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Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs - Worksafe Referral

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: Integrity Commission, WorkSafe, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Attorney-General, I want to take you to the Integrity Commission Report 1 of 2021, dated 24 August 2021, into a referral that was made by the Greens relating to the slapping of a prohibition notice on the Bob Brown Foundation. I want to take you to page 16 of that report, where there's detail of the former WorkSafe regulator, Mr Cocker, giving sworn evidence to the Integrity Commission, that you as Attorney-General and a staff member of yours asked him what he was going to do about the forest protests.

Ms ARCHER - Which I completely denied and denied. I never said that.

Ms O'CONNOR - That leads to the question. What motivation do you think Mr Cocker would have to lie? I note that the Integrity Commission interviewed Mr Cocker as well as WorkSafe staff, but you and your staff were only required to put in a submission in writing.

Ms ARCHER - Ms O'Connor, I can't speak for Mr Cocker, but I note at page 19 at the conclusion at 7.3 where it states that Mr Cocker made allegations about what was said to him by me and apparently one of my staff -

Even so, he denied that the prohibition notice was motivated by anything other than safety concerns. Other evidence, including Mr Cocker’s own public statement, has not corroborated his allegations about the Attorney-General and her staff member.

I have been completely cleared of these allegations, and yet the Greens continue to try to muckrake.


Ms ARCHER - Other allegations that I apparently said at a meeting that other 'apolitical' people from my department were at; they said they couldn't recall me saying that - and had I said that, it would've been something that they would've. So, I am completely exonerated in this regard, because Mr Cocker's own evidence actually conflicts, and the report does state that.

So, I don't know why you're missing that in the report. There's never been a clearer finding of absolutely no misconduct on the part of anyone.

Ms O'CONNOR - I note that while the Integrity Commission investigation interviewed Mr Cocker and WorkSafe staff, they only required a written statement from you and your staff, and yet on that basis, the Integrity Commission chose to believe you and your staff over Mr Cocker -

Ms ARCHER - Can I clarify, it's a former staff member, and I did not speak to that person, who no longer works with me. If you're trying to allege there was collusion -

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not trying to allege collusion.

Ms ARCHER - I will swear under oath at any time and be prepared to say - and I say now, in front of this committee - that I never had a conversation with that staff member.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, can I finish my second question.

Ms ARCHER - It obviously corroborated that I didn't say that.

Ms O'CONNOR - What the Integrity Commission found was based on written testimony. They chose to believe the written testimony of yourself and a former staff member over the sworn evidence, apparently repeated in an interview of the former regulator, and the question is because the report -

Ms ARCHER - The weight is no different.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can you let me finish please? It says -

Mr Cocker’s sworn evidence was provided with detail. He expressed surprise that he had been asked such questions in that forum and said he was taken aback. Mr Cocker alleged that he responded to the Attorney-General by saying, 'Well minister, with respect, that's a matter for the Regulator to determine.'

The question is, regrettably this report has chosen - without any other evidence than an interview with Mr Cocker and a written statement from you or your former staff member - somehow to believe you and exonerate you -

Ms ARCHER - You're questioning the integrity of the Integrity Commission.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am, at some level, questioning the Integrity Commission's investigatory processes, if a person who has no reason to mislead or lie to the Integrity Commission -

Ms ARCHER - And nor do I.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the opportunity to ask questions of the Integrity Commission was in the previous portfolio.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for your guidance, Chair, but this is an Integrity Commission report into the WorkSafe regulator.

Ms ARCHER - And I have told the absolute truth. I never said that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did your staff member say that?

Ms ARCHER - No. No.

Ms O'CONNOR - So Mr Cocker has completely made this up in sworn evidence?

Ms ARCHER - Well, I don't know quite what to say to that, other than I have not said that, and I take my integrity very seriously. I'm in a parliamentary committee now and saying that to you. And I am not misleading the House, I did not say that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Attorney-General, this is the second report from the Integrity Commission. The first one, I recall, was related to the Commissioner for Children and Young People on his interactions with the then minister's office.

Ms ARCHER - Can I clarify one thing, Ms O'Connor? The Integrity Commission chose to believe a number of people over Mr Cocker's evidence, which conflicted. You have a person saying two different versions, then you have a number of people, departmental staff, who are apolitical, myself, minister Barnett, his staff and some of my staff.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you know if they were interviewed, the departmental staff?

Ms ARCHER - I believe so, yes. The report refers to that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'd simply make the observation in a question that what is happening with Integrity Commission reports in recent years is that the minister and the minister's office are chosen to be believed over other subjects of the investigation, like Mark Morrissey, and like Mr Cocker.

Ms ARCHER - Excuse me, but you are slurring apolitical departmental staff.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I'm not.

Ms ARCHER - You are, because -

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't know anything about what they said or did.

Ms ARCHER - They've chosen to believe them as well. Ms O'Connor, I think you're trying to find a 'gotcha' moment that's just not there. Why make a complaint to the Integrity Commission and not accept the umpire's decision? The decision is I did not say that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, the report says that the department staff were asked to provide testimony in writing, according to this report, yet Mr Cocker and his staff were interviewed.

Ms ARCHER - I have not sought to influence the independent regulator, nor would I.

Ms O'CONNOR - I just find it notable that in recent years the Integrity Commission has chosen, when there is a balance-of-evidence question, to believe a minister over someone like the former commissioner for children, Mark Morrissey, or the former WorkSafe regulator, Mr Cocker.

Ms ARCHER - Ms O'Connor, can I repeat for the record, I never said that. I haven't sought to influence the independent regulator, nor would I. I'm the Attorney-General, the first law officer of this state. I take that role incredibly seriously. I know and respect the role of an independent statutory office-bearer.

Dr WOODRUFF - I want to follow up on some questions that Ms O'Connor asked about Investigation Tindal. The independent regulator, Mr Cocker, was required to seek approval from the Government Communication Office before making a media comment. On what basis did you consider this was appropriate? I understand it has since been corrected. Can you now table your communications protocol for independent bodies?

Ms ARCHER - I don't run the media unit. It's situated in the Premier's office and I don't have any protocol that might exist.

Dr WOODRUFF - You were the one who told Mr Cocker -

Ms ARCHER - The Greens are pursuing an Integrity Commission report which found there was no misconduct. You're using this Budget output to ask questions about an Integrity Commission report. This is the Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs budget, so the link is very tenuous. The media unit is not in my office, nor is the protocol -

Dr WOODRUFF - Which is why we were so surprised that the workplace regulator, which is part of this output, had been directed to seek approval from the government communications office.

Ms ARCHER - I didn't make that direction, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - I understand there isn't precedent for other independent regulators, such as the EPA?

Ms ARCHER - I don't know. The media unit is not under my jurisdiction as minister.

Dr WOODRUFF - You didn't know that they had been advised to do that -

Ms ARCHER - Dr Woodruff, it's not my area. Chair, I ask that members ask questions relevant to the committee that they are before.