Page 2296 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 16 June 2009

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Minister for Health, the chief executive of the department of health and officers of the department of health. That would be only reasonable. It would be totally unreasonable for a privileges committee looking at these issues not to look at that full range of issues—namely, the truth of the claims made by Mr Hanson. Was he being honest? Does he understand the FOI Act? Were his claims of cover-up, misuse of process, justified? What is the evidence for that? If there is evidence of misuse or cover-up, what is it? What is the basis of that evidence? If there is no evidence of cover-up by the minister as claimed, or by others, do those claims or assertions actually malign Mr Cormack? These are the issues that, of course, would be taken into account in the full sweep of an objective inquiry by a privileges committee.

In the event that the committee finds that, yes, these claims by the Liberal Party are truly damaging, that they are damaging to professional reputation, at its heart, of course, is the fact that we have a professional public service—true professionals who are jealous of their hard-earned reputations. Allegations that they have subverted the administration of the Freedom of Information Act, that they have engaged in political activity, destroy public service reputations. An allegation left to stand that a public servant abandoned their commitment to objectivity, to frank and fearless advice, to bipartisanship, destroys public servant reputations. It is only appropriate in that circumstance, if the privileges committee says that, yes, this is defamatory, and that the claim that a public servant did deliberately involve himself or herself in the public process is substantiated, that that public servant’s reputation is destroyed forever.

What is the effect or implications of that? What support should we then, as a government or as an administration, give public servants who are deliberately or recklessly maligned? Of course, we should give serious consideration to ensuring that they have the means and the wherewithal to pursue what legal action they should necessarily pursue in order to protect their reputations. It is only appropriate in relation to a privileges investigation of this order, which goes to the heart of the professionalism and the standing of the most senior public servant in the health administration, that due consideration should be given to the level of support that we will give to him and to his colleagues to pursue that action that they might wish or decide to pursue through the courts, to actually restore their reputations, maligned today just through the action of establishing this privileges committee and through this whole-scale assault by others in this place of their reputations today.

These three proposals that the government makes through this amendment are unremarkable. They are the sorts of things that I would expect the privileges committee to have done anyway. One would hope that, on that basis, there is no hesitation in supporting these proposals.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (11.46): The opposition will not be supporting the amendment. I think there are some problems with the amendment, because one of the things that the Chief Minister would like the committee to do is to work out whether or not certain individuals have been defamed. I would have thought that was the purpose of the courts. If the Chief Minister is suggesting that we blur what is a well-established convention in this territory, that is a very interesting move from the Chief Minister. Again, it goes to the point that, when the Chief Minister is under pressure, he plays the man, not the issue. The issue here is about the privilege of this place. It is not about what may or may not have come out of a press release.

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