Opposition parties are questioning whether Tasmania’s Deputy Premier has a conflict of interest as a minister responsible for the state’s irrigation scheme and as one of its major customers.
Deputy Premier and Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff is the director of a family company that buys water from Tasmanian Irrigation.
He is also a shareholder minister of the irrigation company.
Mr Rockliff defended himself against accusations of a potential conflict of interest.
“Everyone knows that I’m a farmer, and my role as Minister for Primary Industries is to look after agriculture right around Tasmania,” he said.
Last year it emerged the Sassafras Wesley-Vale irrigation scheme that Mr Rockliff’s family is part of was $200,000 in the red.
He told the ABC’s Country Hour program last year: “Well I have no intention of sending the farmers a $200,000 bill.”
That’s despite today saying operational decisions are made at arm’s length from him and are the responsibility of senior management at Tasmanian Irrigation.
“I’ve declared all my farming interests to the Premier,” he said.
Shadow Treasurer Scott Bacon questioned the appropriateness of Mr Rockliff’s position.
“He could be making decisions that he or his family stands to benefit from,” Mr Bacon said.
“It’s not clear whether that’s occurred or whether he’s absented himself from any such decisions.”
Scott Bacon says Mr Rockcliff has not made it clear how he has dealt with the situation. (AAP: Rob Blakers)
It’s not the first time possible conflicts of interest in the Hodgman Government’s cabinet have emerged.
When Adam Brooks was made mining minister a special six-point protocol was developed to manage any possible conflicts.
Mr Brooks later resigned from his mining portfolio after it was found he had used an email linked to his mining services company.
Mr Bacon questioned whether there was a similar system in place for Mr Rockliff, and if there was why it had not been made public.
‘It’s a very clear conflict of interest that doesn’t seem to have been well-managed by the Premier,” Mr Bacon said.
Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor says any potential conflict of interest should be examined.
“It’s a matter that, possibly, should be referred to the Integrity Commission where those sorts of conflicts of interest can be examined.”
Governance expert Kate Crowley said the public want transparency about issues of probity or potential conflicts of interest.
“And this issue falls squarely in that basket it doesn’t matter technically whether they were doing the right thing,” Ms Crowley said.
“They need to be having a much more transparent approach to government to satisfy the public.”
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