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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 960


Senator AULICH(11.24) —I will be brief because the issues concerned are pretty clear-cut. We have a convention in this country which on 13 occasions has been fulfilled by parties of various political persuasion. A significant number of people have indicated in their various State parliaments during the acts of filling vacancies that they support the convention and have no intention of ever changing it. This makes Premier Robin Gray appear to be one out. The action he has taken over the last few weeks has done a number of things which I find totally repugnant. Firstly, it has brought Tasmania into disrepute. Once again we have become the laughing stock of Australia, particularly in constitutional matters. Secondly, it has brought politicians into disrepute because again we are seen as venal, grasping adventurous people who concern ourselves with issues which should be resolved through the following of a convention. Instead we play brinkmanship. Many people who have problems relating to the economy, their own lifestyles and so on look to us and say: `What the hell are you doing? Why are you playing this sort of brinkmanship? Why is Premier Robin Gray making politics out of an issue that has been settled by people following convention on at least 13 occasions?'.

In Tasmania this approach to politics has been very successful over the last four years. Premier Gray has proved that one can win for a time as a confrontationist. Malcolm Fraser proved pretty much the same thing in 1975. The only difficulty is that one's legitimacy eventually gets challenged because one does not have the broad community support which a more tolerant and understanding Premier would have. One is simply a person who wins the requisite 51 per cent of the votes in the community and tells the rest of the community to go jump. That is basically the way Premier Robin Gray has operated in regard to most of the issues he has touched. He knows that the questions of logging, dams and development versus conservation fall very much in his favour at the moment. But that will not always be the case.

I detect a certain resistance to his approach to politics down there. It has been a long time coming, but it is coming. People will say: `What? Is rocking Robin at it again?'. I am starting to hear it now from people who have always been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, who have seen him as a strong Premier, interested in the development of the State and so. But these people are now starting to question his approach to politics. I have always found that type of political approach repugnant, damaging to the body politic and damaging to the long term development, not only of Tasmania but of Australia as a whole. Politicians-quite correctly in many cases-deserve their reputation as having a status just above the status of used car salesmen because of this type of thing, because we make issues out of matters which should never have been brought to the forefront. This matter involves, as I have said, an established convention which has been followed on 13 separate occasions since 1975. Yet somehow or other Premier Gray has to make it an issue.

A look at the sorts of people who have supported the convention shows, as I have indicated, that the convention has cross-party support. Former Premier Rupert Hamer, Mr Kennett and Mr Howard have all indicated quite clearly where they stand in regard to this convention. Mr Cain, in filling the late Senator Missen's position, did not demur at all in following the convention. As I have said, on 13 occasions no questions have been asked about the right thing to do. Everyone knew what had to be done. Premier Gray has found himself totally out of favour with the media in Tasmania which in many cases has been reasonably sympathetic to him in the past. The Launceston Examiner and the Hobart Mercury have both come out and criticised him in editorials for politicking and bringing politics into disrepute. Many honourable senators opposite, including, as I understand it, Senator Watson, Senator Walters and Senator Townley, have indicated that as far as they are concerned the convention should be followed and the gamesmanship of the Premier of Tasmania ought to end. Even Senator Fred Chaney has come out, after much strong prompting by Mr Brown, his Deputy Leader, in favour of supporting the convention. Mr Brown said at the time that it was not Senator Chaney's responsibility to comment, following an earlier period when Senator Chaney decided that he would move into the brinkmanship game as well.

We only have to look to Tasmania. The last time a Tasmanian vacancy was filled, the vacancy created by the resignation of Senator Peter Rae, the Labor Party had absolutely and utterly no problems, either privately or publicly, in putting up Senator Jocelyn Newman. Senator Newman is a person whose views I do not support. I tend to find her political views elitist and a little out of touch with the issues that confront the ordinary people in this country. I have no time at all for her politics, but on the whole I had no problems at all with her coming into this chamber. The Labor Party in my State had no problems. There was no mention publicly of any opposition to her appointment because we followed the convention. We as a political party do it over and over again and we are getting sick of playing the game by the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Every time the conservative groups decide that it is to their advantage to break convention, to break the spirit of the Constitution, and they do it, we sit back and say: `Fine, but we will continue to play the game'.


