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Supply Bill (No. 2) 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 June 2021

Tags: Treasury, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - The Greens will be supporting the Supply Bill (No. 2) 2021 that enables our statutory bodies to continue to operate, at the very least until the state Budget allocations are made in August.

I will not have too much to say about this bill, which is fairly straightforward. I have a few questions in relation to Schedule 1, Purposes of Appropriation. I know this may raise the issue that arose in the previous debate in relation to specific areas of expenditure, and the distinction between an allocation and policy. I do thank the minister for coming back after the break with some extra detail on the questions that were asked by the Greens.

There is an allocation for the House of Assembly's operating services. It has been for the past two to three years a source of mystery and frustration to the Greens that an allocation was made for Legisaltive Council members to be able to access Parliamentary Counsel. In the 2018 19 state budget, after we made the case to the former Speaker - your predecessor in the Chair, Mr Speaker - that members of this House should have access to drafting expertise, as it is our job in part - not just to scrutinise legislation - to develop, present and debate legislation. My very strong recollection is that there was money in the budget for the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. We would like to know where that money went. We would like to understand why members of the House of Assembly still do not have access to drafters.

The Legislative Council can access Parliamentary Counsel, although I understand there are some restrictions now being put in place if the Government does not like the tenor of the proposed legislation to be drafted. This is a worrying development, Mr Speaker.

Parliamentary Counsel should not be the exclusive domain of executive government. In many jurisdictions, including the federal parliament, members from the opposition, crossbench parties and Independents can access drafting skills.

In our Greens office, we are very lucky to have someone who is an innately gifted drafter of legislation, and understands how legislation needs to be put together. That is why we have been able to table a sequence of very robust bills in this place. It should not be left up to opposition parties, crossbench parties or Independents to reach into their own staff, or their own capacity, in order to prepare legislation, or to prepare amendments to bills that come before the House.

It is very important that some clarity is given around that allocation, because when we asked your predecessor, Mr Speaker, we were told there were still some details to be worked out about how you would house a parliamentary drafter in this place, and how you would ensure some equity of access, and what the relationship would be between the parliamentary drafting person and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

That is what we were told last year. An allocation was made with a specific purpose attached to it for the House of Assembly. Did that money get absorbed into the Legislature General? Where has the money gone? We would very much like to know. It was a real breakthrough for the House to know we would finally join other parliaments and allow members of the House of Assembly, who did not have access to Government Parliamentary Counsel, to access that expertise, because it would lift the quality of amendments tabled in this place.

It would ensure that opposition members are able to prepare legislation for debate in this place. It would save parliament's time if we had skilled draftspeople here to advise us in the House of Assembly.

I very much look forward to the answer to that question. I hope the commitment that was made in that state budget will be met, and that those technical issues about where this office would reside, and who would access it, are being ironed out.

I also note that within this appropriation there is funding to maintain the operations of the Integrity Commission. I am very thankful that we have an Integrity Commission in Tasmania, but I want to express a frustration that we hear among stakeholders, and within the community, that they would like to see the Integrity Commission take a more active role in providing guidance on ethics and appropriate conduct to public officers. They would like to see, every now and again, the Integrity Commission bare its teeth, because there is a common misperception in the community that the Tasmanian Integrity Commission does not have sufficient teeth. We believe it does. It just never bares them.

For example, the Integrity Commission is able to take on a reference and have public hearings. Sometimes, such an investigative process can be very cleansing for democracy, and can also help people to understand the workings of government. It can also help people understand the importance of having good integrity bodies in place to, when it is necessary, put a blowtorch on people in public office, should they be engaging in unethical behaviour or misconduct.

We, the Greens, are going to have our third crack at bringing Tasmania into line with the rest of the country, and having an offence of misconduct in public office within our criminal code.

There is this almost Pollyanna kind of hopeful assumption that because we are only a little community, and everyone is so connected - and that is one of the nicest things about being a Tasmanian - that you would not see that sort of misconduct or corruption here, because we are all too close to each other, and no one could get away with that.

I grew up in Queensland when the Queensland Police Service was the creature of Joh Bjelke Petersen. We were rightly terrified of Queensland Police, and rightly did not have trust in it. We do need to see recognition that, even in Tasmania, public officers are capable of misconduct. Unarguably, the law as it stands now fails to be able to deal with some specific examples of misconduct among public officers.

This is also something we have sought to improve with an amendment bill. There is a problem in the Integrity Commission Act 2009 because, for the purposes of the act, in that gap between the dissolution of parliament and the declaration of the polls, none of us who are re elected in this place are regarded as members of parliament or public officers.

We would argue that it is in election campaigns that you have the greatest risk of misconduct, corruption and vested interests having undue influence on members of parliament - as it did in 2018, when we saw the gambling industry flood this state with 'blood money' in order to secure the Liberals a win, because for the first time in Tasmania's history, you had an Opposition that was going to do the right thing on pokies. That absolutely contaminated the election result.

It would have been a very interesting and entirely different result if the gambling industry had not thrown its weight and its vast money behind the Liberal Party. That money corrupted our democracy. It infected it and we will see the consequence of that infection when the Minister for Finance finally reveals to us the amendments to the Gaming Control act that will embed harm in our community until 2043.

