The Integrity Commission has investigated allegations that two Government Ministers and their staff sought to improperly influence the former Work Health and Safety Regulator and CEO of WorkSafe Tasmania, Mark Cocker. The Commission also investigated whether Mr Cocker improperly used his role as Regulator to take action against the Bob Brown Foundation Inc, a not-for-profit group protesting forestry activity.
In a report for Investigation Tyndall, tabled in State Parliament today, the Commission considered two complaints alleging improper influence by the Attorney-General and Minister for Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs, the Hon Elise Archer MP, and the Minister for Resources, and Minister for Primary Industries and Water, the Hon Guy Barnett MP. The alleged improper influence related to Mr Cocker’s service in 2020 of a notice on the Bob Brown Foundation under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
The investigation also examined concerns raised in one of the complaints about a previous notice sent to the Bob Brown Foundation by Mr Cocker in 2018.
The investigation did not substantiate the allegations that any Government members or their staff had failed to respect the Regulator’s independence relating to either of the notices sent to the Bob Brown Foundation.
Chief Commissioner, Greg Melick AO SC, said that the Commission had found that Mr Cocker’s regulatory actions were underpinned by his genuine and reasonably held belief that there was a state-wide safety risk involving the Foundation’s protest activities.
‘We found that, regardless of whether it was the best decision, there were legal and proper motives for the state-wide notice served by Mr Cocker on the Bob Brown Foundation in 2020’, said Mr Melick.
By the time the 2020 notice was served, the Commission found that Mr Cocker had been the subject of sustained lobbying by a private citizen for nearly two years. Mr Cocker shared with the citizen lobbyist information relating to legal action on the notice being taken by the Bob Brown Foundation. This information was not shared with others who had requested a copy at the time, and could have led a reasonable person to conclude that Mr Cocker was not acting with independence.
‘The Work Health and Safety Regulator is a statutory role, independent of Executive Government. Any perceptions of improper conduct can be damaging to an independent regulator’, said Mr Melick.
‘The investigation covered several high risk misconduct areas, particularly interactions between Government and statutory officers, and the influence of a lobbyist. It serves as a lesson for public officers who may face similar circumstances in the future to ensure that they conduct themselves with a similar level of respect for the independent roles of statutory officers’, said Mr Melick.
The full report of the investigation has been referred to the Premier and the Secretary of the Department of Justice. This ensures that the Premier and the Secretary are alert to the risks that arise for statutory officers and to ensure that current checks and balances are maintained or strengthened where required.
Media release by Greg Melick AO SC Chief Commissioner
Michael Easton, Chief Executive Officer
Ph: 1300 720 289