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Want of confidence in the Speaker

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 2 March 2023

Tags: Integrity, No Confidence Motion, Conflict of Interest

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I seek leave to move -

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended to debate the following motion.

That this House has no confidence in the Speaker on the following grounds:

(1) Mr Shelton used his privileged access to official information to seek and gain $400 000 in funding for Bracknell Hall;

(2) the Bracknell Public Hall and Recreation Ground committee, of which Mr Shelton and members of his family are longstanding members, had direct involvement in deciding the concept, scope, design and budget for a project to build the new hall at Bracknell;

(3) Mr Shelton has a clear personal interest in the future of Bracknell Hall, given his and his family's membership of the committee;

(4) as a member of parliament and the Liberal Party, he had access to official information, which he appears to have exploited for this personal gain;

(5) as a member of parliament, Mr Shelton has an obligation to act in the best interests of the public - instead, he used his influence to seek government funds go to a project without any merit-based assessment in which he was closely involved in determining how the money was spent;

(6) Mr Shelton has demonstrated a failure to avoid a conflict of interest, over $400 000 in state funds, to advance a personal project in his home town of Bracknell; and

(7) Mr Shelton is unfit to hold the office of Speaker of the House of Assembly.

Regrettably, Mr Speaker, you did not take the opportunity which the Greens provided you to give answers to the Tasmanian people about the circumstances surrounding the allocation of $400 000 in public funds outside any proper process, without transparency, to the redevelopment of the Bracknell Hall. Indeed, in a perversity in this place, you used your casting vote, as you did yesterday, to avoid any debate on a referral to the Privileges and Conduct Committee. Today you used your casting vote to avoid having to answer any questions about the circumstances surrounding the allocation of very large sums of public funding to the Bracknell Hall redevelopment, a project in which you have a direct, personal interest.

It is wrong, Mr Speaker, that you have put yourself in this position by failing to declare a conflict of interest around the allocation of $400 000 in public funds. You failed to avoid a conflict of interest around the allocation of that funding, and then yesterday in this place used your casting vote to prevent any further debate on a referral to the Privileges and Conduct Committee so that committee - of which of course you are a member - could investigate this matter of very significant public interest. I am concerned, as is Dr Woodruff, that you will again use your casting vote to avoid further debate on our want of confidence in you as Speaker.

Mr Speaker, the Liberals are either pretending they do not understand what a conflict of interest is or they are so grossly unaccustomed to the snout-in-trough approach to governing that they really do not see the issue. The performance we had this morning from the sanctimonious Deputy Premier was something else. We have had the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, and indeed the Premier after our question today, claim that you did nothing wrong in allowing your personal interest to interfere with your professional interest and professional responsibility to the people of Lyons.

The Greens recognise that what Mr Shelton has done in this case is obviously and objectively misconduct. This is not the same as a local member advocating for a community in need. This is a member advocating for a project in which they had a direct, private, personal interest. There can really be no argument about this.

As a member of the Bracknell Hall committee, along with numerous Shelton family members, the member for Lyons, Mark Shelton, has a direct, private, personal interest in the Bracknell Hall redevelopment. We have thousands of pages of documentary evidence, Mr Speaker -we have been working on this for a long time - along with statements

Documentary evidence together with statements made by Mr Rockcliff and Mr Street yesterday, clearly show Mr Shelton was involved in arranging $400 000 of taxpayer funds for the Bracknell Hall outside of any proper process and in record time.

There would be so many community groups across the electorate of Lyons, across Tasmania, who would be thrilled to think that if they put forward a case for funding for their community needs that it would be turned around by government in a little over a month. But no, they do not have that benefit, because they do not have the member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, living in their neighbourhood. If that is not a conflict of interest, what is? As the Integrity Commission says:

Careful and transparent management of conflicts of interest is essential for transparent and accountable decision-making in the public interest and public trust in government.

I note for the purposes of Hansard, that Mr Shelton has now rightly excused himself from the Chair. We would argue that he should excuse himself from the vote.

Mr Deputy Speaker, is another member for Lyons. Now, we would not be having this conversation if Mr Shelton had avoided this conflict of interest or at the very least had appropriately disclosed or managed it, but he did not. Just as he did not take the opportunity that the Greens provided to him to answer those questions in the public interest about the allocation of $400 000 out of the public account to his pet project. Instead, Mr Shelton let his private interest influence his actions in his capacity as a member of the state Government, meeting with the council, accepting their funding request and advocating for this request to be met by the then premier.

There is absolutely no doubt that this constitutes serious misconduct under the Code of Conduct for MPs. There is a further question about whether Mr Shelton used privileged access to official information about the budget development process to advance his own private interest. On top of all that, we have Mr Shelton's conduct yesterday, when he used his casting vote to avoid further scrutiny on this matter.

Mr Deputy Speaker, regardless of your interpretation of the Standing Orders there is no question that a Speaker with integrity would have vacated the Chair during yesterday's debate. We are glad he has vacated it today.