Senator Haines —They would soon squeal if you did it to them. If one of their candidates were denied validation, they would squeal.


Senator AULICH —Exactly. They are the upholders of the faith, of the status quo, of all that is good and shining in the Constitution; that is the way they have portrayed themselves.


Senator Gietzelt —And law and order.


Senator AULICH —Law and order and all those sorts of things; yet give them half an opportunity to take a political advantage out of breaking a convention or the spirit of the Constitution and they are in like Flynn. I find that sort of approach damages their credibility not only in this Parliament but in the community at large. I believe that this issue--


Senator Walters —I raise a point of order. I do not think Senator Aulich is aware that the Opposition is supporting the first part of the motion put by Senator Haines, because he is debating otherwise.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator AULICH —Senator Walters can never prevent herself from interjecting when I am speaking and now she interjects by the use of a bogus point of order. The problem has been that Premier Gray has succeeded with his confrontationist policies in the past. People are getting heartily sick of this approach, this hypocrisy, this misuse of the Constitution and of his political position, and they will say so in the next three years. It takes time for people to wake up to the sort of person who occupies those positions in office.

Let us look at why this is such a dangerous precedent. It is a dangerous precedent not only in terms of the Constitution but also in terms of the way people can use what is constitutionally available to them. What would happen, for example, if every Labor Premier in this country decided to retaliate against the Liberal Party or the National Party every time a vacancy came up? Think of the political and constitutional chaos that would follow from that sort of retaliatory decision on the part of those Premiers. Yet Premier Robin Gray barges on, assuming that we as a political party and the Australian Democrats will always play the political game the right way while he can go out and play a bandit on the highway. People are getting sick of that. The warning is very clearly there from our political party that in the end Premier Gray had better back down on this issue; otherwise he will be responsible for causing in the long term the breaching of the conventions which have been held in good sway on at least 13 occasions since 1975.

I come to the real reason why Premier Gray is doing this. First of all, he is governed by a small, elite group of public servants; people he has appointed to his staff, who exert influence in a way that no other people behind a Premier in Tasmania have ever exerted influence before. I like to call them the brown shoe brigade; they are very much the Tasmanian version of the Queensland backroom boys. For the interest of the Senate, I point out that they are paid extremely highly. Premier Gray went out and recruited these people, mainly from political positions around the country. His own personal staff is at a level, particularly a salary level, far higher than any other Premier in Tasmania has ever had.

These people, who have never been elected to any political office and who are politically active, are sitting behind the Premier egging him on. The danger is that these people, this brown shoe brigade, are not seeking and have never sought political office and are not subject to the spotlight being put on them, as is the case with normal politicians. We moderate and modify our behaviour because the media and the public at large are looking at the way we behave. That modifying influence is not present in the case of these backroom boys.

Let us look at some of the people who staff the Premier's office. I will read out some of the salaries to give the Senate an indication of what importance Premier Gray sets by these people. The head of the office is Mr Andrew Tilt. He is presumably the Andrew who wrote the sweet memo to the Premier advising that all this brinkmanship should begin. His annual salary, as at April 1986, was $71,000. That is not bad-$71,000. One of the advisers is Mr Darcy Tronson, who had some connection with the Liberal Party in the past on the mainland. His salary is $67,000. Mr John Cleary, who is a special adviser-he was a failed Minister in the previous Government, so the Premier gave him a job-has a salary of $45,000. Dr John Davies, the man everyone has to go to see if they want anything out of forestry, has a salary of $58,000. One cannot see the Premier, who happens to be the Minister for Forests; one has to see Dr Davies. One does not get to see Robin Gray under this nice little arrangement.

The Premier has a senior Press secretary, a Press secretary and a research officer who is related to that, plus a media adviser. These are just the people to sell the Premier's image, who are all on salaries of $40,000-odd a year; more than the majority of people in this place earn. Then there is the Government Liaison Service, which provides services around the State. The people in that Service have an upfront contact with the public at large. There is Mr John Barker, who stood as a Liberal candidate, on a salary of $34,000 and four other liaison officers in recently created positions. There is Mr Steven Salter, a former failed candidate; Mr Hay, a former failed candidate; and Mr Squibb, a former failed candidate. They are all Liberal Party hacks who have been given jobs at the public expense in Tasmania, all working not only for their own political careers at the public expense but also for the career of Premier Gray.

