HON TJORN SIBMA (North Metropolitan) [ 10.10 am ] — without notice: I move —
That this house expresses its concern with —
(a) the opaque manner in which ministers have provided information to this house when responding to parliamentary questions; and
(b) the government’s failure so early in its term to fulfil the Premier’s promise to be a transparent and accountable government characterised by decency, and ministers who behave properly.
[speeches and comments of various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 10.46 am ]: I rise to speak on this motion on behalf of the Greens. As has been noted, we are talking about a motion with two parts. I will make some comments about the first paragraph. I am one of these people who have sat on the crossbenches under both Labor and Liberal–National governments and I have had this experience under both. I agree with the Leader of the House’s comments about what happened under the previous government regarding the Auditor General and the assessments that were made about information being withheld that should not have been. I know that particularly when it came to dealing with the Department of Water, I had nothing but nightmares and headaches trying to get information to the point at which I ended up having to speak in this chamber on multiple occasions about the utterly opaque lack of transparency that occurred. At this point, in the early days of this government, my experience of getting answers to questions has been hit and miss. I will put on the record that some ministers are very good at giving quite fulsome answers to my questions and I feel like I can note who is particularly good at doing that. However, I will say that it has been much more difficult to try to get specific answers, particularly about what is happening with machinery-of-government changes. I accept that might be because a lot has still not been decided. Decisions seem to be happening a bit on the run and that, in itself, is of huge concern. I have been trying to get answers about that and it has been of grave concern. I recognise that my concerns about information around the machinery-of-government changes relate to what has happened with the changes to some of the senior leadership within the public service. Having said that, I have a bit of a mixed view about the changes that occurred in the public service. It was probably not a bad thing that some people have moved on but, regarding other people, I share members’ grave concerns in this place about how decisions were made and the level of interference that may have occurred. I still do not think we have got to the bottom of that. It is a legitimate concern and something that we deserve to be able to get some more information about. Basically, we need to know who made decisions and why decisions were made. There has not been a great deal of transparency around that and I remain particularly concerned about it.
I will now talk primarily about the second paragraph in the motion, which is about the “Premier’s promise to be a transparent and accountable government”. It would be remiss of me to not point out the front page of The West Australian today. It pretty much goes to the heart of my concerns about what this government is already starting to do. One of the things I am particularly concerned about is the emerging knowledge of the leaders’ forum, which the Greens were so critical of under the previous government. I will say that, at the time, we had those concerns echoed by the then ALP opposition. The Labor Party was very concerned about it, but it turns out that it is doing exactly the same thing. I have to say how utterly disappointed I am to discover, as Gareth Parker wrote in his article in The West Australian today, that only 10 per cent of the way into this Parliament we are already seeing this massive lapse in standards, and it is a lapse in standards; there is just no gilding the lily on this one. I was critical of it under the previous government, and I am critical of it with this government as well. Quite simply, it is unacceptable; it is appalling for any government to charge for access to its ministers in order to line party coffers. That is a disgraceful use of government, and the general public expects better. It does not pass the pub test; people are angry about it. It just helps to completely reinforce people’s absolute sense of failure with successive governments when they do this sort of thing.
Why is it of concern? We keep being told, I have to say, some pretty cute comments by the Premier. He is saying, “Well, this is the way it’s always been. This is the way we do it. It doesn’t mean they buy influence.” What a load of rubbish. People do not pay this amount of money to meet with ministers because they want to talk about the weather; they do not want to talk about the Kardashians. They are there to talk about influence. They are there to change ministers’ minds — to be able to present them with information and, hopefully, by putting up the bucks, the ministers will pay more attention and might be more inclined to adopt their position. Just as the previous government did, this government can say, as much as it likes, “Well, look, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be swayed by what’s presented to us.” Even if that turns out to be the case, and we would not know, because there is absolutely no transparency with how this is happening, it is bad enough, because there is the perception that that could happen, and that is absolutely appalling. The general public and WA voters deserve better than that.
We know that ministers have extraordinary powers and an extraordinary amount of discretion in the decisions that can be made; therefore, we expect a higher standard of our ministers in how they display their decision-making. I do not know who is in this leaders’ forum, I do not know who they have met with, and I do not know for how long. I do not know what it is that they have discussed — nobody knows. They have managed to completely bypass the Register of Lobbyists. It is an absolute disgrace. We went through this with WA Inc and we cannot go down that path again.
I am saying to this government, “Don’t you dare stand here and say, ‘We are transparent; we are accountable’”, because this government has turned out to be exactly the same as the last mob in the way it is making itself available with cash for access to ministers. I urge the government to rethink what it is doing, stop this, and say, “Okay, we recognise that this is a problem. We’re not going to do this anymore.” Quite frankly, if the government is doing this because it is saying, “Oh well, there’s no laws against it, so we’ll do it”, then you know what? We will change the laws, because that should not be allowed to happen anymore.
I want to know who the people are who are accessing ministers. There is a particular matter in my own electorate that I am going to use as an example, which I have already spoken about in this place. A group of residents and business owners are trying really hard to get the Claisebrook precinct reformed through the passing of town planning scheme 2. We know that there are two concrete batching plants — one owned by a very large international company — that are holding out to be able to stay there, even though they were only ever meant to be there temporarily. For example, I do not know whether either of these companies have been meeting with the minister, or have maybe donated as part of this leaders’ forum. Is that going to have an impact? I can tell members that the residents and business owners have not been able to get that sort of audience, and they certainly do not have the sort of money that is being talked about to get that sort of audience, which would actually enable them to have that sort of say. This is an example of a situation in which it is going to come down to ministerial discretion about what happens with the future of that entire precinct. These are the sorts of things we are talking about and this is the sort of stuff that I am particularly concerned about. Everybody should have equal opportunity to access and influence government, and money should never become part of that. Money should not be able to be used as the tool to potentially buy influence and prop up party coffers. We know the people who can afford this. It is a particular end of town. It is going to be big business owners and large-scale developers. They are the people who will be able to access this forum. There is absolutely no way that this government, which claims to be about integrity and transparency, can justify this and have things like the leaders’ forum or these cosy little arrangements like the one coming up on the weekend by which people can buy access to and get the ears of ministers for $6 000 to $10 000. There is no way that the government can have those things occurring on the one hand and on the other try to pretend that it is transparent and better than the last mob, because it is absolutely not. I am quite enraged about this. It is absolutely appalling that 10 per cent into this government’s term, it has already been exposed to be doing this, and it did it while it was in opposition and while campaigning on being the party of integrity — clearly it is not. With those words, I want to say that we could do better on the questions, but we could do far, far better on the issue of integrity and transparency.
[speeches and comments of various members]
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.