NO CONFIDENCE IN THE PREMIER FOR MISLEADING THE HOUSE
There is no doubt about it – the Premier has misled this House
It wasn’t just one accidental misleading, but a deliberate pattern of deceit
The Premier must unreservedly apologise for misleading the House and, if he applies the same standard that is expected of Members who are found to have willfully misled the Chamber, he will offer his resignation to the Governor
The Premier has misled this House.
There is no doubt about it – the Premier of Tasmania has misled this House.
And it wasn’t just one accidental misleading, but a deliberate pattern of deceit.
Yes, the pattern of deceit started, not in this Chamber, but outside.
Much of it was known before.
But the evidence given to the Select Committee on Public Sector Executive Appointments on Friday 6 November reveals the ugly truth in all its detail.
And it exposes exactly how decisions are made at the very highest levels of government by a very tired, stale and inept Labor Government.
And again, it highlights, how bereft of integrity this government is – from the top down.
And it is worth reflecting, that it was only last week, that this Parliament arrived at the sad conclusion that scandal weary Tasmania needs an anti-corruption authority, and debated legislation to establish it.
The irony will be lost on no-one that at the time this Parliament, and the Tasmanian community, are considering issues of integrity, honesty in government, greater accountability, and the tragic decline in public confidence – very much caused by this shabby, dodgy government – at this very time, the government is again embroiled in controversy.
And this time it goes to the heart of the integrity of the Premier.
And no one should forget the sanctimonious pledge by the Premier – on becoming Deputy Premier last year – to “speak the truth at all times”
This matter goes directly to the integrity of the Premier.
That is what we are debating today.
The background of this scandal is as follows;
The Premier asked the Acting Commissioner of Police, Mr Hine, to come and see him in his office at 8 am on the morning of 16 October.
Mr Hine knew that the Premier was likely to tell him of his plans to appoint Mr Richard McCreadie as Temporary Police Commissioner, in Mr Hine’s place.
Mr Hine knew this because he had heard it not from the Police Minister’s office, which had said this was just a rumour and which we now know was totally excluded from this exercise, but because it was being openly discussed at a social function in Victoria at which senior Tasmania Police officers were present.
Before his meeting with the Premier, Mr Hine took advice from the senior legal officer in Tasmania Police, Mr Miller.
Mr Hine asked Mr Miller whether he should tell the Premier about matters directly relevant to the proposed appointment of Mr McCreadie as Temporary Police Commissioner, namely that the Director of Public Prosecutions was considering laying criminal charges against Mr McCreadie.
Mr Miller said not only should Mr Hine tell the Premier, but he in fact thought Mr Hine had a duty to do so.
He also said that the Acting Police Commissioner should advise the Premier to talk to the DPP.
Mr Hine took this advice.
He advised the Premier to contact the DPP.
His sworn evidence to the Select Committee – which the Premier has not disputed, is as follows:
“I asked him if he had spoken to the DPP and he informed me that he had not and that he had made a conscious decision not to. I also informed the Premier that the DPP was considering charges against Mr McCreadie and I felt the Premier needed to know.”
So here we have an Acting Head of Agency meeting face to face with the Premier and giving him advice that he should contact the DPP and that he should know about charges against a person who the Premier was considering to head our police service.
We also know that the DPP himself had been trying to contact the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Mr Terry Field.
The DPP rang Mr Field at 9.30 a.m. and left a message asking that he urgently return the call.
This had added urgency because Mr Mark Miller had told the DPP that the Premier intended to appoint Mr McCreadie.
The DPP wanted to talk to Mr Field before Parliament started for the day at 10 a.m.
Mr Field did not return the DPP’s call until 10.42 a.m.
And that was two minutes – TWO MINUTES – after the Premier had sat down, having announced his intention to appoint Mr McCreadie to quote “provide stability” to Tasmania Police.
