Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Tasmania: January to June 2008

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Tasmania: January to June 2008

Article excerpt

The key political events in Tasmania during the first six months of 2008 were undoubtedly the resignations of Deputy Premier Steve Kons and then the Premier Paul Lennon within ten weeks of each other. Yet, as dramatic as these two incidents appeared to be, they were only epicentres for subterranean events that had unsettled the state's politics virtually continuously from the March 2006 election. Media and public attention remained focused with almost soap opera fascination on how the tangled machinations of various scandals drew more political figures into an increasingly intermeshed web of controversy. Convoluted twists and turns of supposition and speculation were alleged to link the major scandals and the Gunns pulp mill proposed for the Tamar. Disquiet with the Premier's approach to politics lay at the heart of all these developments and fuelled conspiracy theories, which, in turn, contributed strongly to his eventual withdrawal from politics.

"Shreddergate"--Tasmania-style

The Tasmanian Compliance Corporation's (TCC) affair metamorphosed into another, potentially deeper scandal shortly after former Deputy Premier Bryan Green walked free from his second trial for attempting to interfere with an executive officer. Again the jury could not reach a verdict and Tim Ellis, the Director of Public Prosecutions, dropped the charges against Green (Mercury 14 March 2008). The matter was never going to go quietly to a conclusion as Green and his supporters hoped, however, since there was a Legislative Council inquiry pending into the TCC affair. Yet, in early April, the Mercury's chief political reporter, Sue Neales, opened a new line of conjecture on the ramifications of the TCC scandal. She speculated that the Premier Paul Lennon was taking a direct interest in the judicial appointments and that this was delaying the filling of important vacancies. She noted that the then Chief Justice Peter Underwood, David Porter and Stephen Estcourt, QC, who was rumoured to be the preferred solicitor-general candidate had all been involved in the TCC-related trials and intimated this could be related in some way to the unfilled vacancies (Mercury, 5 April 2008).

The real bombshell exploded when a whistleblower, later revealed to be Nigel Burch, a former adviser to Attorney-General Steve Kons provided evidence to Greens member, Kim Booth, that Kons' recommendation of Simon Cooper, a one-time head of the RPDC, for a judicial appointment had been interdicted by Linda Hornsey, then head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Kons denied in Parliament the allegation and asserted that he had never recommended Cooper be appointed a magistrate. Cooper, for his part, believed that a letter he had written to the Premier while he had served briefly as RPDC chief was responsible for Hornsey's action. The letter asserted that Hornsey had prevented the RPDC from advising Gunns formally that its pulp mill proposal was deficient. Booth used the information provided by Butch to set a trap for the government. After an extended bout of pointed questions to Lennon and Kons about the recommendation of Cooper, Booth sprang his trap. He tabled a letter signed by Kons that he had reconstructed after it had been sent through an office shredder proving Kons had been untruthful (Mercury, 10 April 2008). Kons had to admit that he had deliberately misled the parliament and so he resigned; the second deputy premier within two years to do so. The consequences were significant.

Initially, the Premier attempted to blame the messenger by suggesting that the shredded document was taken improperly and that this breach could require police action. Doug Parkinson, Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, went further in remarks outside the parliament, which he later conceded were probably defamatory, to the effect that Burch took property without authorisation and was not entirely truthful. Nothing deflected public opinion and so the embattled government accepted a need for a new look. …

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