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Select Committee - Inquiry into Tasmania Basketball Pty Ltd


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Tags: Transparency, Integrity

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens will always support greater transparency, particularly when there is a question about the allocation of public funds. We are prepared to support this motion, but there are a few things I want to say on the way through.

I have been around politics for long enough to understand that this is not driven by the Labor Opposition's deep and abiding commitment to the proper administration of public funding. This is because Labor has smelled blood and has come back into parliament in the first week, after a summer which saw COVID-19 transmission rampant in the community and where, at that stage, I think 12 people had lost their lives to COVID-19, and decided to go on this as an issue because the politics was easy for them.

When they ask these questions, the media's ears prick up. This topic is quite sensational in its way - an alleged affair between a minister of the Crown and the CEO of one of our beloved sporting teams and whether that alleged affair led to an improper allocation of funding that benefited the JackJumpers.

I do not see this as a particularly noble gesture on the Labor Opposition's part. I can almost imagine the conversation in their morning parliamentary Labor Party meeting when they were talking about the tactics for the week. The goal was to sling enough mud hoping it would stick. No one comes out of this looking particularly shiny.

We have in this parliament a regrettable recent history, certainly since 2014 of the party of Government, the Liberal Party, using question time as an opportunity for self-promotion and obfuscation. We have a culture that comes straight from the top of it being okay to be untruthful in here, or to conceal truth by omission.

Since 2014 I have watched minister after minister and two premiers get up in this place in question time and not be honest with the people of Tasmania. We had a classic example of it in here this morning, following a question from the member for Franklin, Mr O'Byrne, to the Minister for Resources. It was a straight question. The minister was not going anywhere near the answer because he knows he does not have to, because there is no expectation of honesty and transparency on the part of Government. We see it all the time. We have seen it on big issues that matter to the people of Tasmania, like the casino pokies tax rate. The Premier and his Finance minister all through the last premature state election campaign pretended it had been resolved. Pretended it was a non-issue on multiple occasions. In the media, and therefore speaking to the people of Tasmania, they pretended that there is nothing to see regarding the tax rate that had been negotiated with the Federal Group.

The Greens asked a question about it before the election. We were told there is nothing to see. It is implied that we are conspiracy theorists and tin foil hat wearers, but as it transpired a deal had been struck with Federal Group, which was given one of the lowest giveaway casino pokies tax rates in the country, comparable only with a casino in far north Queensland, in Townsville.

It was a lie to say the matter had been dealt with. It had not been dealt with. There had been no honesty. It was a live question that had significant financial consequences for the state's Budget. Tasmanians were gaslit. They were told by their state's leader and a minister of the Crown that this is not an issue, there is nothing to see here, it has all been dealt with in 2018 and it had not been.

It is the same culture of being loose with the truth, of not providing information openly and transparently. It is the same culture that allows the Premier on the Greens' question to refuse to table Public Health's advice that says it is apparently safe to remove masks.

I believe it was Ms White who said, 'If you have nothing to hide, what is the problem?' Why would you not be open with the people of Tasmania about a decision which has significant consequences for them and the people they love? It has significant consequences for the health and safety of elderly people, the disabled, immuno-compromised, cancer patients, people who are chronically ill.

It undermines public trust in Government. Regrettably, we are all smeared. It undermines public trust in politicians when people get the sense that they are being lied to or being kept in the dark, 'that the Government holds all the cards', as Mr Killick said in his column last week and the people of Tasmania are not allowed to see them.

Good governments are really open and honest. Day after day in question time it is like living in an alternative reality. The Government is telling the people of Tasmania that everything in Tasmania right now is absolutely terrific. It tells me that this Government is out of touch or not reading those letters and emails from people who have been on the elective surgery waiting list for three years, or who are facing a rent hike of $100 a week on a place they already pay $450 a week for and they know that they cannot afford it. It is a layer of propaganda that we are subject to all the time. With that propaganda we have cultural dishonesty.

Getting back to the topic at hand, the Premier said a moment ago, 'I have been clear about this with parliament. I have been clear with this parliament about this issue'. How would we know? You just cannot know because there is such a history here of falsehood. We had a minister of the Crown before the last election deny what we had in black and white in a Cabinet minute, was the truth. This Government was going to weaken tenancy protections. We had hold of a Cabinet minute that made it really clear that a minister of the Crown felt comfortable stepping up to the lectern and not telling the truth.

