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Tasmania: Premier has told Parliament that he is investigating ways of reintroducing controversial resource security legislation while the Liberal Opposition considers its leadership

PAUL MURPHY: Tasmania's political crisis over resource security legislation is on the boil again. The Premier, Michael Field, has told Parliament that he's looking at ways to reintroduce resource security legislation. Last Thursday Mr Field's minority Labor Government narrowly avoided an early election by giving the Green Independents a commitment that the legislation would be shelved for the term of the present Government. In a moment I'll be talking to the Liberal's Peter Hodgman and the Green Independent, Dr Bob Brown, but first I asked Michael Field if he'd really decided to reintroduce resource security legislation.

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, we are firmly committed to the forest strategy, but we'll set our own agenda on this issue, and we're looking at all the options to try and overcome the fact that the Liberal Party sided with the Greens to defeat the last Bill.

PAUL MURPHY: But what about your commitment last week to the Green Independents that you'd shelve such legislation for the life of the Government?

MICHAEL FIELD: We said we'd shelve that particular Bill; we didn't say we'd shelve the strategy. In fact, I made it very clear, right from the start, that we were still committed to the strategy and we were looking at options to achieve it. That particular Bill dealing with it is one piece of legislation. Now, that is a parliamentary definition of a particular Bill, not the content of the forest strategy. And it's very important that people know the distinction.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, can you explain that distinction?

MICHAEL FIELD: The distinction is that there's various Bills before the Parliament; when one Bill is defeated it can't be reintroduced in the session. The Liberals voted with the Greens to effectively kill that Bill. Now, we have to look at other mechanisms to achieve the strategy, and that is what we're doing. But we'll work at our timetable to achieve it.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, I suppose one way you could go about it would be to see whether the Opposition, the Liberals, will co-operate with you, vote with you?

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, that, at the moment, is very difficult, given their circumstances at the moment. The Liberal Party, when they've voted, they've had five changes of mind since last Thursday, so that it's difficult to know where they're at. But obviously we have to work out what we want first and then organise that. But, I mean, the strategy also can be implemented in non-parliamentary area. The Bill is part of a total strategy that deals with the whole industry and so there's elements such as pricing and allocation and so on, that can be implemented anyway.

PAUL MURPHY: But it does sound as if you're heading for another standoff with the Green Independents, regardless of what the Liberals' position is.

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, that's the name of the .... when you've only got 13 seats and you've got a position, then there's going to be points of difference, and that's been part of my life for quite some time. I'm on a highwire all the time and I'm getting used to being there. We've been there for nearly two and a half years; I'd expect us to go on. We won't do anything precipitant, and we'll discuss it with the Green Independents before we do.

PAUL MURPHY: But when you came to the agreement with them last week, did they fully understand that you would persist in this overall strategy?

MICHAEL FIELD: Yes, they did. I made it clear that we would immediately, or during discussions with them and immediately after, that we were committed to the strategy, that the only thing that had happened was a particular Bill had been defeated and we were going to look at alternative strategies. In fact, I made that clear on, I think it was A.M. last Friday morning.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, I understand that the Green Independents this afternoon in Hobart have made it very clear that if you do introduce a Bill which really is for resource security legislation, then they'll vote against you and they want to bring you down.

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, obviously that's something we'll have to take into account in our deliberations.

PAUL MURPHY: What, a deal could still be reached?

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, I'm not talking about deals. What we're trying to do is to work at ways of implementing the forest strategy. We tried once, and the Liberal Party, to their ever-lasting shame, voted against the Bill; otherwise it would have been through the Parliament, whatever else happened. And that, to me, was an extraordinary piece of hypocrisy on the Liberal Party, and I'm not sure what they want now, but that's what they did last week; otherwise the Bill would have been through the Parliament because there was no way, if they had have supported that Bill, whatever happened after it, it wouldn't have gone through the Parliament and become law.

PAUL MURPHY: Hypocrisy or not, that won't stop you talking to them, presumably. But I wonder what your reaction is to yesterday's Royal Commission Carter report, specifically as it affects Mr Gray, the Liberal Leader?

