A prominent group of Tasmanian individuals and organisations have today called for the establishment of a multi-party parliamentary oversight committee to ensure adequate scrutiny of the COVID-19 response while the Tasmanian Parliament is not sitting.
Such a body has already been established in New Zealand to help fill the accountability gap. Known as the Epidemic Response Committee, it is an all-party special select committee with similarly broad powers as those of a Privileges Committee regarding calling witnesses and the provision of documents. The select committee was set up by consensus with all parties represented, and hearings are publicly broadcast.
When the Tasmanian Parliament is recalled, we would urge the government to immediately establish a multi-party select committee to enable scrutiny of the various Government programs dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
“Peter Gutwein’s Government is doing a good job keeping Tasmanians safe, but at a time of crisis, when so much rides on every decision, it’s vital to have democratic oversight of the government’s actions,” said Rodney Croome AM, spokesperson for Equality Tasmania.
“Having a New Zealand-style parliamentary oversight committee would bring accountability and transparency to the COVID-19 response, and foster community trust in the directions the Government is issuing. One of the best ways to head off the fear and misinformation that inevitably arise during a pandemic is to have more community input to, and ownership of, the response to that pandemic,” Mr Croome said.
“It is heartening to see our politicians working constructively during this crisis, but the public deserves more than just goodwill. An Epidemic Response Committee would help secure accountability and give Tasmanians greater confidence in the decisions of the Government in this time of crisis,” said Leanne Minshull, Tasmanian Director of the Australia Institute.
“We are living through an emergency, but we also continue to live in a democracy. This means decisions taken by the executive arm of Government during COVID-19 need to be scrutinised to ensure they are the best decisions possible. While parliament is suspended the next best mechanism to deliver this scrutiny is a formal parliamentary committee who meets by video conference,” said Richard Griggs, Tasmanian Director, Civil Liberties Australia.
Signatories to the open letter are:
- Hon. Meg Webb MLC, Independent Member for Nelson
- Rodney Croome AM, Spokesperson, Just Equal
- Robin Banks, Human Rights and Public Interest Lawyer, Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Tasmania (2010-2017)
- Richard Griggs, Tasmanian Director, Civil Liberties Australia
- Professor Benjamin J. Richardson, Professor of Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
- Leanne Minshull, Tasmanian Director, The Australia Institute
- Jane Hutchison, Chair, Community Legal Centres, Tasmania
- Rick Snell, Adjunct Associate Professor in Law, University of Tasmania
- Christine Milne AO, Former Senator for Tasmania
The full open letter to the Parliament of Tasmania can be downloaded here, and Australia Institute report, Parliamentary Scrutiny for Tasmania During the COVID-19 Crisis by Leanne Minshull and Bill Browne can be downloaded here.