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Want of Confidence in the Premier

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 29 November 2018

Tags: No Confidence Motion, Misleading Parliament, Federal Group, ASIO, Code of Conduct

That this House -

(1) Has no confidence in the Premier, Will Hodgman, for the following reasons -

(a) The Premier has failed to demand the highest standards of conduct from his members.

(b) The Premier has refused to ask the honourable member for Braddon, Adam Brooks, to resign, despite a damming Integrity Commission report, which found he repeatedly lied about his involvement in his private company while Mining minister and attempted to delete crucial evidence.

(c) The Premier authorised a payment of almost $60 000 to cover Mr Brooks' legal bills, which was only revealed through questioning from Labor.

(d) The member for Bass, Sarah Courtney, was rewarded with a new ministry, despite findings that she breached a ministerial code of conduct by failing to declare a conflict of interest created by her relationship with her head of department.

(e) While the Premier deals with chaos and dysfunction within his Government, he has taken his eye off the issues that are most important to Tasmanians including health and education.

(f) Under the arrogant and incompetent Health minister, Michael Ferguson, the health system has gone from bad to worse, with health professionals describing conditions in our hospitals as the worst they have ever been.

(g) The Premier has allowed his divisive and aggressive Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, to go to war with public sector workers instead of negotiating in good faith. This has forced workers to take statewide industrial action simply to receive a pay rise that keeps up with the cost of living.


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, while we were in here earlier before the lunch break arguing this want of confidence motion in the Premier, something incredible was happening on the lawns of parliament. Thousands of young Tasmanians, students from schools across the state, walked out of school and came to the front of the building that we are standing in here, working in today, to demand action on climate. They want to have hope for the future. They want to know that the people who are in this building have them at the front of their minds. Regrettably, I did not see any Liberal member out there. I believe there may have been Labor members out there joining with those students, but -

Mr Hidding - I was watching them from the car park.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have to say, I am just about to drop Mr Hidding right in it because before the break, when we could hear this incredible sound of young people - the sound of hope, the sound of demanding action, the sound and music and dancing also - it was Mr Hidding who said, 'Have you seen the young people out there?' He took me over to the window and we talked about how gutsy those young Tasmanians are.

I make this point because we do spend a lot of time in this place talking about things which are not relevant to young people's lives. We spend a lot of time talking about ourselves as a collective and I feel sad for those young people, those young Tasmanians, that we are not talking about action on climate today.

Madam Speaker, I have here a letter for the Premier from Arthur Wessing (TBC), Prep at South Hobart Primary School, and he wanted me to give this letter to you. He wrote it out on the lawn today, Premier. It says:

Dear Premier, please protect our environment now! From Arthur.

I make the point because everything we do should be through the lens of looking out for young people. Everything.

Dr Woodruff and I will be supporting this motion of want of confidence in the Premier and we will be supporting it because we cannot have confidence in this Premier, given his administration of the ministerial code of conduct, the fact that it is apparently not worth the paper that it is written on.

I flagged with the Leader of Opposition Business before lunch that we would like to make an amendment to the motion. This highlights under point (e) of the notice of motion that this chaotic and dysfunctional Liberal Government is not only taking its eyes off issues that are of primary importance to the people of Tasmania, such as health and education, but they are also taking their eye off the need for affordable housing, a healthy environment and action on global warming.

I move that the primary motion be amended to delete 'and education' at 1(e) and insert 'education, affordable housing, a healthy environment and action on global warming'.

There is 55 minutes left of this debate and I know that Labor members will want to speak to it but what a disastrous two weeks in parliament it has been for the Government. Last week, not supporting the transgender and intersex communities and so caught up in its internal ideological culture wars, the never-ending -

Madam SPEAKER - I am sorry, Ms O'Connor you have an amendment. Would you like to table it?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, Madam Speaker. So caught up in its internal ideological warfare, the never-ending culture wars that are being never endingly fought by the likes of Senator Abetz. So caught up in that, could not come to some sort of cooperative, collaborative arrangement in this place to make sure that we are looking out for transgender and intersex Tasmanians. That we are making sure people are not forced to undergo invasive surgery before they are allowed to change their gender on their birth certificate. Absolutely comprehensively rolled in this House, over and over again on the votes.

While it was very bad for the Liberals in Government, that day we pass that legislation, which I hope will pass the House today, but I hope it was a turning point for this Parliament. You have a government party that for four years treated this place like a rubber stamp, disrespected the forms of the House. Did not accept amendments from any member of either the Labor Party or the Greens, no matter how sound they were, how well argued they were, how obvious the need was to make the amendments. They were never accepted. There was a level of arrogance that was quite breathtaking at the Estimates table and question time.

We still see it. We had the Treasurer on his feet for nearly seven minutes on a Dorothy Dixer again today. This parliament is now quite finely balanced. We were elected to do the right thing by the people of Tasmania. There will be legislation that comes from the Government. There will be legislation that comes from Labor. There will be legislation that comes from Greens.

