no money in the forward Estimates for the LGH to fast-track that build to bring on added bed capacity at the Launceston General Hospital. The Government chose to make a decision, pretending to themselves that Tasmanians would be happy with a bread-and-circuses approach to the Budget instead of spending it on the things that people really want. I find that staggering and it is a level of hubris that I really cannot understand. It is not like there is money sloshing around out there, there absolutely is not.

This is not just any stadium to do the job and tick the box. We chose to give the AFL everything they wanted and more. Not only that, but the AFL deal means that the AFL can take the licence back if they do not like how much money they are getting. We had a government that not only signed us up to the worst deal in terms of money and spend, but allowed the licence to be removed in the future if it is not making enough money for the AFL. It is all about getting the filming quality that the AFL wants to bring in huge money for the games when they are televising them.

Instead of putting that money into an Aboriginal reconciliation park, instead of doing justice by our returned soldiers and respecting the Cenotaph on the hill, the Government went ahead. All the House was trying to do was find out how they made the decision and to at least get the Liberals to have the courage of their convictions - because they sure had something that made them sign it up - and provide us with the advice they used to make that decision.

Going back to what happened in those last days of parliament before the winter recess, Labor's motion would have provided the process that would have forced the Government to produce what they maintain are cabinet-in-confidence documents. It is a very reasonable process that is used in other jurisdictions. It uses an independent person of high standing such as a judge or somebody else in the legal profession, most likely somebody who is accepted by all members of parliament as an independent person. It would use that person to make an objective assessment and would require the Government to write a statement against each of the documents it claims are cabinet-in-confidence and to explain why they do not believe that they should be revealed and have an independent person make an assessment of whether that is reasonable or not in their mind in terms of how the Westminster system would regard the convention of cabinet-in-confidence.

That would have got up in all likelihood; that motion would have passed. So the Premier came to the parties and said, 'Hold on a second, I am really concerned that we are rushing into this process. I want to establish a process that is for all time, not just for this stadium but that stands for all time. I do not want us as a parliament to set up a process that will rush us into a permanent convention for the production of cabinet in confidence documents without having thought it through. I promise you I will go away over the six week break and when we return to parliament I will give you that process and we can vote on that process then'.

The Greens, Labor and the Independent members trusted the Premier, just like we trusted him when he told Ms O'Connor and me that there was no stadium attached to the deal that the Government was signing us up to with the AFL. That is what he told us. He looked us in the eyes and he told us that.

A member - Not contingent.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, that is certainly what we understood. I am sorry, Premier, you can shake your head but we have two women who were there and we are absolutely rock-solid confident that that is exactly the commitment you gave. That is what we understood and so we went along with that commitment because we understood it would be the licence and no stadium.

We feel that there has been a breach of trust twice around the AFL and it is not about me, it is not about the Greens, it is not about the Labor Party, it is the fact that members of this place represent communities. We are representatives of the Tasmanian people. A breach of trust to us is a breach of trust to the Tasmanian people we represent. We represent the people who want to know what the decision to sign up to the AFL deal was based on, what commitments the Government has really made and exactly how much it is going to cost us.

The Premier did not provide that information when we came back to parliament on 8 August, although he promised to. Instead what we got was a letter from Jenny Gale, the secretary, that provides a whole lot of other information, none of which was what we had asked for. We have not got any further towards getting that information except, it seems, the best construction I can make out of this is that there never was any advice from Treasury. There is nothing on these pieces of paper we have before us that shows that Treasury gave any advice. The only conclusion we can make is that the Cabinet flew blind and made a decision. It was all about the politics and a reflex to being bullied relentlessly by Gillon McLachlan.

We had been making traction back in 2021; there had been success in standing up to McLachlan and other AFL bullies, but somewhere along the way Peter Gutwein, and then Jeremy Rockliff who continued as Premier, went soft and were prepared to do a deal with the devil to give the AFL what no-one else has done instead of spending money on houses, hospital extensions and climate change-safe infrastructure. That was the decision. Every time we go into the budget and we ask for another school or another ambulance facility, they will say, 'We've got no money to spend on that because we've committed ourselves to spending it on the stadium.'