MICHAEL FIELD: Well, on the basis of that report, of course, I received it and read it over the weekend, I believe that Mr Gray's position is untenable, given the conclusions of that report. I would have thought that the appropriate thing for him to do would be to resign, but the matter now is in the hands of the parliamentary Liberal Party and all eyes are now on them to see what course of action they choose. But, from my point of view, Mr Gray's position is untenable and he should, I think, resign. But if he doesn't resign, then his fate is up to the Liberal Party.

PAUL MURPHY: The Tasmanian Premier, Michael Field. Well, in our Hobart studio now is Peter Hodgman, who's Deputy Leader of the Tasmanian Liberal Party and Shadow Minister for Forests. First of all, Mr Hodgman, do you agree with Mr Field? Should Robin Gray resign as leader?

PETER HODGMAN: Well, I thought Michael Field should be the last person to comment on leadership, when one remembers how he knifed his leader, Neil Batt, in the back at midnight in a fairly gross coup and took over the leadership. So Michael Field's record on leadership and loyalty to leaders is, I think, a blot on his parliamentary career, and he should be the last person to be commenting.

PAUL MURPHY: Should Robin Gray resign?

PETER HODGMAN: Well, let's address that. I mean, Robin Gray has been subject to the reversible onus of proof, in that Mr Carter has said and alleged certain things, but not taken it through to laying charges. In other words, he said to Robin Gray: I think you're guilty, but I'm not prepared to test it in a court. You go out an prove yourself innocent. And it really is a denial of natural justice and I think a tragedy for the judicial system, frankly.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, Mr Gray held on today, of course; the leadership wasn't even raised, I understand. But how long will he stay on as leader?

PETER HODGMAN: Well, Robin Gray's been a very successful leader of the Liberal Party and we are all of one on the matter which transpired last week on forest reform. And, clearly I thought that's what we are here to talk about, and I'd like to address that.

PAUL MURPHY: Absolutely, and I will do that. But just one final question on this, though. The Carter report - and you've said that you think it's unfair - must also be politically embarrassing, surely?

PETER HODGMAN: Well, I mean, it's been ad nauseam. Mr Chesterman made these same comments we're reading today some six months ago. Robin Gray was subject to a police investigation, a thorough Director of Public Prosecution investigation, a thorough royal commission. None of those three investigations recommended charges be laid, and clearly, how much does a citizen have to endure before the public will say enough's enough? I think Robin Gray has endured enough. If those that allege things against him have got any substance, let them lay charges, let him prove his innocence in the court. They're not prepared to do that, and that's why I say the reversible onus of proof, so publicly displayed on Robin Gray, is a tragedy for natural justice.

PAUL MURPHY: Okay. Will you support Mr Field's apparent determination to get a resource industry strategy going again? Would you support him in Parliament?

PETER HODGMAN: Absolutely, and we've made it very clear to him that last week we wanted an election. We've been consistently saying that. We now accept that we're not going to get an election. If he was a man of principle he would have called an election on, but he didn't, so we've now said we are here for the long haul in Opposition, let's do the best for Tasmania. And we have offered him a free passage of his legislation through to royal assent, and we will not support a Green no-confidence motion, we will not amend the Bill, we will not move our own no-confidence motion. And, I mean, his suggestion of five changes is a nonsense. They have been five continued offers along that line of getting the legislation through. In other words, we're saying to Mr Field, the acid is on you. Are you fair dinkum about forest reform and the future of Tasmania? If so, accept our offer and the Bill can go through. If you're not, then we understand you want to appease the Greens and stay in office. He's really got the acid. Now, he can't please the Greens and industry; that's what he's been trying to do. Well, his day of reckoning has certainly come.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, just to get it absolutely straight on the record. If he puts up the sort of Bill that was put up last week you, the Opposition, would support him?

PETER HODGMAN: We have confirmed in writing that if he put up that forest reform Bill - and the Public Land Use Commission Bill is a cognate Bill, they both interlock - then we will support that without amendment. We won't move our own no-confidence motion, nor will we support the Greens' no-confidence motion, so that he knows that he can get that legislation through and get Tasmania moving again. The opportunity of an election is not on, but the offer is running out of time. Mr Field needs to make his decision, and quickly.

