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Referral of Minister for Housing to Committee of Privileges

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 15 October 2020

Tags: Misleading Parliament, Ministerial Accountability

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

For the purpose of moving the Suspension of Standing Orders to debate the following motion on tomorrow -

That the House:

1. Refer the Minister for Housing, Roger Jaensch, to the Standing Committee of Privileges to consider whether the member's answers to Greens questions during question time on 24 September 2020 and subsequent comments on these matters constitute a breach of privileges or the Standing Orders of the House, including but not limited to the provisions contained within the parliamentary conduct session of the code of conduct under standing order 2(d); and

2. That the committee report to the House by the first sitting day of 2020.

Madam Speaker, we are not prepared to let a minister who knowingly and deliberately misled the House off the hook. It is very clear to us and to anyone who applies a cool and rational mind to the minister's answers to the questions we asked on 24 September that he has breached the parliamentary code of conduct, and the code provision that he has breached is 'Accuracy of statements', which reads -

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 in a manner that is appropriate in the circumstances.

Minister Jaensch knowingly told an untruth in relation to a Government decision which was reversed on 24 August to weaken tenancy protections by removing the 'genuine or just' provisions from the Residential Tenancy Act 1997. The minister knew that a decision had been made and yet he stood up at the lectern here that day and said -

I am not aware of any changes proposed or undertaken regarding making it more difficult. I do not know what decision Ms O'Connor might be referring to.

Of course, we had the Cabinet decision documents which makes it clear, and I will read out the pertinent part of the document -

Cabinet today deliberated on the materials submitted to it in relation to the Residential Tenancy Amendment Bill and decided 1(a) and (b), but -

(c) Vacate the previous Cabinet decision in regard to the Director of Housing v 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.

We believe this is a matter that must be examined by the Privileges Committee of this parliament. The minister has breached the parliamentary code of conduct, the minister has breached the ministerial code of conduct but apparently that is all cool with this Premier and this Government. The ministerial code of conduct states:

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.

The Privileges Committee of parliament is the appropriate forum to examine the question of whether or not this minister has been honest with the House. We do not believe that he was on 24 September, and when you are not honest with this House, you are not honest with the people of Tasmania. The minister was not honest and that is a matter that should be examined by the powerful Privileges Committee of this parliament.

I understand that the maximum fine the minister could face under these circumstances is $40 or being banished to the basement, but it is not so much the punishment that is the issue here. It is the fact that we have evidence of a minister of the Crown, in defiance of Westminster principles, the parliamentary code of conduct and the ministerial code of conduct, knowingly misleading this House.

Confidence was tested and on the numbers, this House allegedly has confidence in minister Jaensch. We know that Mr Jaensch misled parliament. The pub test tells us that Mr Jaensch misled parliament. It is implausible that the minister who, after the full bench of the Supreme Court decision in Housing Tasmania v. Parsons told Dr Woodruff in Estimates that he was waiting for advice from Housing Tasmania about how to respond to that judgment, did not know a decision had been made by Cabinet to remove the 'genuine or just' provisions from the Residential Tenancy Act.

We want this to be examined by the Privileges Committee; it is necessary and we believe the House should support it. For precedent we have most recently the example of the former member for Braddon, Mr Adam Brooks, who infamously sat at the Estimates table in the Long Room and told three very short lies in a row about the extent he distanced himself from his private company business as a minister. The House agreed to send Mr Brooks to the Privileges Committee.

We have a very similar situation here except on that day, at that time, a number of fibs told by the minister ran to two in question time, because the second part of his answer was -

Madam Speaker, to change the law, the Government needs to bring the law to the parliament and argue its case. We have not done that. I do not know what else Ms O'Connor is referring to.

Madam Speaker, yes, he did, because he was a part of a Cabinet decision and as the Cabinet handbook tells us, a Cabinet decision is government policy. So, for five months of a pandemic, it was still Government policy to introduce this place an amendment bill that would make it easier to turf people out of Housing Tasmania homes, of community housing homes and of their homes in the private rental market. We have had a reassurance from the actual minister responsible for that act, thankfully that that change will not now be made.

If the Greens had not come into this place and raised this issue and revealed the Government's perfidy in seeking to turf out Housing Tasmania tenants, if the Greens had not come in we would not have had the commitment from the minister that they will not be taking that action, which made our efforts on behalf of tenants all the more worthwhile.