HON TJORN SIBMA (North Metropolitan) [6.36 pm]: I rise to make some observations about some of my personal experiences in dealing with this state’s freedom of information process and what that might suggest about this government’s professed commitment to provide greater accountability. It is clear to me, a year on from the election of the McGowan Labor government, that its commitment to transparency, openness and accountability is probably more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Although no-one in this place is gifted with precognition, it seems to me, after a year of observation, that the government has on occasion demonstrated a disdain for the discipline of public accountability; a reflexive political instinct to take credit for the work of others, and to shift blame onto others; a disregard for the welfare of communities that might be categorised as traditionally non-Labor electorates; and a general aura of expedience when it comes to public administration. I make the observation that that kind of tendency leads in only one direction, and it is not a particularly positive one.
[Further comments from the Hon Tjorn Sibma]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.46 pm]: What a pertinent contribution from Hon Tjorn Sibma. It is a theme that I intend to elaborate on right now. The reason I rise is that I cannot let pass some of the Attorney General’s appalling answers to simple questions, during this week in particular. I will also express my concerns about some of the answers that have been given to previous questions I have asked.
I will say that I have taken up the offer from the Leader of the House to discuss this matter behind the Chair, and she has very kindly agreed to raise the issue on my behalf with the Attorney General, particularly in relation to the two most offensive answers, and for that I am grateful. I appreciate that. I will also say that I recognise that there are ministers in this government who answer questions comprehensively and in a very professional way. I have 22 portfolios, so I end up asking questions of most of the ministers in this government at one time or another, including the Premier. Because I am about to have a go at the Attorney General, I am also going to give out a few bouquets. I feel I get comprehensive and appropriate answers from Minister Dawson, Minister McGurk, Minister Cook and Minister Johnston. That is my experience, and I thought I would put it out there, because I want to make it clear that I do not think it is the case that a standard has been set that can justify the way in which the Attorney General is choosing to answer questions.
I want to speak specifically about two questions I asked of the Attorney General. I note that I put them both in on the same day and they were both answered on the same day, so I do not know if it had anything to do with the staff member involved. I know some of the staff members who work for the Attorney General and they are excellent people, so I would expect better, but I do not know whether there was something wrong that happened on that particular day, but if that is the case, I would suggest that it be remedied as soon as possible. One of the questions I asked the Attorney General was whether he would issue model litigant guidelines for legal practitioners acting for the state and its agencies. That required a straightforward “Yes”, “No”, or “I’m actually going to be thinking about this issue”. It is a policy-based question; it does not require much research. I happen to know that this is an issue that the Attorney General knows a lot about and it would have been pretty straightforward for him to be able to give some indication as to whether it is something that this government is even contemplating. It came up in the previous government. There is a particular reason I am asking about this policy now. It is very pertinent to this state. I will not go into any detail at this point. The Attorney General should know this, and I suspect he does. The answer I got was simply —
I thank the honourable member for some notice of the question. Given the detail of the question and the answer required, the Attorney General requests this question be placed on notice.
I remind members that this is a policy-based question, so it is simply a matter of the Attorney General indicating whether this is something he is looking at. It requires a yes or no response, yet I have been told that I need to put this question on notice. This is absolutely unacceptable. I want to know why the Attorney General is hedging around this and why he is not prepared to answer the question. It strikes me that he is being particularly evasive.
Hot on the heels of another question that I asked, last week I spoke in this place and asked a question about the historical practice of recording care and protection applications as offences on children’s criminal histories. I was told last week that the data that was required in order to answer that question — whether we do that as a practice in Western Australia — was too much and that I needed to put it on notice. I dutifully put it on notice but then I stood in this place and spoke about why this issue is so significant. It is so significant because care leavers are looking towards the outcomes of the royal commission and the national redress scheme, anticipating that they will be undertaking processes through it, and they want to know whether this is an issue within Western Australia. The Attorney General should have some notice of this. It has arisen in the Victorian Parliament to the point that it is talking about issuing an apology. This issue has national attention. I would have thought that any Attorney General worth his or her salt would at least have started looking into this issue and would be able to have an answer to the question of whether that is the case. I can tell members that people want to know this information and they want to know it now. I knew that I would not get the detail of that question in a hurry so I simply pared it down to one critical question, which was basically: did this practice occur in Western Australia? Again, it required a yes or no answer. I anticipated that the Attorney General should have been able to answer this question and simply give me the information. It is not just me; as Hon Tjorn Sibma has pointed out, we are here doing a job representing constituents and stakeholders, and they have a right to know and they want to know. The answer I received basically pointed out that I asked a question on this matter last week, which has since been put on notice. It stated —
Given that Legislative Council question on notice ... is in the process of being responded to, I would encourage the member to await the contents of that answer prior to raising this issue again.
Oh, my God! That is one of the most offensive and patronising statements I have ever seen in an answer to a formal question that has been put on notice and has had time to be considered. What an offensive response! It is offensive to me — I will not be spoken to in that way — and it is offensive to the people who need this information. I say to the Attorney General: this is not good enough. I know he is a man who is across his portfolio areas. I know that he knows the answer to the first question and he is not being forthcoming with the answer. He should have the answer to the second question. If he does not, that means that he has not been doing his job. I want to say thanks again to those ministers who clearly take their jobs a little more seriously and are prepared to be accountable in this place. But absolute brickbats to the Attorney General for his complete failure to answer simple yes or no questions. I expect this to be the last time this ever happens.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
House adjourned at 7.00 pm