On 22 October 2008 the Premier told this House: “Due to information that came to me AFTER I had made an announcement of my intention to appoint Mr McCreadie, I then asked for formal advice.”
The Leader of the Government in the Upper House said last Thursday, and I quote from Hansard, “The Premier has at no time disputed the evidence given by the acting commissioner. He has stated that at that time he was not dissuaded from his intention to appoint Mr McCreadie.”
Let us for a moment set aside the astonishing revelation that the Acting Police Commissioner telling our State’s Premier of potential criminal charges against a person proposed to be appointed Police Commissioner did not deter him from ploughing ahead with the appointment.
Let’s even set aside the uncontested sworn evidence of Mr Hine that the Premier told Mr Hine he had been consciously avoiding the State’s DPP from telling him information the Premier did not want to hear.
Let’s even ignore for a moment the Premier’s hair-splitting about whether the advice was formal or not – even though Mr Bartlett has rightly said that a lot of advice ministers get is verbal, not written.
But what is at the heart of this matter is the Premier brazenly saying to his House that he did not have the information that we all now know that he did have.
Information that the Premier’s own Chief of Staff admitted was given at that meeting.
So all three people at the meeting – Mr Bartlett, Mr Field and Mr Hine, apparently agree that Mr Hine told the Premier about the possibility of criminal charges and that the Premier should contact the DPP.
But now we know that, after the proposed appointment failed, the Premier then mounted an elaborate and systematic pattern to deny the fact that he had this knowledge.
In short, we now know Mr Bartlett set out to deliberately mislead the House by failing to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth… ”all the facts”.
The Premier has sought to draw some distinction between receiving ‘information’ and receiving what he called ‘formal advice’.
Even if that was a real distinction – which it is not – it does not help the Premier in his current predicament, because on 22 October he clearly told the Parliament he did not have “information” until after he had made the announcement.
While he may not have received written advice until later, formal advice does not need to be written – as the Premier himself indicated in Parliament on 21 October in another answer to a question on the appointment of a Temporary Police Commissioner, when he said: “Often advice is verbal, not written…”
There is no doubt that the meeting at which Mr Hine told the Premier about the possible charges against Mr McCreadie was a formal one. It was called by the Premier. It was held in the Premier’s office. It was attended by the Premier’s Chief of Staff, who took notes at the meeting.
If that is not a ‘formal’ meeting, what is?
But if this statement by the Premier that he didn’t have this information before he made the announcement was even, charitably, a slip of the tongue, we know that there are at least two further examples of the Premier apparently misleading the House in order to disguise his prior knowledge of the inappropriateness of appointing Mr McCreadie.
The first is revealed in the following question and answer in the House on 21 October 2008.
The Leader of the Tasmanian Greens asked the Premier whether any concerns about his intention to appoint Mr McCreadie as Temporary Police Commissioner had been raised ‘by any stakeholder’, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, prior to him making the announcement.
Mr Bartlett, in his reply said: “I am not aware of any concerns raised by the DPP before I came into this place and made that announcement.”
This answer appears to be deceptive on two counts.
First, we now know that Mr Bartlett was in fact aware of concerns raised by the DPP because Mr Hine had told him. And we also know that the Premier told Mr Hine that he was consciously avoiding the DPP.
Second, the question asked whether concerns had been raised by “any stakeholder” prior to the announcement.
Mr Bartlett’s answer makes no mention of Mr Hine’s concerns even though Mr Hine was clearly a key stakeholder.
On 22 October in answer to a question from me, the Premier said;
“…the reason I asked for the official advice – for the Solicitor-General to write to the DPP on Monday – was that I became aware of a number of conversations that the DPP was having with both the Solicitor-General and my chief of staff. The chief of staff’s phone call was returned after I made the announcement.”
The Shadow Police Minister, Mr Hidding, interjected at this stage “But you knew the phone call had happened?”
And the Premier said “Mr Speaker I cannot make decisions on corridor conversations of this nature. I was in the mode, as you know, of wishing to appoint Mr McCreadie as temporary commissioner.”
