Will Liberals Show Similar Concern over Pulp Mill Permit Advice?
Kim Booth MP
Greens Forestry spokesperson
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
For Comment: David Reilly, Senior Communications Advisor, 0428 510 641
The Tasmanian Greens today accepted a briefing from the Solicitor-General over legal advice regarding the process undertaken to resolve the contractual dispute between Gunns Ltd and Forestry Tasmania.
Greens Forestry spokesperson Kim Booth MP said that the power-sharing Parliament had already set the precedent on a similar matter when the Liberals voted in support of receiving a briefing regarding confidential advice over the Price Waterhouse Coopers energy review last year.
Mr Booth also reiterated that the Greens had required that an independent Probity Auditor process have oversight of the Gunns Ltd and Forestry Tasmania contractual dispute, and all that information had been publicly released.
“Both the Greens and the Liberal parties were offered a briefing by the Solicitor-General, to be conducted by the end of this week, on this important matter, and it is gob-smacking that the Liberal party have rejected this offer,” Mr Booth said.
“All elected representatives have the responsibility to make informed decisions, and the Greens take that responsibility seriously, hence we have accepted the offer of the briefing to inform us whether further action is appropriate.”
“The fact that this was nothing more than a political game by the Liberals is exposed by the fact that they refused to answer when they were questioned whether they would support a similar motion calling for the Solicitor-General to release any advice on whether the Pulp Mill Permit has expired. The silence was deafening.”
“Silence over the Pulp Mill Permit advice being released exposed that the Liberals were not motivated by principal or the public interest, but just short-term political gain.”
• Lara Giddings, MP
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Briefing offer declined
The Premier, Lara Giddings, said she was disappointed the Legislative Council had declined an offer of a confidential briefing on the legal advice which informed the payment of commercial settlement to Gunns Limited and Forestry Tasmania.
Ms Giddings said the offer had been made in good faith to allow the Legislative Council to understand the strong legal basis on which payments were made to both parties.
“I am concerned that some members of the Legislative Council may be more interested in the politics of this matter rather than the facts themselves,” Ms Giddings said.
Ms Giddings said the State Government had gone to great lengths to cooperate with the Upper House, including providing a briefing from the Solicitor General on the dangerous precedent set by tabling privileged legal and cabinet-in-confidence advice.
“We have nothing to hide, which is why we allowed an independent probity auditor to review all documentation in the commercial settlement process.
“But it is no accident that Westminster convention dictates that Solicitor General advice and Cabinet-in-confidence material should remain confidential.
“There are a number of compelling reasons for this, which we have given in great detail, both in briefings with the Legislative Council and in today’s Lower House debate.
“The State Government receives hundreds of pieces of legal advice every year and the release of this advice has occurred in only a small fraction of extraordinary circumstances in the past 10 years.”
Ms Giddings said the State Government would defend the principle of legal professional privilege and Cabinet confidentiality.
“Undermining these important conventions would set a dangerous precedent for the future.
“However, as a show of good faith, the offer of a confidential briefing will remain on the table for any member of Parliament who wants to better understand the Government’s decision-making process on this matter.”
Confidential briefing offered to Parliamentarians
The Premier, Lara Giddings, said today an offer had been made in good faith to provide all members of Parliament with a confidential briefing on the legal advice which informed the legal settlement with Gunns Limited and Forestry Tasmania.
If the offer is accepted, the Solicitor General will be made available to brief members in the coming days, in order to comply with the motion passed by the Legislative Council last week.
“I am disappointed that the Liberals have already chosen to decline our offer,” Ms Giddings said.
“This shows they were only ever interested in politics and grandstanding, rather than understanding the full facts of this complex issue.”
Ms Giddings cited legal professional privilege and the fact that the advice is subject to Cabinet confidentiality, as reasons why it should not be tabled in Parliament.
“While I am aware of the keen interest members have in the issues surrounding the recent offer to Gunns, releasing Solicitor-General’s advice is not the usual practice of government,” Ms Giddings said.
“At the heart of my concerns is the fundamental principle of legal professional privilege, enjoyed by governments and citizens alike, in relation to legal advice and proceedings which underpins the proper administration of justice.
“It has been a long-standing convention of our system of government that legal advice to government should be treated judiciously and confidentially.
“It is critical that proper legal advice is obtained by government on a confidential basis without fear that that advice may end up being provided to another party to potential or existing litigation, to the detriment of the Crown and therefore ultimately, the public.
“Disclosure may even prompt and assist the commencement of legal proceedings against the Crown and other parties.”
Ms Giddings said because the advice was prepared for Cabinet, it is subject to Cabinet-in-Confidence provisions.
“It is a fundamental aspect of Westminster government that the Cabinet process remains confidential. Without this strict confidence the principle of ministerial collective responsibility could not be maintained.”
Ms Giddings said a written offer had been made to all members of Parliament for a formal briefing on the advice, on the condition that it remains confidential.
“This briefing will allow all members to understand and satisfy themselves of the strong legal basis on which offers of commercial settlement were made to Forestry Tasmania and Gunns Limited.
“The State Government has already made every effort to ensure the process is as open and transparent as possible, including the appointment of an independent probity auditor.
“The probity auditor’s report, along with letters exchanged between the State and the Commonwealth are already available on the Treasury website.”