Tasmanian Labor and Liberal parties refuse to reveal agreements with industry groups

Calls for disclosure of secret deals before May 1 to ensure a ‘free and fair election’
 April 14, 2021
Published:  April 14, 2021
Labor Leader Rebecca White and Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein. Image: Tasmanian Inquirer

The Tasmanian Labor and Liberal parties have refused to reveal or discuss which vested interests they have signed agreements with other than the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, the lobby group for pubs and clubs.

It has prompted calls for both major parties to disclose to voters before the May 1 state election all deals they have made.

A range of industry lobby groups told Tasmanian Inquirer they do not have memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with either of the two largest parties.

The Tasmanian Greens said they had never been approached by any industry or interest group seeking to negotiate an MOU.

Kate Crowley, an associate professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Tasmania, said political parties should be transparent with the public about secret agreements with industry groups.

“Corporate deal making between parties and industry likely bypasses the public interest, but only by releasing agreements and MOUs can it be confirmed whether or not this is so,” she said.

In late February, the Labor leader, Rebecca White, signed an MOU with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association in which they agreed to “work together on the development of potential harm minimisation measures” for poker machines “while agreeing that any measures need to be workable for industry”.

The agreement also said the Labor party would agree to take an education, rather than enforcement, approach to employers that did not comply with award conditions, including paying the minimum wage.

White subsequently told media on March 31 that Labor had “actually struck a number of agreements with industries and other stakeholders over the course of the last few years”.

“And I’m proud of that,” she said. “It actually demonstrates our commitment to listen, to consult, and to work on a range of issues.”

Tasmanian Inquirer made repeated inquiries to White’s office requesting details on what other agreements Labor had signed and whether they would be publicly released. There has been no response.

Ray Mostogl, chief executive of the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing & Energy Council, said the group representing the state’s major mining and smelting companies did not have an MOU with any political party.

“We have a pretty good working relationship with all parties. Mostly what we do is by way of submissions to inquiries and they are accessible to anyone,” he said.

Representatives of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association and the Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association – representing fish-farming companies Tassal, Petuna and Huon Aquaculture – also said they did not have MOUs with either Labor or Liberal parties. A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA), said “to the best of our collective knowledge the TFGA has no such MOU with either party”.

Liberals slam “secret deals” but decline to disclose their own

One group which confirmed it has an MOU with the Liberal Party was the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania (TICT).

The TICT held a public signing with then Premier Will Hodgman before the 2018 state election to ink a four-year MOU with the Liberal Party.

The document said the MOU would hold “the Liberal Party to account should they form government to deliver on their substantial promises and priorities for the industry”.

It included a provision binding the government to “remain committed to forging Tasmania’s status as the environmental tourism capital of Australia through the unqualified success of the EOI [expressions of interest] process”.

The EOI process has been criticised by recreational and environmental groups for allowing tourism developers to propose major projects on public land, including in National Parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Controversial developments supported through the process include a project on Halls Island in Lake Malbena, the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

The government has agreed to provide exclusive possession of the island to proponent Wild Drake for a lease payment of $4000 a year, with a further $2000 a year for lease of an existing hut.

On the MOU, Luke Martin, chief executive officer of the TICT, said “we haven’t done anything else like this with any of the other parties, and I don’t expect we will be doing anything similar with the government in this election”.

“A free and fair election is one where voters are fully informed, and where funding for parties is out in the open.  The deals entered into by the Liberals and ALP shows we are not having a free or fair election.” Roland Browne

The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it and the Tasmanian Small Business Council were co-signatories on a March 2019 business growth strategy with the Tasmanian Government’s Department of State Growth.

The document includes a preface by the premier, Peter Gutwein - in his then role as minister for state growth - in which he pledges to ensure government policies “are aligned with business and industry goals and targets”. But the strategy was not an agreement directly with the Liberal party.

After Labor’s MOU with the hospitality association became public, the Liberal campaign spokesperson, Michael Ferguson, issued a media release taunting the opposition.

“What other secret deals is Labor making behind the scenes in a desperate and shady attempt to win over Tasmanian businesses?” Ferguson asked.

However, the Liberal Party is keeping at least one MOU of its own under wraps.

A spokesperson for the hospitality association told Tasmanian Inquirer it had negotiated a MOU with the Liberal party “shortly after” the 2018 state election.

Gutwein this month told The Mercury the Liberal Party would “sit down with the hospitality industry and we’ll have a look at another MOU post-election”.

A Liberal campaign spokesperson told Tasmanian Inquirer it would be announcing its hospitality policy before the election “and if there is a MOU, we will be more than happy to release it”.

The Liberal spokesperson did not respond to a request on whether the Liberal Party had other MOUs.

Roland Browne, a director of Tasmanian Election Inquiry, a group pushing for disclosure of political donations, said government promises of transparency had so far proven hollow.

“A free and fair election is one where voters are fully informed, and where funding for parties is out in the open. The deals entered into by the Liberals and ALP shows we are not having a free or fair election,” he said.

“The Liberals said they’d disclose donations over $5,000. Over two weeks into a 5 week election and they’ve disclosed just one donation. We don't know if it's from a local or from outside Tasmania. And they’re hiding their dealings with major industry groups.”

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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