Mr Hidding attempted again to interject by suggesting the Premier ignored the advice in his possession.
The Premier said, and I quote again “I did not ignore anything because when I heard both from my chief of staff and from the Solicitor-General that the DPP was having corridor conversations about certain matters, I came in on Monday morning and asked the Solicitor-General to write directly to the DPP to get the advice formally…”
So again the Premier has misled the House. He knew that there had been a lot more than what he called “corridor conversations”. He knew in fact that the Acting Police Commissioner had told him – face to face – about the potential of charges being laid.
He also knew that the DPP had been trying to contact him, but that he was consciously avoiding him.
Why, in this answer, did the Premier fail to mention the advice about the DPP’s concerns that he had directly received from Acting Commissioner Hine?
Why did he fail to do so, if not seeking deliberately to withhold information and thereby mislead the House?
Why did the Premier attempt to pass off the DPP’s concerns as “corridor conversations”, if not also to deliberately mislead?
Why did the Premier assert to the House that he quote “did not ignore anything”? Clearly he did ignore Mr Hine’s advice about the DPP’s concerns.
The evidence is that on both 21 October 2008 and again on 22 October 2008 Mr Bartlett went out of his way to give the false impression that he was telling the truth, and the complete truth.
And then he compounded it even further.
On 21 October he told the House: “I believe we find ourselves in serious circumstances. There are questions to be answered. Questions need to be asked; I accept that. I have furnished the House with all the detail that I have in a totally open manner today at the earliest opportunity, and have put these issues on the public record where they belong so that people can understand exactly what is going here.”
Clearly, by deliberately omitting any mention of his conversation with Mr Hine the Premier had not furnished the House with all the detail in a totally open manner.
And on 22 October during another answer to me, Mr Bartlett said;
“I am making sure that all the detail of all the conversations are on the record.”
Well, no, he was emphatically not putting all the detail of all the conversations on the record.
Far from it.
On 22 October I moved a motion of no confidence in the Premier, not about him ignoring the advice from Acting Commissioner Hine – because we did not know about that because the Premier had withheld that information from the House – but because the Premier had misled the House about the letter the DPP had sent him about reasons the DPP felt Mr McCreadie should not be appointed.
During that debate, the Premier said: “Mr Speaker, I have acted entirely properly. I have informed the House and the public at the earliest opportunity of all matters around this. I have had good motives for wanting to reappoint a temporary commissioner as I have explained this morning. Those motives were truly in the interests, I believe, of the long-term health of our police service.”
Let me repeat part of that – Mr Bartlett said “I have informed the House and the public at the earliest opportunity of all matters around this.”
Well, that is simply not so.
Mr Bartlett went on to say;
“Every day we disagree on matters of policy in this place and essentially, yes, we may disagree on this matter of policy of whether or not the former commissioner should have been brought back temporarily.
That is a disagreement of policy, I accept that, and I have no problem with your disagreeing with it. I have followed the proper process to move my intention forward to do that, including getting formal advice when I heard that conversations were going on…”
Well, again that is just not true.
Mr Bartlett did not follow proper process, and he did not seek formal advice when he heard, in his words, that conversations were going on.
He ignored direct advice from Acting Commissioner Hine. He avoided the DPP.
His Chief of Staff deliberately did not ring the DPP back until he knew the Premier had announced Mr McCreadie’s proposed appointment in Question Time.
After Mr Hine’s, evidence of 6 November, corroborated by Mr Field, the Premier went into hiding for a day.
He then emerged to say that nothing he had been told at the meeting “dissuaded” him from pressing ahead with the proposed appointment.
He even accused me of selectively quoting from Hansard!
Well, the Hansard record is there for everyone to read – they can make their own judgement.
On the evidence we have, Mr Bartlett has told at least one direct mistruth to the House about when he first knew that there were concerns about appointing Mr McCreadie.