What is basically the result of all that? The result is that Robin Gray is playing brinkmanship in Tasmania all the time because these unelected officials, the brown shoe brigade, are in there doing their bit to make sure that at every possible turn a political decision is made in that State rather than a statesmanlike or constitutionally correct decision. That has been the problem in Tasmania and that is the reason why Premier Gray is playing politics with this important constitutional issue. Basically, that is the story I need to put today before this House, so that those people who are unaware of just how incestuous Tasmanian politics have become and are unaware of just how stupid in some cases State politics in Tasmania have become can understand the reason for that. Premier Gray practises brinkmanship on every issue because he is advised by this group. I support the activities of the Democrats in this case in bringing forward this motion to put a spotlight on Premier Gray and the way he operates in Tasmania, in the fervent hope that somewhere along the line people in other States can observe what has been done to prejudice good government in Tasmania and to avoid it in their own States and in this House.

Lastly, I go back to the memo written to Premier Gray by one of the brown shoe people who signed himself `Andrew'. Only in Tasmania would someone be able to recognise easily who Andrew was. The memo is from the Office of the Premier and is dated 9 March 1987. It is a wonderful memo from a public servant, the head of the Premier's Office, the sort of man who is paid at public expense to provide advice to the Premier of the State-not political advice about how to do the Labor Party like a dinner, which is basically what this is all about. This memo fell off the back of a truck, so there must be a fair degree of loyalty in this tight little coterie which is paid so highly. I presume that someone did not get a pay rise recently or has been sacked. The memo states:

Premier

Suggested relevant points for any press conference/interviews on Senate replacement.

This issue is really one about whether the ALP in Tasmania supports Mr Hawke's attempts to put Tasmanian timber workers out of a job or not.

How about the next paragraph! It states:

It is really very simple.

Of course, that is for Premier Gray because he likes things put very simply. We go on another couple of paragraphs, where it states:

This is a very clear issue.

Of course, again, this is an attempt to get the point over to Premier Gray that even a person of his capacity could handle this issue publicly and score a few brownie points out of it politically. We can go through the whole memo and find such terms as `it is an acid test' and `my view is that the Labor Party is paralysed on this issue'. I feel far from paralysed. It has certainly stiffened my resolve to ensure that Premier Gray is not there at the next election. I might even step out of the Federal arena at some time and have a go in that area; I am getting to that stage. He says:

It is just like the Gordon-below-Franklin-they are split down the middle and they don't know what to do.

All of this comes from a public servant on-as at April 1986-$71,000 a year, a man who has such respect for the Constitution! As I said, he ends up signing it `Andrew'. So it is a nice little personal tete-a-tete, a nice little memo from Andrew Tilt-a man who had such enormous qualifications for that job; he was a political roundsman for the Launceston Examiner-to the Premier of his State, giving blatant political advice as a public servant, advice given by someone who is paid out of the public purse.

Finally, I seek leave to table for the education of the Senate a list of the casual vacancies in the Senate filled in accordance with section 15 and section 21 of the Constitution, so that we have on record a clear indication of the way in which this convention was followed on 13 separate occasions, and which is now being challenged by Premier Gray.

Leave granted.


Senator AULICH —I thank the Senate. I finish on this point: Tasmanians are fast becoming the laughing stock of Australia because of the actions of Premier Robin Gray. We are fast getting a reputation of being a confrontationist State which is not concerned with resolving the major issues which face that State. We have enormous problems. We have problems which will not be solved overnight; they will be solved over the long term through co-operation between the State and Federal governments, between the parties themselves and within parties. We will not be able to do it while we play games here, breaching conventions, breaching understandings, and bringing ourselves into disrepute in the eyes of the rest of Australia. We do not want to end up as another Queensland, but at the moment we are fast moving that way as a State.