PAUL MURPHY: All right. So you would not support a no-confidence motion if the Green Independents put it up?

PETER HODGMAN: No. And I believe, listening to one of Dr Brown's colleagues today, Christine Milne, she was saying that the Government will be going to the people. The Greens have admitted to realise that they do need Opposition support to do that. To declare ourselves bona fide, to get industry to support us, we've got to be fair dinkum and play this with a straight bat. We have stated in writing that we will not support a no-confidence motion, because we think it's imperative this legislation is brought in, and brought in immediately.

PAUL MURPHY: Okay, thanks for that. Tasmanian Liberal frontbencher, Peter Hodgman. And now I've been joined by the leading Green Independent, Dr Bob Brown. Where does that put you, what Mr Hodgman has just said?

BOB BROWN: Well, we're in the same position we were in last Thursday night, and the Tasmanian people understood that they were in, Paul, which is that the Premier had given a very solemn commitment to not allowing this legislation to be brought back into the House during the life of this Parliament.

PAUL MURPHY: Now, has he broken that? Has he broken that commitment to you?

BOB BROWN: No, he's not brought it back in yet, but he's flagging the breaking of that and he's done so in Question Time in the Parliament and through his public statements. And we've been very clear about this all the way through. Let me comment on what the Premier had to say earlier. He made no indication that he would be re-introducing this legislation, or the likes of it, when I spoke with him last Thursday.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, he said that particular Bill, didn't he, Dr Brown, that he would not ....

BOB BROWN: No, he made no indication. I mean, that agreement between he and I - and the words were very explicit before he made the ministerial statement which regained the confidence of the House for him, which got the five Greens to vote to give confidence to the House last Thursday night - were very clearly, in spirit and letter, to ensure that resource security didn't come back into the House. Now, what the Premier's doing is flagging breaking that, and as he just said, he was doing that as early as the Friday morning afterwards, and it's been increasing since then. And it's been necessary for us, we've been in direct contact with him, telling him that he couldn't expect the Greens to continue to support a Premier who, having given his word to the House and to the people last Thursday night, was then to set around, in the name of political expediency, and tread right over it.

PAUL MURPHY: But when I put it to him he said, in the interview a few minutes ago, that you understood that he would pursue this resource security strategy?

BOB BROWN: No, that's not correct. He then fumbled and said as early as A.M. on Friday morning, he certainly didn't make any such statement or indication to me during the discussions that we had around the dinner time last Thursday night before he came back into the House with that ministerial statement which made it clear that the Government would not be about bringing that Bill in or seeing it passed. And as you quite clearly, the public, understands, the spirit and the letter of that is that resource security was not to be introduced to the Parliament for the rest of this period. It was a commitment that the Premier made; it's a commitment that the Greens expect him to adhere to, and so will the voting public, and that includes the Labor voting public in Tasmania which has been very relieved that the election has gone, that resource security has been put on the shelf and that the Greens, together with the Government, and because every single member of us is essential, and equally essential to this period of government, can get on with the business of State, the new direction, and all the policies that we have in the pipeline over the next 12 months which certainly won't come in if there were an election which were to lead to the return of a Gray Government.

PAUL MURPHY: Well, where do you and your fellow Independents stand now, because we've just heard the Liberals say that they would not back a no-confidence motion if you put it up, and they won't be putting up one themselves. So where does that leave you in the equation, the parliamentary equation?

BOB BROWN: Well, Mr Field has also made it publicly clear that he won't be supporting any Liberal move of that variety. So he's made a commitment to the House and to the people that he won't be bringing back in the legislation. He's also said that he wouldn't support any - and, of course, that embodies not supporting any Liberal move. It really leaves us to stand firm on our commitment which was that we would not support the legislation and then to ensure that the Premier, if he can't do it himself, remains committed to his words of last Thursday night which were essential to him regaining the confidence of the Parliament, and therefore the Government of Tasmania, together with the Greens, over the next 18 to 24 months.

PAUL MURPHY: Okay, Bob Brown, many thanks indeed for that. It's a fascinating tussle which continues. Bob Brown, the leading Green Independent in Tasmania.