Legislative Council Tuesday 19 September 2017
Ms FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, I will make a few comments on this report. It is only a fairly short report and members have referred to the content of it. It is worth making a few points on this particular report.
It strikes at the heart of the committee structure overall, which is an important point. The member for Windermere has an unfortunate habit of taking other members' comments out of context.
In terms of my comment about not losing confidence of a committee to be able to give confidential information: if we say no-one should have any confidence in our committees in the future, we are undermining the whole work of all committees anyway.
If that was the context in which I made those comments previously, I stand by them now. We have to have a system in this Parliament where people can confidently come before a committee knowing that if they provide confidential information, it will be kept confidential, and if there are committee deliberations, they will also remain within the committee structure.
Some members of this place who are here now have disclosed deliberations of other committees I have been on just recently. My action has been to speak to those members and say, 'You cannot do that. It is a deliberation of a committee. You must not do that'. I was challenged that I was wrong. I said 'No, I am sorry. If you do not believe me, go and talk to the President or the Clerks'. That is the fact. It does go on. It has gone on and we all have to take responsibility for it. I did what I could in that instance. I am not going to name the member; I could but I will not.
What it comes down to is that when new members join this place, they get formal training and education in what this actually means. Sometimes, and we all come new without the experience, members do not fully understand that.
I have been here a long time now, as have some other members, but not all of us have and there are newer members who perhaps do not know the rules as well as others.
Mr Finch - Or the implications.
Ms FORREST - Or the implications.
Mr Finch - A confidential chat with a journalist or with another member. What that might lead to -
Ms FORREST - True. We do have a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner who can provide advice. The Integrity Commission was supposed to have that parliamentary standards office within it to actually provide this sort of training. We have had a couple of sessions in recent years, but I do not remember one in recent times and we have had a lot of new members in that time. I am not saying new members are the problem here. I am saying it is the case that all members should be well briefed on this. If they are not, sometimes they can fall foul of it without even realising they are doing so. That was the point the member for Rosevears was alluding to its implications.
There are few messages and lessons in this that we need to consider -
Mr Gaffney - We are also speaking on behalf of new members of the other House as well.
Ms FORREST - Yes, new members of parliament. It should be across the board, absolutely.
Mr Gaffney - That is even harder because they -
Ms FORREST - Potentially they can, and there are often more at once, in terms of in the other House.
I was referring to a member here I talked to. The honourable member is right - any new member should be given that information so they are clear about what is confidential and what is not and what can be discussed outside and what cannot.
There are age-old media tricks, too. As anyone who has dealt with the media knows, there are ways of getting or seeking information. If you are called and you say, 'I know I cannot talk about that', or 'I am not the chair of the committee. You need to talk to the chair, you know the rules', there is an inference it must be true. Otherwise you would have denied it. Not necessarily.
The next call is then to another member or to the chair, as the member for Windermere alluded to. He was not the first person in the chain of calls apparently. When you get to that point, it is like Chinese whispers, where they say, 'I wonder if they will issue a summons?' We know that is one thing that could happen. They ring and say, 'Has an initial summons been issued?', or 'Is a summons going to be issued?', or whatever the question is, for example, of a deliberation. The person neither confirms nor denies it because they do not have the capacity to because it is a confidential deliberation and/or they are not the chair of the committee. The next call is, 'I understand there is a summons on the go', or whatever it is. It has not been denied so it must be true.
Those who work with the media know how those things work. It is Media 101 in getting stories out of people. Information can be leaked in lots of ways and journalists are very good at making assumptions. There is always a risk that the story may have been not true. A summons may not have been about to be issued. How foolish would journalist look then? He probably took a calculated risk. I do not know. Or maybe he did get a call to say, 'Guess what, there is a summons to be issued'. I do not know.
I will be quite happy for the Privileges Committee to try to get to the bottom of it. That is the bottom line, but that is not the motion we are dealing with. We are dealing with this report. It is important all members have updates and new members have training and education when they arrive here. It happened for a while, but it has not happened in recent years that I can recall. The last one would have been at least three or four years ago from memory, but I may be wrong. The President might like to take that forward.
In reference to the first two documents referred to under unauthorised disclosure 1, the member for Windermere went through what could possibly have happened with those ones - the letter was read into Hansard, but it was not put on the website publicly until after this interview with ABC Radio. Someone could have recorded it. We get things transcribed from ABC very quickly. We get podcasts transcribed very quickly by the Tasmanian Parliamentary Library so it could have happened that way. I do not know. Maybe it did; maybe it did not. The upshot of it is that it was not just committee members who had this letter. Hydro had it. The Government had it. A whole range of other people had this letter.
To say a member of the committee definitely leaked it - no. It could have been, but a number of other people had this letter who could have provided it for whatever reason. There has been lots of information, not only these things here. Lots of other information has been leaked to the media directly from within some of our government businesses. They are not subject to this. It is an assumption that this particular document came straight from a committee member. I do not know that you can make that comment. Maybe it did. Again, I have nothing to fear. I am happy for the Privileges Committee to look at it, which is a motion for another day.
We do need to try to restore that confidence in our committee system, if it has been shattered as suggested by the Acting Leader and the member for Windermere. I do not believe it has; I believe it is important that it has not. We need to maintain the integrity of our system, partly by reminding members of their rights and responsibilities to ensure everyone understands what the rules are, if you want to call them rules.
I now reflect on a comment by the member for Derwent on one of the things that brought this to a bit of a head, and that is the difficulty the committee had in obtaining information relevant to the committee's inquiry.
We had another motion and debated it. I am not going to reflect on that, except to say it is very important we establish some sort of circuit-breaker process when this happens. We have spoken about this before. I have spoken to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, encouraging him to write to the Standing Orders Committee to have it at least looked at by that committee. I have spoken about this before. It is important to at least look at the best way to do that. We know another jurisdiction has a process; maybe that is the most appropriate process and would create a circuit breaker for whatever government is in power. If we just sit here and say 'We did not get anywhere, we are up against a brick wall and no-one was really held to account, and we just accept it and roll on', nothing will change.
As the member for Derwent said, the next government, of whatever colour, now has the precedent of saying 'We will just hang out there; we will just hang out and say no, no, no, claim public immunity, attest' - which is rubbish when it was a Right to Information officer making an assessment under the Right to Information Act. It is just rubbish.
There needs to be a process outside of an RTI request. RTI is a different process. It relates to members of the community or individual members of parliament seeking information, not a parliamentary committee of such standing. That is the fundamental bottom line.
We need a process as a circuit-breaker. It is yet to be determined what that is, but we in this place made an attempt to refer that letter to an independent arbiter. That was not supported in the other place, and it begs the question why.
Mr President, in noting this report, I note the events that have occurred and have been further described by the comments of other honourable members thus far. If it is not referred to the Privileges Committee, it is just a talkfest and nothing more. I am disappointed we are not proceeding with the other motion today. It has been on the Notice Paper long enough for honourable members to think about it. I hope it will be on next week when we have the report.