While we are talking about harm, it is not just the money that comes out of people's pockets: it is the impact on people's mental health and wellbeing, their capacity to look after their family, their capacity to access education, training and employment. It impacts on family relationships. It drives people into poverty. It leads to homelessness and addiction. That is the human cost and that is the human cost of the corruption of the election that happened in 2018. The consequences of that election will be felt by this island and its people for the next 22 years at least.

I want to talk briefly about the resourcing of the Office of the Ombudsman. All our integrity bodies are running on the smell of an oily rag. They are only able just to fulfil their statutory responsibilities.

The Office of the Ombudsman - such a critical statutory body - is manifestly under resourced. That is why, for example, it took former Greens leader Nick McKim five years to have a decision reviewed on the then-Hodgman government's decision to withhold information about the World Heritage Area Management Plan, which was being rewritten by and on behalf of developers. It took five years for the Ombudsman to be able to provide a review decision in favour of now Senator McKim. The information that should have been released at the time by the government - a sneaky and secretive government hell-bent on privatising our wilderness - was withheld improperly then finally released after the Ombudsman said it should be released.

Another example I just heard about today, where the resourcing of the Ombudsman's office has led to a denial of justice, relates to the issue of emergency orders or guardianship orders to people deemed by doctors and social workers in our hospitals not to have capacity or competence to make their own decisions. The Greens were relieved to hear the Attorney-General this morning indicate that there would be a review of the Public Trustee.

The Ombudsman could not examine the legality or fairness of a decision made in relation to a person who had an order placed on them and, therefore, all their human rights taken away, fundamentally because the Ombudsman's office says 'we do not have the resources to do that'.

Right now, in Tasmania people are having their rights taken away under guardianship and administration arrangements. We have the story, for example, of a gentleman in the minister's electorate, Arthur from George Town, who has been locked up in the Launceston General Hospital having his rights denied for months and months. What did the Public Trustee do? They gave away or sold all of Arthur's possessions without his permission. What is happening to people like Jill who many members will be familiar with because Jill has been a familiar sight down at Salamanca for many years selling raffle tickets and taking donations for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Tasmania.

Four months ago, Jill had a fall and she ended up in hospital with a crushed nerve. As a consequence of decisions that were made on her behalf and assumptions that were made about her capacity, Jill has now been effectively imprisoned in the Royal Hobart Hospital for four months. Jill was not told why she was being kept in there. I think she was offered a conversation with a psychiatrist. She did not know it was an assessment, and then there was a determination made that Jill did not have the capacity to go home.

This is a person who had lived independently, exercising her human right to go about her life lawfully and in a manner of her choosing, who is now locked up in the Royal Hobart Hospital. I encourage members to have a look at the Advocacy Tasmania website. There is a video on there of an interview with Jill. Watch it and ask yourself, is this a woman without the capacity to make her own decisions?

There is something very wrong happening in Tasmania right now in the way that we treat people who may have some physical mobility challenges, or may be in early stages of cognitive decline, who are too readily being put on emergency orders or guardianship orders and having all their rights stripped away. You can put someone on a 28 day emergency order here in Tasmania and you can extend it for another 28 days, so you can detain someone against their will for a full 56 days here without doing an assessment of that order.

According to Advocacy Tasmania, we have amongst the most outdated, restrictive and rights-denying guardianship laws in the country. We are locking up people against their will, people who have rights, people whose individual autonomy is being taken away. It is happening every day. Decisions are being made by doctors and social workers to prematurely place people in aged care to unjustly and unreasonably appoint a guardian and deny family the right to make some decisions with the person they love about their living arrangements and their future.

This issue must be resolved, because in this state we are daily breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability and the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights. We are robbing people of their rights and taking away their choices because they are older or have some physical constraints.

Mostly what people need is to be supported in their decision making and to have a support network around them. This process, for people like Arthur at the LGH and Jill at the Royal, is grossly unfair. In each of those cases people have been kept against their will in a health setting while preparations are made without consulting them to prematurely place them in aged care. Jill was so happy recently because she was let out. She could go down to Salamanca and have a coffee with a friend, but the staff at the hospital made sure to tell her that if she did not come back on time, they would call the police.

Mr Speaker, I hope the Attorney General does not delay this review process into the Public Trustee. It has been described to us as by people who know as dysfunctional and perpetrating financial abuse, so we encourage the minister to undertake that work to ensure we are protecting the rights of our older citizens and people with disability, because right now their rights are not being protected and they cannot even go to the Ombudsman to examine a guardianship decision that has been made because, according to the Ombudsman's office itself, it does not have the resources to help.

Unfortunately, the Attorney-General is not here but I encourage members to have a look at Jill's story on the Advocacy Tasmania website and to remember that we are here to represent people sometimes who cannot represent themselves, and in the cases of Arthur and Jill, they have had their rights in very significant part taken away and thankfully they have Advocacy Tasmania working on their behalf, but we also in this place must give people like Arthur and Jill a voice.

Mr Speaker, with those words I indicate we will be supporting Supply Bill (No. 2).