The people of Tasmania expect us to look at each piece of legislation on its merits, to vote with our conscience every time and to vote, to respect what is in the best interests of the people of Tasmania. We did see a shift in the Government's attitude in the last week of parliament where for the first time in five years there were conversations with the Greens members in relation to amending legislation, to strengthen and improve it. That is the way parliament should work. Every time.

No-one in here has a monopoly on good policy or good ideas. No-one in here has a monopoly on compassion. At the end of the day we are all just Tasmanians and we should be working together every day that we can. There will be differences, but we are only passing through this place and let us make our mark and make sure it is a positive one.

Premier, it is not too late for you to turn this ship around, to stop talking about money all the time. Every time you get up to talk about the state of Tasmania all we hear about is money. All we hear about is the economy, business confidence, retail trade figures. That is an important aspect of Tasmanian life, but it is not all there is. Premier, one of the reasons your federal colleagues are on the nose and suffering at a state level is because you do not put enough time into talking about and to people. The world is about much more than money.

Speaking of money - $60 000 to cover Mr Brooks' legal bills and only belatedly acknowledged and confirmed by the Premier in response to a question from the Labor Opposition. You do wonder, Premier, if it would have become a matter of public record had that question not been asked. Had that question not been asked, would Mr Brooks have been forced to state that he will repay the money?

It is true, Premier, that you have failed to demand of your members the highest standards of conduct.

It goes back to the last term of the parliament. We witnessed the most emblematic examples during the first budget Estimates. Having been a minister in the previous term and sat across the Estimates table believing it was my job to tell the truth, to answer questions to the best of my capacity, not to shut down questions or deny information, I would never have gotten away with the sort of behaviour that ministers in this Hodgman Government have over the Estimates table and the four years of the previous term of the parliament. Who will forget that short and epic walk the former minister for State Growth took between his chair, a ministerial chair, and the lectern knowing the answer to the question was, yes, we are considering privatising, selling off the TasTAFE building and part of the art school, and then saying the answer was 'no'. It is a cultural issue.

If you are elected to this place, have a crack at telling the truth. This is particularly so if you are a minister of the Crown because the words on the letters patent, signed by and with the seal of the Governor, say, for example, 'Jeremy Rockliff MP, Minister for Education and Training, trusty and well beloved.'. They are the words; that marvellous term on the letters patent. If you are a minister of the Crown and you have those letters on a document that assigns you these enormous responsibilities to make decisions about people's lives and set in place policy that improves the lives of Tasmanians, you should have at the front of your mind an understanding that you are trusty and well beloved in order for you to be a minister of the Crown.

When Mr Groom was the minister for State Growth, he was not trusty and well and beloved in this place. He was dishonest and there was no sanction for that, none whatsoever. There was not even a dressing down. Instead, when those issues were raised in Question Time and that Mr Groom had lied to the parliament, there was a semantic debate about whether we could use the words lied, liar or lie. If members want to understand how commonly-used the word lie is and how it is simply a statement of fact of someone not telling the truth, it is a legal term and people should look at the Manafort indictments from Special Counsel Robert Muellers's office in the United States. I was reading those documents a couple of nights ago and they are laced with the terms lied and lying. It relates to Donald Trump's former campaign manager who, having struck a plea deal with and then lied to the Special Counsel, lied to the FBI and was feeding information to the current President of the United States. The word lie is a legal term and it should be said when it needs to be.

Point (b) in the motion expressing want of confidence is a point I have spoken about with the Leader of Opposition Business. We are uncertain about that language because, whether Mr Brooks resigns from parliament, it is a contract between him and the people of Braddon. That is why he is in this place. There is also a contract between Mr Brooks and the Liberal Party because he is a Liberal Party member. In reality, although the Premier can say, you can resign, it is time you left, Adam, I am not sure what weight that would carry.

If the Liberal Party had any integrity, it would have rescinded Adam Brooks' Liberal Party membership. That is too much to expect from a party that took millions of dollars from the gambling lobby in the lead-up to the state election and which pocketed money from a group of companies owned by a Huang Xiangmo, who ASIO specifically and explicitly warned the Labor and Liberal Parties not to accept money from because of the close, demonstrable connections to Xi Jinping's totalitarian regime. However, the Tasmanian Liberal Party took that money from the Yuhu Group of companies and Jade Fisheries, both of which are owned by Huang Xiangmo. Huang Xiangmo was also the Australian president to the Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Unification of China, which is a United Front group that does not support Taiwan's aspirations to be an independent and democratic island nation. I do not expect the Tasmanian Liberal Party to rescind Mr Brooks' membership because the state Liberal Party is rotten at its core, took filthy money from the gambling industry and accepted in-kind donations, the nod and wink money, to buy and election.

I note the presence in the House today of Federal Group CEO, Greg Farrell, who was in the dining room having lunch with the President of the upper House. Call me old-fashioned, call me squiggly, but -

Ms White - Squiggly.

Ms O'CONNOR - Squiggly in the guts, Ms White. To have a person come into -

Mr O'Byrne - Squeamish.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr O'Byrne. To have a person who has so comprehensively corrupted democracy in Tasmania over so many decades coming into this place, which is the heart of democracy in Tasmania, for a nice little lunch - on behalf of every gambling addict in Tasmania, I feel it is shameful.