In this motion is a shallow attempt to keep the process open, despite the fact that the Premier has already twice defied an order of the House. It creates another problem. What we now have here is parallel processes that are going to commence in the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly. I understand that the Legislative Council has already passed a motion from the member for Murchison, Ruth Forrest, for the Legislative Council to establish a select committee report on the production of documents. The upper House is preparing its own process, looking at its own mechanism for determining what a production of documents process would be. If this motion passes, we will be starting on a parallel process down here.

We will have two separate processes for the executive government of the day to provide potentially considered cabinet-in-confidence documents. If the upper and lower House committees come up with processes, a point of convergence will commence. It will start at the time those committees, in all likelihood, will establish slightly different processes. They only need to be small, but those things can build over time. That seems to me a pathway to madness and it is going to be incredibly complex for parliaments in the future to determine. It is the sort of thing a government in the future could game. I cannot see how that is going to benefit parliament. I cannot see how it is going to benefit public confidence in the system of government. We want it to be above public suspicion. The point of having a production of documents process is that it should build confidence in the government that it is trustworthy when it comes to decision-making processes.

The Parliamentary Privilege Act 1858 does not distinguish between the two Chambers, yet a production of documents process will, in all likelihood, be different between the two Chambers. Part 2 of this motion says:

The Government will give further consideration to mechanisms that seek to improve accountability and transparency relating to Cabinet decisions.

I would like the Premier to speak about the possibility of moving a motion to re-establish the joint House working arrangements committee. For many years, Tasmanian parliaments used this joint House committee as an operational circuit breaker. It is specifically looking at the working arrangements of parliament, the performance and efficiency of parliament. Meg Webb, in an address in the other place on 22 August said:

Some of the examples that have come through former joint House committees on the working arrangements on parliament include a 1998 inquiry into the reinstatement of assembly budget estimates scrutiny committee hearings. A 2003 inquiry into the appropriate parliamentary acknowledgement of Tasmania's traditional owners and a 2009 inquiry into the ethical conduct standard and integrity of elected parliamentary representatives and servants of the state. That subsequently led to the foundations for the current Integrity Commission and the Standing Committee on Integrity.

Would the Premier consider using this mechanism? The idea of having parallel processes brings nothing beneficial for parliament and our democracy. To put the kindest interpretation on this motion, it is an attempt to kick the can down the road on the stadium issue but possibly to develop a process for the parliament to order the production of documents that may or may not be cabinet-in-confidence. That is the process to be determined.

If parliament could move to reconstitute the former joint House committee of working arrangements, or something similar, which would have representatives from both Chambers, then it is possible for us to collectively develop consistent and workable mechanisms to, among other matters, attend to section 1 of the Parliamentary Privilege Act 1858, which is about the power to order the attendance of persons and papers.

For people listening, it is now 13 September and it has been four months since parliament ordered the Government to provide information about the stadium. We still do not have the information we requested. Tasmanians remain in the dark about the true cost. We heard Mr Ferguson on ABC radio the other morning, to be a frank, speaking a bunch of baloney about how that $240 million from the federal government was going to stretch to housing and to public transport and how it is going to build a stadium. They are going to do the whole lot. They did not have an idea what the housing was going to be, some private thing and something about nurses. It will do everything for everybody. That $240 million from the federal government is not going to go anywhere. I do not know if it is going to be enough to cover the cost of getting TasWater sewerage works relocated.

This says that we have signed up to an agreement with the AFL where, every year that we are behind in having an open stadium with a retractable roof, we will be paying $14.5 million. We do not even have the declaration for the project of state significance to parliament, but we have a deal that has been struck. This means Tasmanians will be paying through the nose to the AFL, regardless of whether this place is built or not. We really are on borrowed time. We need to know sooner rather than later the true costs and commitments that have been made. We will support this motion as an imperfect step along the way to that.