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WorkSafe Tasmania and the Bob Brown Foundation

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 5 March 2020

Tags: WorkSafe, Protest, Forests

WorkSafe Tasmania and the Bob Brown Foundation: Cassy O'Connor, 5 March, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: WorkSafe Tasmania and the Bob Brown Foundation.

We brought this on as a matter of public importance today because public trust in our institutions is essential. For the public to be able to have a measure of faith in the integrity of ministers of the Crown is essential and a foundational aspect of our democracy. This tale of WorkSafe Tasmania's insertion into the political debate and targeting of the Bob Brown Foundation is a tawdry tale indeed.

It is very clear that the person behind the original referral is the candidate for Windermere, Kelly Wilton. She was seen at the Magistrates Court last week, that is the week of 26 February, in close conversation with the regulator, Mr Cocker. Not a casual conversation is the report we got from the court, but an intense conversation. Also by Ms Wilton's own testimony, of course. Her original complaint targeting peaceful protestors to WorkSafe Tasmania was made in April 2018. It was not until the previous premier, Will Hodgman, intervened in October of 2018 that WorkSafe Tasmania started to target the Bob Brown Foundation in earnest. That makes it very clear that this is a political exercise on the part of WorkSafe Tasmania.

Mr Cocker has made his bed and now he must lie in it. He inserted himself into the political debate by issuing what turns out to be an unlawful prohibition notice against the Bob Brown Foundation. The prohibition notice to the Bob Brown Foundation from Mr Mark Cocker was a massive overreach of the power of WorkSafe Tasmania. It said:

I hereby direct the Foundation to cease the carrying out of forest protest activity throughout the state of Tasmania until such time as the Foundation has satisfied the work, health and safety regulator that it is managing health and safety duties and risks to workers and others consequential to their frontline forest protest activities, in accordance with regulations xyzlmnop of the Workplace Health and Safety Regulations.

I will note in passing, that there did not seem to be any concern on the part of the regulator, or indeed the Premier, the Attorney-General or the Minister for Resources when peaceful protesters in a vehicle in the Tarkine had their car rammed repeatedly by pro-logging thugs.

Crickets, utter silence from the Premier, his ministers and WorkSafe Tasmania who pretend that this is about being concerned about the health and wellbeing of people who are defending our forests. It is anything but that. It is yet another attempt on this Government's part to crush dissent, to silence protest, to back in the mendicant faction of a native forest logging industry, every single step of the way, every day.

Having failed and folded within six days of issuing that prohibition notice on 20 February in which WorkSafe Tasmania decided not to defend itself in court, yesterday another notice was issued to the Bob Brown Foundation threatening them with a $50 000 fine in relation to a coupe in Que River. Again, specifically targeting peaceful protesters, one organisation, for clearly political purposes.

The question remains, did WorkSafe Tasmania seek advice from Crown Law before it issued the original prohibition notice? I bet my house on them not having done so, because if the regulator had confidence that the prohibition notice he had slapped on the Bob Brown Foundation was lawfully valid, he would have made sure WorkSafe Tasmania could defend itself in a magistrate's court after the Bob Brown Foundation appealed. But no, folded and tried again yesterday.

This is a continuation of this Government's ongoing early onset fascism. We have had one anti-protest act struck down by the High Court for being unconstitutional. Then amendments, which seek to put a shine on a cowpat, were brought through this place to the anti-protest legislation towards the end of last year. They are now parked in the upper House until after the Legislative Council elections.

This is the third attempt by the Liberals in government to crush peaceful protest and this is not only a matter of concern to people who are defending our forests. It is a concern to the unions and to union members. If a government agency can be so politicised that it targets those organisations and individuals who are making life a bit difficult for government, where will it stop? That is why we referred this matter to the Integrity Commission, because there are so many questions.

There is such a stink around this issue. We have Mr Cocker going on radio on the morning of the twenty-first after the prohibition notice was issued, confirming this is the first time a protest group has been targeted by Workplace Health and Safety laws, stating that he had 'no contact from government, no advice, nil, none whatsoever'. Of course, my journalist's brain goes, 'methinks he doth protest too much'. Then, after the Regulator said 'no, no, nothing from government, we have from Mr Barnett and the Attorney-General a media release on that morning confirming they had referred the matter to WorkSafe Tasmania. This is a scandal.