Mr Jaensch - You will select which citizens are to come into their Parliament House. You are in charge of that now. You are the gatekeeper.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did I say that? I simply said it was shameful.

Mr Jaensch - Yes, you suggested it. You probably have a list of people who should not be allowed into Parliament House.

Madam SPEAKER - Order. Through the Chair, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - The term came to mind, Mr Jaensch, and it is good to hear you defending Mr Farrell. It is good to hear you defending the top end of town again. As I walked past Mr Farrell in the dining room I thought to myself, what a hide to have you here in our House, which is the heart of democracy in Tasmania. No, I am not the gatekeeper, Mr Jaensch. This is not my House and it is not your House. This House belongs to the people of Tasmania. The people of Tasmania were comprehensively shafted at the last state election, in part because Greg Farrell gave so much money to the Tasmanian Liberal Party.

Mr O'Byrne - I wouldn't quote John Howard and Tampa. Think of your historical reference list -

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Mr O'Byrne.

Mr Jaensch - I am applying it to the gatekeeper.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Mr Jaensch.

Ms O'CONNOR - We also discovered in question time today, it was the Premier who authorised a payment of almost $60 000 to cover Mr Brooks' legal bills. It begs the question, given that the authorisation only happened, if I recall what you are saying correctly, Premier, a short number of months ago, more than two years after Mr Brooks demonstrated himself to be a serial liar in this place, of why we still have the Premier thinking it is appropriate for taxpayers to pay the legal costs of someone who lied to the parliament, lied to the Premier, lied to the people of Braddon, and lied to the Crown Solicitor. I have still not discovered whether Mr Brooks offered his resignation following that notorious June 2016 incident across the Estimates table. I am sure it is a matter the Privileges Committee will explore. If, as premier, you were upholding the highest standards and a member of your parliamentary Liberal party room team who had lied to parliament three times offered their resignation, you would think you might consider accepting it. It was for political expedience, as I understand it, that it was not accepted.

Ms Courtney, she suffered, didn't she?

Ms Standen - She looked shabby for a few days.

Ms O'CONNOR - She did look shabby for a few days. Thank you for that, Ms Standen, that is a good way of putting it.

Madam SPEAKER - We have to be careful we are not a bit sexist here.

Ms O'CONNOR - Shabby, okay, I do not believe that is what Ms Standen was referring to.

Madam SPEAKER - She might have looked a bit sad.

Ms Standen - Sad is what I meant, Madam Speaker.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sad. I would not go so far as to say she looked ashamed or humble, but she definitely looked sad and was quite quiet, which was good. Of course there was no sanction for Ms Courtney choosing to withhold very pertinent information about a conflict of interest - not a perceived conflict of interest - from the Premier for, as I understand it, the best part of the month. Oh, here is Ms Courtney. The only sanction for breaching the ministerial code of conduct and choosing not to tell the truth about a conflict of interest to the head of the Cabinet, the Premier, was to be moved sideways into another ministry in which she would have regular contact on matters of public policy and legislation with the secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment. A tangled web has been woven as a result of the poor standards that are upheld the Premier of the day.

I hope the Leader of the Opposition will accept our amendment. It is critical that we talk about the triple bottom line in this place, and when we should all be able to debate matters of economic, social and environmental significance in this place. The diversity of this place is such that you will often get Liberal members talking about the economy, Labor members talking about people and Greens members talking about the environment. The environment does get talked about enough in here. There is not enough focus from this Premier's point of view in protecting Tasmania's environment. One of the reasons we do not have confidence in Will Hodgman is because of the incredible damage his policies are doing to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, national parks and other public lands in Tasmania. This Premier's legacy will be the degradation of wilderness by a globally acknowledged mathematical metric to assess the impact on wilderness values of the proposal to build luxury huts and fly helicopters in and out of Lake Malbena.

It is a fact that this Premier's policies will degrade Tasmania's wilderness. It is a fact that when this Premier came into government he sought to remove the word 'wilderness' from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan. It is a fact that this Premier allowed the process that determines whether or not there can be a commercial activity in a protected area to be so corrupted that he has alienated anglers, bushwalkers and ordinary Tasmanians from all walks of life because he is degrading wilderness but also entering into secret deals with developers. For example, the Government has given the proponent of the Lake Malbena proposal not just a long-term lease over Reg Hall's hut, it has given the proponent an island. A second lease was signed in secret just after the state election by the director of Parks on 18 March this year, which gives the proponent of the Halls Island proposal an entire island in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. There was no consultation, they did not talk to the owners of that island, did not engage with the Aboriginal community or talk to people who had been using that island for fly-fishing, bushwalking, soul searching or for sanctuary for decades. No, they handed over an island to one proponent.

This Premier is responsible for the theft of the commons - massively, madly privatising public assets in Tasmania. There are many reasons not to have confidence in this Premier. I have only outlined a few. Many of them are detailed in the original motion, but we do not have confidence in this Premier on the basis of his conduct over the past five years.