Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 10 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 3095..
Debate resumed from 26 June 1997, on motion by Mr Humphries:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SPEAKER: Is it the wish of the Assembly to debate this order of the day concurrently with the Coroners (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1997? There being no objection, that course will be followed. I remind members that in debating order of the day No. 2 they may also address their remarks to order of the day No. 3.
MR WOOD (11.15): Mr Speaker, the Opposition will be supporting this Bill. It is an extensive rewrite of the Coroners Act and is an improved version of that Act. As a lead-up to this rewrite, the draft Bill was well circulated and widely debated in the community. The end result is a good one that merits the support of the Assembly. There are in it a number of new measures and a number of measures that may have been part of the practice of the Coroners Court in more recent times. Sensitive issues are dealt with.
For example, cultural attitudes are to be considered by the coroner, reflecting the culturally diverse nature of our society. Canberrans coming from different parts of the world obviously have different views about death, about dying, about treatment of bodies and the like, and the coroner is able to take those views into account. Generally, the coroner is asked to be as sympathetic as possible to families. Inevitably, of course, the requirements of the law have to take their place and there will be times when some of the considerations that the families would like to be taken into account cannot be observed. I expect that the courts have been acting in this way for quite some time, but it is good to see it now written into legislation.
One interesting part of this Bill is that disasters are now to be formally part of a coroner's inquiry. The speech the Minister gave indicated that it was expected that these would be rare events. We certainly hope that they will be rare. This Bill was tabled before the disaster of the hospital implosion. It is interesting to note that the coroner's inquiry now being held into that is being undertaken because of the death of a person. If a piece of shrapnel had not found a fatal target, there would have been no requirement for that investigation to take place. Obviously, the Government had open to it before this legislation the option of its own inquiry separate from the Coroners Court.
I wonder whether in responding today the Minister would be able to give the Assembly and the broader community a timetable for the conduct of the inquiry into the hospital implosion. He might confirm for me whether a timetable exists. I understand, simply from what I read in the newspapers, that there has been an opening day. I do not know whether there was more than one day. The community and certainly its representatives in this Assembly are concerned to know how rapidly this matter will be dealt with. We have seen, and we understand, that some coroners' inquiries take a very long time.