Tasmanian Political Chronicle: July to December 2008

Article excerpt

At the very start of the six months under review, Tasmania's Premier David Bartlett drew "a line in the sand" over his government's support for Gunns' Tamar Valley pulp mill--essentially saying that it was a commercial venture which would rise or fall on market forces. Unfortunately for the Premier, who was anxious to distinguish his new "clever, kind and connected" approach to governance from the deeply distrusted style of the Lennon Government, the shifting surges of political fortunes found him drawing and re-drawing lines over a variety of issues over the next half year. As much a liability as this might have been for the ALP, the Opposition Liberals found the shifting tides just as tricky without lines in the sand and they failed to make any noticeable headway with public opinion despite the government's difficulties. The Greens further complicated the political equation when the indefatigable Pegg Putt stood down as leader to be replaced by the personable Nick McKim, who joined the other two "Generation X" party leaders to make it "three of a kind" in the House of Assembly.

Shredded Reputations

The scandal dubbed "Shreddergate" by the media continued with new and rather bizarre turns in the second half of 2008. The shredded document, saved by former adviser to the then Attorney-General Steve Kons, Nigel Burch, proved that Kons had misled parliament and forced him to resign his cabinet positions in April. Based on an earlier 2007 statutory declaration by Burch and a subsequent police investigation, Tim Ellis, the Director of Public Prosecutions, considered bringing charges against those alleged to have been involved in bargaining for public office. A well-known Hobart lawyer, Stephen Estcourt QC, took the unusual step of publicly identifying himself as the "senior legal figure" at the centre of the inquiry in order to protect the reputations of others who had been appointed recently by the government to offices that had been the subject of speculation (Mercury, 7 July 2008). The allegation of impropriety arose, in part, from statutory declarations made the previous October by Burch that at least one legal appointment was the result of a deal with the government. It subsequently emerged that the office in question was that of Solicitor-General, which had gone to Leigh Sealy rather than to Estcourt.

Despite a lengthy investigation, the allegations surrounding the appointment of the Solicitor-General could not be sustained. In late September, the DPP took the unusual step of releasing a detailed explanation of why he was not pursuing charges against Estcourt who had defended Bryan Green in the TCC affair, former Premier Paul Lennon, who it was alleged had offered the Solictor-General's position to Estcourt or Linda Hornsey, former Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, who it was claimed had ordered the shredding of a cabinet document recommending the appointment of Simon Cooper as a magistrate. The DPP advised Acting Police Commissioner Darren Hine, through a letter released publicly, that he found no prospect of conviction in relation to allegations of interference in the appointment of a magistrate or in bargaining for public office. Nevertheless, the DPP made a point of noting that there was no evidence to discredit the Burch allegations thus leaving his allegations live notwithstanding Estcourt's representative's assertion that these allegations had been proven to be a "baseless and wicked piece of rumour mongering" (Mercury, 25 September 2008). Hornsey later admitted she had advised that Cooper's appointment would be seen as too "political" and that the document recommending it be shredded. However, she denied ordering it to be destroyed claiming she did not have the power to do this.

Closing the book on proving a criminal abuse of power did not end the repercussions from "Shreddergate", however. The DPP persisted on investigating allegations that Police Commissioner Jack Johnston had disclosed official secrets by passing on details of the confidential police investigation into aspects of the matter. …