We've posted a bit on our facebook page about Warwick Hastwell, the mussel farmer who says his farm was destroyed by waste from the adjacent Tassal salmon farm, but that Tassal paid him to keep quiet. Tassal is now being investigated by the Senate for allegedly breaching parliamentary privilege by interfering with a witness to a Senate Inquiry. We'll be watching the investigation closely.
The Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson has referred the salmon farming giant Tassal to the Senate for a potential breach of parliamentary privilege after allegations on Four Corners that the company attempted to influence a Senate inquiry witness.
Tassal’s chief executive, Mark Ryan, told Four Corners there was a confidentiality deed put in place so “[Hastwell] was limited to what he could … say”.
The Senate president, Stephen Parry, one of only four Tasmanian Liberal parliamentarians, will decide whether to refer the matter to the privileges committee.
In the past, Hastwell had spoken out against salmon farming practices which he claimed had driven him out of business in Dover, Tasmania. He made a submission to a Senate inquiry into aquaculture which held hearings in 2015.
Tassal, one of the large salmon farmers in the region, denied it was responsible but reportedly signed a deal to buy Hastwell’s mussel leases. In the deal, Hastwell alleged he agreed not to speak publicly about the matter again and not to speak disparagingly about Tassal.
Hastwell said he had agreed to the deal because he could not afford to walk away from the business with nothing. But when Hastwell was listed to speak at the inquiry, his lawyer allegedly received an email from Tassal.
“We remind your clients of their obligations not to make disparaging statements whether in relation to the Senate enquiry or to the media or otherwise,’ the email reportedly said.
After Whish-Wilson’s referral, the Senate president will decide whether the matter should go to the privileges committee for a determination.
“The parliament has strong powers to protect the integrity of its process and especially in relation to the protection of witnesses,” Whish-Wilson said.
“It is critical that witnesses can provide evidence to Senate inquiries without constraint. I am concerned by the allegation that Tassal may have sought to constrain a witness in what they could or couldn’t present to a Senate inquiry.”
Guardian Australia contacted Tassal for comment.
On Thursday, a statement appeared on the Tassal website, sighted by Guardian, which said at no time did Tassal “demand or request Mr Hastwell not to make a submission to, or to not appear before the Federal Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications in relation to the regulation of the fin-fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania (Senate inquiry)”.
The statement said: “Tassal and Dover Bay Mussels (Mr Hastwell) entered into an agreement for Tassal to acquire Dover Bay Mussels’ leases in 2015.
“At no time did we ever discourage Mr Hastwell from attending the Senate inquiry. We note Mr Hastwell made a written submission to the Senate inquiry.”
The statement was taken down later on Thursday afternoon. Tassal has been contacted for comment regarding the referral and the removal of the statement.
The Parliamentary Privileges Act states: “A person shall not, by fraud, intimidation, force or threat, by the offer or promise of any inducement or benefit, or by other improper means, influence another person in respect of any evidence given or to be given before a House or a committee, or induce another person to refrain from giving any such evidence.”
Published in The Guardian here.