Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2022 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 1 December 2022) . . Page.. 4099 ..
about their safety. The minister’s office has advised that no records were provided because none was kept—no file note, no diary note, no email.
These were extremely significant events. The minister said that he had life-and-death fears reported to him, and he took these fears seriously and he actioned them, but no-one made any note of it. When a minister contacts a regulator within his chain of command and seeks advice on a life-and-death matter that starts a chain of events that breaches parliamentary privilege, please make a note of it. These decisions matter, and so do the records.
The minister also gave an interview to the media while a prohibition order was in place. This was a highly contentious matter. There was a lot of public and media interest in the story. I have heard that there was global interest in this matter. The reputation of the Legislative Assembly and the process of parliament were at risk. The minister repeated information in that interview that was not correct. He said senior public servants had told him they were scared to come to face-to-face hearings because they were worried about having 40 people crammed into a room.
He knew this is not how we conduct hearings during the pandemic, but he repeated this concern on air. The committee asked the minister about why he made those comments to the media. The committee explained that, while a public servant might well hold this fear, the minister attended hearings regularly and knew the Assembly’s COVID-safe plan and knew the room limits posted on the doors and knew that none of the rooms in which hearings might be held would hold 40 people.
The committee asked the minister why he repeated that comment to the media and the public instead of correcting it with the person or people who had made it to him. He said he was simply relaying the concerns that were put to his office. We are in a pandemic. We are going through a lot of disasters. It is really important that our leaders act calmly and provide correct information, particularly to the media and to members of the public, and particularly about matters of safety. If a mistake is made—and we all make mistakes—please correct it. It is easy to do, and it can change outcomes very quickly.
The subject of this inquiry is serious. Prohibition notices like this could have stopped a sitting. They actually did result in a one-week delay to the budget estimates. Madam Speaker, you yourself have said that you considered taking action in the Supreme Court to have the prohibition notices set aside. The separation of powers has been discussed at length, and the committee has found one breach of privilege; so, the consequences of these actions were severe.
Ministers are in positions of great responsibility. You are the custodians of our democracy. Please take care with it. Keep records. Make careful decisions. Be precise with your words, particularly when speaking to the media or to the public, and particularly when speaking about a matter with serious consequences. And if you make a mistake, please correct it.
MR PETTERSSON (Yerrabi) (10.15): I will speak very briefly. I, too, would like to thank my fellow committee members. Privileges committees are never fun, but when you can work in a productive way with members of all political parties in this place,