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Right to Information

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Right to Information, Transparency

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, there is a lot of heat in the Chamber and I understand the Labor Party is seeking to make this a bit of a personal attack on some ministers. The issue here is the culture and the evidence speaks for itself, and we have the evidence from the Ombudsman's report. That is the problem.

We have the evidence from the Ombudsman's report that Tasmania is the most secretive of all states and territories in Australia when it comes to releasing information to the public. That is a fact. Relative to every single other state and territory in Australia, Tasmania is the worst, and not just a little bit different - we refused to provide any access to 30 per cent of right to information applications in the last year records were kept. Out of the other states in the country, the best performers have a 4 per cent refusal rate. There is a chasm of difference in transparency in states like the Northern Territory and Victoria. We are 750 per cent more likely to refuse to provide any information at all compared to those states. That is not only a terrible statistic but it has been getting worse under this Government. I

It was not always like that because the year before there was a 15 per cent refusal rate, so it has doubled in a year. As a member of parliament, I can see the change that has happened. I can see the change in culture. I can see the hardening happening on every level in terms of being transparent and accountable.

In a two-year period, it hardened. The Liberals came into Government in 2014, and March 2015 - so, two years of settling in, then the problem started to bite. Where I really saw a kind of hysterical control of information was around fruit fly incursions, biosecurity responses, and it started most strongly when it came to privatisation of our wilderness and natural places - the Planning Scheme changes, the attacks by this Government on our publicly owned lands, and the secretive arrangements that the Office of the Coordinator-General was going into over that.

The first two years, the Office of the Coordinator-General was going into these secretive interactions, conversations, negotiating, flying to China, flying all around the place, flogging off bits of Tasmania, starting the secretive expressions of interest process. The Government started to clamp down on all this information; people started to realise what was going on. The Tasmanian Planning Scheme was being rewritten, people were asking questions, and the Government was not giving answers, and so it started.

The Government started down the track of hiding what they were doing, being afraid to speak to their own convictions to Tasmanians and say, yes, we are looking at how we can sell off Crown land, we have assessed all the Crown land in the state to see what we can flog off. If you had come out and said that, the Tasmanian community would have known what they were dealing with. If you had come out and said, 'We are prepared to open up our World Heritage Wilderness Area to anybody who wants to come and get a bit for exclusive possession', people would have known what was going on. They would not have put the right to information request in. You would have been really transparent about what was going on, but you continued to hide it.

The culture in this Government is to protect ministers from risk. That is the bottom line. There might be a minister or two who does not personally get involved, but we have written evidence by email with the Department of Premier and Cabinet that an RTI could not have been given to us in a timely fashion because they were waiting sign-off from the minister. We have the written evidence. We have the Ombudsman's report. They are all incontrovertible and they are all factual; they are all written in by the independent Ombudsman. We have the paper evidence. It is clear.

It is not about the Premier having a chat to Richard Connock to solve the problem. The problem is not in the system. Yes, there are problems with the RTI act. There are loopholes that need to be fixed. The Greens have identified them; they must be done.

The problem is this Government will continue to ramp up and get tighter and tighter and more secretive and controlling if the issue is about public servants fundamentally being instructed to protect their minister. That is the bottom line. That is what is happening. It is all about a protection racket for ministers. You have minister Barnett never being shown advice so he can have plausible deniability about bans on duck shooting. You have minister Jaensch who does not want to know, really, what the threatened values are for Rosny Hill, because then he might have to agree that he cannot hand it over for a massive hotel to be built at the top of that beautiful place, because it is clearly an outrage if you are trying to protect natural values, right? Except he is not hearing about the stuff that he does not want to be responsible for if the finger gets pointed to him as having done something wrong.

With a few exceptions, every single minister is using this as a tactic. They do not have to do it because the staff will do it for them because they know their fundamental job is to protect the minister.