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Integrity Commission report reveals breakdown between Liberals and former Children’s Commissioner

  • Report sheds light on shock departure of Mark Morrissey
  • Attempts by Petrusma to undermine independence of important role
  • Tasmania loses respected Children’s Commissioner due to interference of Petrusma

The toxic breakdown in relationship between the Liberal Government and respected former Children’s Commissioner Mark Morrissey has been revealed in an Integrity Commission investigation.

The report sheds light on the reasons for Mr Morrissey’s shock departure in August last year and completely contradicts the Liberal Government’s claims that he left on good terms.

Labor made the original complaint, which was accepted for investigation by the Integrity Commission. Mr Morrissey subsequently made seven additional allegations.

Evidence given by Mr Morrissey to the Integrity Commission, including written notes from meetings, make it clear he felt immense and sustained political pressure from the former Minister for Children, Jacquie Petrusma, and her office.

Mr Morrissey made a file note of a meeting on 30 November 2016 stating: “Suzie (Jacobson) asked that I not put matters into written form/letter to the Minister; as such information was subject to FOI.”

Mr Morrissey also complained that Ms Petrusma had attempted to undermine the independence and impartiality of his role:

“JP verbally requested that I write a letter to the Labor Party condemning their recent actions in parliament re kids in OOHC, I explained this would compromise and politicise my role as CCYP. I advised I could not do this.”

Labor Shadow Minister for Children Josh Willie said while the investigation had not made any formal findings of wrongdoing, the report exposed a toxic culture of bullying and secrecy at the heart of the Hodgman Government.

“Mr Morrissey is highly respected and I have no reason to doubt Mr Morrissey’s version of events,” Mr Willie said.

“Many of Mr Morrissey’s allegations came down to his word against the former Minister and her office.

“Mr Morrissey was able to produce written file notes supporting his version of events.

“The indisputable conclusion is that Tasmania has lost a respected and highly capable Children’s Commissioner as a direct result of the actions of the former Minister for Children and her office.

“It sends a troubling message to independent statutory officers and senior public servants that this Liberal Government will come after them if they are even slightly critical.”

The investigation has exposed serious gaps in the Ministerial Code of Conduct for Ministers and the complete absence of a Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff.

The Code of Conduct for Ministers requires that Ministers are to respect the apolitical role of public servants.

However, the Integrity Commission identified a technicality that the Children’s Commissioner was a statutory officer and not a public servant for the purposes of the code and “therefore there was no apolitical role held by the Commissioner that the Minister was required to respect under the code.”