Second, he appears to have made a series of deliberately misleading statements to the Parliament in his attempts to disguise the fact that he had prior knowledge that it would be inappropriate to appoint Mr McCreadie.
On 22 October 2008 Mr Bartlett said to the Chamber: “In retrospect, Mr Speaker, yes I would have preferred to have had this advice before I made the announcement.”
On the same date, Mr Bartlett told the House: “Due to information that came to me after I had made an announcement of my intention to appoint Mr McCreadie I then asked for formal advice.”
And, most damningly, on 22 October the Premier said to the House:
“I am not aware of any concerns raised by the DPP before I came into this place and made that announcement.”
On 8 April 2008 the then Deputy Premier, Mr Kons, came into the House on the adjournment and apologised for misleading it earlier that day about the proposed appointment of a magistrate. He said: “I wish to place on record my apologies to the House for making any inaccurate statement in regard to these matters.”
The next morning, the then Premier, Mr Lennon, told the House that Mr Kons had offered his resignation as Deputy Premier and that had been accepted.
Mr Lennon said of Mr Kons: “…he said to me that he had to take responsibility for the actions of yesterday and he has done so. In doing so, he has shown himself to be a man of strong character. It should be noted that yesterday he sought to correct the inaccurate answer he gave in Parliament during yesterday’s question time at the earliest available opportunity to him, having had the opportunity to examine the Hansard and his responses to questions.”
Of course, the political beneficiary of Mr Kons’ demise was David Bartlett, who became Deputy Premier and then, within only a few weeks, replaced Paul Lennon as Premier.
Some would say that Mr Kons was caught out trying to protect his premier.
I don’t know if I agree with that analysis, but it is certainly the case that while Mr Kons misled the House and both apologised at the earliest opportunity and then paid the political price, he did not mount a systemic pattern of deliberately deceptive answers over several days – answers deliberately designed to mislead the House and disguise the truth.
There can be few things more important than the public having confidence in its system of justice, and that people holding high office will make responsible decisions based on advice – and decisions which will stand up to independent scrutiny.
How ironic that this government has been dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the need for a permanent integrity body when it is a government which will be remembered in Tasmanian political history as one with a long catalogue of scandal, misuse of office, mate’s deals, nepotism and riding rough-shod over proper process.
But, when sober analysis of this government is undertaken, the most telling criticism will be a very simple one: Why, when supplied with proper information, did this Premier ignore it and blunder ahead regardless?
Why did he attempt to install a retired Police Commissioner in a manner that remains totally opaque?
Why did the Premier not only ignore the direct advice of the Acting Police Commissioner about potential criminal charges being laid against a person he planned to appoint to head a department and lead our police service, but that he admitted that he was consciously avoiding the head of our public prosecution service because he might get some advice he didn’t want to hear?
And why did the Premier – when the appointment spectacularly failed – deliberately and systematically set out in multiple answers to this House to mislead honourable members and, through them, mislead the Tasmanian public?
A strong case can be that many of Mr Bartlett’s statements to the House in this matter were deliberately deceptive and deceitful – a case, either, of the Premier telling the literal truth but the moral lie, or not telling the whole truth. Together, they amount to a pattern of misconduct that the Premier must now explain.
He has misled, not once, not twice, but on several occasions.
He did not follow due process.
He ignored the advice of his Acting Police Commissioner.
He deliberately avoided the DPP.
His conduct has been wholly unsatisfactory in regard to his responsibilities to this House.
He must unreservedly apologise for misleading the House and, if he applies the same standard that is expected of Members who are found to have wilfully misled the Chamber, he will offer his resignation to the Governor.
What Nick McKim says:
NO CONFIDENCE IN PREMIER
Parliament and the Community Deserve Better
Nick McKim MP
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
For Comment: Cath Hughes, Media Advisor, 0419 886 304
The Tasmanian Greens today moved a no confidence motion in the Premier, David Bartlett, over his handling of the bungled plans to appoint Mr Richard McCreadie as Interim Police Commissioner, and his misleading of Parliament when questioned on the matter.