It has become normalised that you are allowed to be dishonest in this Government, in fact, it is encouraged. Because the default is secrecy. So how can we know whether there is any substance here? How can we be sure that public funds have been administered with propriety and appropriately? We cannot. That is why having a committee inquiry process could help to find some truth here.

Dr Woodruff and I are very mindful of the fact we are talking about peoples' lives here and people who are not able to defend themselves. I am very mindful of Ms Howlett's grief. I am very mindful of Ms Howlett's family. We do have to be very careful when we raise these issues in here or outside.

I might say no-one had that concern for me when my relationship with Mr McKim was made public on the front page of The Examiner before I had a chance to really talk to my children about it. No-one thought about my kids then. But you know, we are in politics and you have to be hard on the outside and hopefully soft enough on the inside to retain your decency and compassion.

I am worried about the impact of this ongoing debate on Ms Howlett's family particularly. I do not know the circumstances of the other person, Mr Brookhouse. I do not know his circumstances at all. But I have met Jane's beautiful daughter and I like Jane. I like Ms Howlett, I think she is a good person.

Somewhat reluctantly, we will support this motion to establish an inquiry for two reasons. One, because transparency is healthy, and two, because we are talking here about millions of dollars in public funding. So, there is a question here that has not been resolved. I do not understand why the Premier has not just come in here and tabled the financial documents that backup his assertion that there was no conflict of interest here. I do not understand why he would not just try to make it go away by putting those documents on the table.

The problem that the Premier has here is a history of being less than honest, of deceit by concealment, of never upholding, apparently, the ministerial code of conduct. There never seem to be consequences with these people. It is the same with Mr Morrison at the federal level. You have out and out corruption happening at the federal level ever since Mr Morrison became Prime Minister. Angus Taylor, Michaelia Cash, Bridget McKenzie - hugely immoral, questionable conduct by ministers of the Crown and a prime minister who never upholds any set of standards. Anything goes. I do commend to members here Crikey's compendium of Scott Morrison's lies. This is from a prime minister who has a huge problem with the truth. I do not know if it is a disorder of some sort. Scott Morrison is the least honest prime minister we have ever had. It seems to be something to do with the conservative brain, because Boris Johnson is another profligate liar. No standards, no consequences, a lying, cheating charlatan. What is it about conservatives that makes it so easy for them not to be honest?

I do not know how people who are untruthful about important thing justify that internally. We are elected to this place to do the right thing by the people of Tasmania. There is a huge amount of trust placed on our shoulders. How do you get up in this place in these privileged positions and not be truthful? It baffles me. It troubles me but we have seen it over and over again, in the 'Terry' Brooks affair. The fact that you can have a minister of the Crown, when he was minister for mining who could lie three times at the Estimates table. There were no consequences there for him that he did not initiate. He did not have then-premier saying, 'Busted: being untruthful in a Westminster parliament, off you go'. That is not the way it happened.

Then you get the current Premier wooing Mr Brooks back to run as a Liberal candidate in Braddon and standing by him when there was clear, irrefutable evidence of Mr Brooks lying to women about who he was. Instead of doing the right thing and first of all not inviting Mr Brooks back but when it became clear that the guy was very shonky, saying, 'We are no longer interested in having you as a candidate on our ticket in Braddon ticket' we had this Premier accuse journalist Emily Baker of 'tricking up' video. That is not the sign of someone who is trustworthy. It is not.

One of the obvious outstanding questions here, given the Premier has said he accepted at face value Ms Howlett's denial of the alleged relationship, is why was the Sport and Recreation portfolio taken away from Ms Howlett who clearly loved it? If the Premier did not know this was a potential political hot potato then why did he not leave Sport and Recreation with Ms Howlett, if there was no problem, nothing to see here? Anyway, at that point, apparently, he had not heard the rumours. I think there are questions here.

Obviously, this motion is not going to get up. It will be negatived by a casting vote from you, Mr Speaker. I note Ms Johnston is not here today, and I am unsure what happens to pairs in that situation. But you would not call it a ringing endorsement over this motion, a ringing endorsement of the version of events that we have been told in the parliament. I do wish what we were debating now in the Opposition's private members' time was the establishment of a parliamentary committee to examine the Government's response to COVID-19 and particularly to Omicron. That would be a matter of much greater interest and impact on the lives of Tasmanians. Many Tasmanians have many questions but we are not; we are debating this.

We will reluctantly support it but I encourage the Opposition, once this motion is dealt with, to start refocusing on some of the issues that Tasmanians are really worried about.