InvestSMART

Open as a book - just don't ask any questions

Thursday was a low-water mark for the O'Farrell government in terms of its public image: at least four cabinet ministers were in the media, accused of various indiscretions.

Thursday was a low-water mark for the O'Farrell government in terms of its public image: at least four cabinet ministers were in the media, accused of various indiscretions.

Thursday was a low-water mark for the O'Farrell government in terms of its public image: at least four cabinet ministers were in the media, accused of various indiscretions.

The Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, and the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, faced claims of misleading Parliament over what they knew about the leak from Orica of a carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, two weeks ago that covered parts of the Newcastle suburb of Stockton.

The Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, was embarrassed over his decision to quietly join the solar bonus scheme last year just before its generous tariff of 60? a kilowatt hour was reduced to 20? and then criticise the scheme, initiated under Labor, in Parliament.

And questions were asked about why the Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, chose to discuss the prospect of a police investigation into the beleaguered federal Labor MP, Craig Thomson, with the federal shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, and then the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione.

Each story had a common theme - the integrity of the new government, which made much of being elected on a platform of openness and accountability, in sharp contrast with its Labor predecessor.

But each story also received a common response from the O'Farrell government: don't ask us too many questions.

Over the past couple of weeks, press gallery journalists in NSW have been subjected to some interesting character analysis by government minders.

On Tuesday, with Parker sweating over scrutiny of her role in the Orica scandal, the ABC's Mark Tobin tweeted that her press secretary had accused him of being a ''conspiracy theorist'' for asking questions about the timeline for the government's response to the leak.

Tobin was the first journalist to publicise it, but he is not the first to have been so accused; it has clearly become a tactic of the government to discredit inquiries it gets about everything from Orica to the size of the ''black hole'' left by Labor.

Many feel the tactic is symptomatic of the glass jaw the government is fast developing when it comes to legitimate criticism. This government is far from unique in this: the former premier Kristina Keneally was as bad.

The difference is that the Coalition's aversion to arguing its position in favour of deflecting - or simply dodging - questioning is leading it into even more trouble. It is a prime example of the classic Watergate-inspired political maxim that it is the cover-up that brings you down, not the crime.

It's why the Labor opposition has had an enormous win in gaining the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party for an upper-house inquiry into the handling of the Orica leak. The inquiry will investigate the scandal after the independent review is completed by the former director general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Brendan O'Reilly, due by September 30.

Labor has kept the Orica story running for two weeks largely because of the government's refusal, until recently, to talk about it. Consequently the government is on the back foot each time a revelation appears in the media or is dug up by the opposition.

Brown's agreement will be of concern for another reason. As everyone knows, the Shooters share the balance of power in the upper house and the government needs the party's votes to be sure to pass legislation.

Brown seems intent on signalling his displeasure with the government - possibly because of its refusal to support his bill to weaken firearms laws in NSW - by agreeing to chair the inquiry.

It is a prospect that is sure to have government strategists lying awake at night.


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