One can only imagine what chaos and confusion descended on the Tasmanian Premier’s office after Question Time on Tuesday. Paul Lennon’s Deputy — a senior Minister and former Attorney General — was exposed by the Tasmanian Greens as a liar under Parliamentary oath. All those long nights, those months of work on Premier Lennon’s ever-unravelling makeover had finally come to naught under his blustering, obfuscatory defence of yet another indefensible cover up.

Already stained by a too-cosy relationship with the big money and influence in the forestry and gambling industries, and a fondness for fast-track development approvals, the Lennon Labor Government will hereafter also be remembered as a haven for vengeful bureaucrats and one too many Ministers who are either dishonest or inept.

Two Deputies forced on to the backbench in as many years. Braddon MP and former senior Minister, Bryan Green, is in exile for signing an unlawful monopoly deal on builders’ accreditation to the benefit of a former State Labor Minister. Steve Kons, for repeatedly describing as myth a Mercury newspaper report that he had prepared a recommendation on the State’s next magistrate to Cabinet which was kyboshed by the Premier’s most senior aide, Departmental Secretary, Linda Hornsey as payback.

In August last year, Mr Kons put forward then Resource Planning and Development Commission head, lawyer Simon Cooper. Four months prior, Mr Cooper had written to the Premier detailing the fraudulent reasons put forward by the government and Gunns’ Ltd for the company’s sudden withdrawal from RPDC assessment. Recall the Premier’s next step was to introduce special, enabling legislation to approve the Tamar Valley pulp mill.

In a letter obtained by the Tas. Greens under FOI, Simon Cooper pointed out that Gunns alone was responsible for all delays in the process through deficiencies in meeting the pulp mill guidelines. Put simply, Cooper revealed what we all knew — that Gunns had failed to address critical environmental and public health benchmarks. Linda Hornsey had not forgotten, and nor undoubtedly had her boss.

Even after admitting to lying about Simon Cooper’s proposed appointment, Mr Kons maintains he persuaded himself the appointment would be too controversial because of the Cooper family’s long standing ties with the Premier. A second de-shredded document tabled in Parliament by the Greens yesterday ended that myth. A Ministerial note, states that ‘no criticism is expected’. Oh, there was criticism alright.

Someone persuaded Mr Kons his preferred choice was not going to fly. There are a number of possible scenarios. Either Linda Hornsey spoke to Mr Kons entirely of her own volition, in which case she was wa-ay out of line. Or, she and the Premier had a chat about Mr Cooper’s inability to stick to the script and agreed he didn’t deserve rewarding. Or, the Premier on hearing of the Cabinet recommendation directed Ms Hornsey to speak to his Deputy.

In every case it raises the most serious issues of probity, transparency and let’s not forget, decency, in government in Tasmania today. The Greens and the Liberal Opposition believe it is a matter worthy of investigation by the DPP, or some other formal commission of inquiry. The Premier does not. Instead, he is now calling for a police investigation into how the document came to be lifted from a bin, purportedly some distance from Steve Kons’ office in either Hobart or Burnie.

If not for an unidentified whistleblower entrusting the shreddings of Simon Cooper’s punishment to Bass Green MP, Kim Booth who sticky-taped the jigsaw together, Steve Kons would still be in charge of major projects such as the Gunns’ pulp mill, and much of the key infrastructure it requires.

Both Bryan Green and Steve Kons have taken a measure of responsibility for their wrongs. They are now on the backbench in ignominy, but still collecting a tidy Parliamentary salary. Both sought to mislead the Tasmanian people, further eroding public trust in government. Ultimately, however, it is Paul Lennon who must accept greatest responsibility. His government has lurched from one grubby scenario to the next with relentless predictability, but always maintaining that capacity to shock.

Local ABC talkback radio this morning was in uproar, listener after listener demanding the Premier for God’s sake, Go! The Mercury today reports there are ten Members in a Caucus of seventeen who have lost confidence in their leader.

We now have a cleanskin new Deputy Premier in relative political newcomer, Denison MP, Education Minister and father of two young children, David Bartlett. Ambitious with a soft edge, and smart, Bartlett must be seen by the Premier as someone who might restore a bit of shine to his own badly tarnished image. Let’s hope for Mr Bartlett’s sake, Lennon isn’t angling for a hat trick before he finally crashes and burns.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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