Tasmania’s Attorney-General is promising an open door policy and a better relationship with Upper House members when Parliament resumes, but she is off to a bad start after accusing MLCs of blocking legislation.
Elise Archer, who is also Justice Minister, said she wanted to start afresh with the state’s Upper House members after some key pieces of legislation did not pass the Legislative Council in the last term of government.
“My door is always open to all members of the Legislative Council,” Ms Archer said.
“What I want to do is work with them, and should they have changes that they want to make to our legislative reform agenda then I’m all ears.”
But she’s warning MLCs not to reject legislation that the community wants.
“I wouldn’t like to see a return to that scenario where there’s just a complete blocking in the Upper House.”
Murchison Independent MLC Ruth Forrest scoffed at the Minister’s suggestion.
“That’s a completely ridiculous statement, to say that the Legislative Council just blocks legislation,” Ms Forrest said.
“The Legislative Council scrutinises legislation, and personally, I work very hard to ensure I fully scrutinise any legislation on its merits.”
Ms Forrest said she would be pleased to see a more open and collaborative approach from the Government in its second term, but there had not been any concrete evidence of that yet.
“I actually sent the Premier a text message just after they were re-elected and he was making comments about … working with the Upper House more constructively.
“I still haven’t had a response to that message.”
Government will have fight on its hands
The Upper House rejected some key government policies last year, including the Liberals’ 2014 election promise to introduce mandatory sentences for serious child sex offenders.
The Attorney-General said there was a public outcry after MLCs voted down the bill, and the policy would be reintroduced to Parliament.
“I would like to think that most of them have now heard from their communities following on from that and I think that that situation is what changes things,” Ms Archer said.
Ruth Forrest expects the result to be much the same as last time “unless they’ve found some new evidence that I’m not aware of.”
Rosevears MLC Kerry Finch said mandatory sentencing was not going anywhere.
“I think the message after three or four times of trying to get that through, ‘we are strong on law and order’, well, it ain’t working.”
Mersey Independent Mike Gaffney said MLCs did not block legislation without consideration.
“What we do is to make certain that any legislation that comes to the Upper House is evidence-based,” Mr Gaffney said.
“Any mandatory sentencing aspect that comes to us has some concerns, not only from us as legislators, but from the judiciary itself.
“Just to rehash the legislation as it was … unless there’s some substantial changes to it, my opinions probably won’t change.”
‘Major changes’ needed on TasWater bill
Legislative Councillors also threw out the Government’s attempted takeover of TasWater in 2017.
Ruth Forrest said the Liberals would need to make major changes if that issue is to make it through the Upper House.
“You can’t just bring the same thing back or throw a bit more money at it and expect that to fix the problem,” she said.
Kerry Finch said he had dealt with 188 pieces of legislation since the Hodgman Government came to power, 13 of which he described as “at times bizarre with no hope of getting through the Legislative Council”
“Not only were they controversial but they were ill-prepared.”
The Government is also expected to reintroduce a forestry bill in some form, after the Upper House rejected legislation which would have allowed logging in 356,000 hectares of forests two years earlier than a moratorium would have permitted.