Greens Leader Nick McKim MP said that this year long fiasco raised serious concerns over David Bartlett’s judgment, decision-making practices, and capacity as Premier.
Mr McKim outlined the following as the key components of the Greens’ arguments in support of the no confidence motion:
§ Never has Mr Bartlett explained satisfactorily why he felt the need to parachute in an Interim Police Commissioner
§ Never has Mr Bartlett explained satisfactorily why he did not act on the warnings he received before announcing the appointment on the 16th of October 2008
§ Mr Bartlett has failed to answer why he did not divulge to the Parliament that he had received stakeholder warnings when specifically asked
§ Mr Bartlett’s continual treating of the Parliament with contempt by his repeated refusal to provide full truthful answers
§ That fact that Mr Bartlett was gate-kept by advisors to ensure that relevant information was not brought to his attention, either with his knowledge and approval, or without
§ Mr Bartlett’s breaches of the Government’s Code of Conduct, and his failure to apologise and correct the record at the first opportunity available, contravening best practice under the Westminster system.
“What this boils down to is whether David Bartlett has the capacity and the judgement to be the Premier of Tasmania. On that question the jury is in, and the verdict is he doesn’t,” Mr McKim said.
“Based on the evidence before the Parliament, it is clear that David Bartlett has withheld relevant information from the Parliament, misled the Parliament at least by omission, refused to provide full and frank answers to questions, all of which demonstrates a gross contempt for Parliament.”
“All this could have been avoided had the Premier behaved like a statesman when Parliament resumed yesterday, by apologising, accepting responsibility for a crisis of his own making, and correcting the public record be providing all accurate and full information.”
“Mr Bartlett failed to do so. This again demonstrates poor judgement and a lack of capacity to fulfil the obligations and responsibilities of the position of Premier.”
“It is also very telling that nobody in Labor could mount a comprehensive argument in defence of the Premier, but instead resorted to personal attacks.”
“This is symptomatic of an old government, a stale government, and a tired government, that has lost respect for due process, and which in turn has lost the respect of the Tasmanian community,” Mr McKim said.
Text of No-Confidence Motion tabled by Greens Leader Nick McKim MP:
That this House:
1. Notes the Premier’s announcement on October 16th last year that he had decided to appoint Mr Richard McCreadie as Acting Police Commissioner, despite having previously been made aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions was considering charging Mr McCreadie with a criminal offence, and despite Police Commissioner Mr Jack Johnston having to previously stand aside after being charged with a criminal offence;
2. Notes Mr Bartlett’s failure to adequately explain his motivations for that decision, including a failure to explain exactly why Tasmania Police needed stabilising at all at that time;
3. Notes that Acting Police Commissioner Darren Hine informed Mr Bartlett that the Director of Public Prosecutions was considering charging Mr McCreadie with a criminal offence prior to Mr Bartlett making the announcement;
4. Notes the Director of Public Prosecutions attempted to contact Mr Bartlett on the morning of the 16th Oct, and that Mr Bartlett formed a view that he would not talk to the Director of Public Prosecutions about his intention to appoint Mr McCreadie, and has not adequately explained that decision;
5. Notes Mr Bartlett’s failure to provide the whole truth in response to Parliamentary questions on this issue, including failing to inform the House that Acting Commissioner Hine had informed him that the Director of Public Prosecutions was considering charging Mr McCreadie with a criminal offence, thereby misleading the House by omission;
6. Notes Mr Bartlett’s claim that he had ‘provided the House with all detail I have in a totally open manner’, which we now know not to be true; and
Therefore agrees that the House has no confidence in the Premier due to his lack of judgement, his failure to allow all relevant facts to be placed before him prior to making such an important decision, his misleading of the House and his failure to tell the whole truth to the House and the Tasmanian people.