Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 382..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I think we are entitled to assume from those words that the intention evinced by the Assembly, back in 1991 when it passed the Inquiries Act, was that it should be able to have a report published outside the sitting period of the Assembly, and that such a report would attract the same immunities and privileges-that is absolute privilege-that it would attract if it had been tabled in the Legislative Assembly.
Yesterday, the Chief Minister made reference in this place to a different view, which is contained most especially in an opinion of the ACT Chief Solicitor, dated 17 January, which the Chief Minister was kind enough to supply to me.
MR SPEAKER: Mr Humphries, would you just resume your seat? Members, it is a bit difficult for Mr Humphries to give his presentation speech. Would you just move back a little? Thanks.
MR HUMPHRIES: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The advice of the Chief Solicitor refers to the words of section 14A of the Inquiries Act, and also makes reference to the operation of section 24 of the self-government act, and its evocation of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 (Commonwealth), which applies in the absence of any overriding provision in the ACT.
He goes on to say, and I quote from the report:
However, the act of tabling the report is not the same thing as publishing the report to the world.
Section 16 (2) (d) of the Parliamentary Privileges Act provides, in effect, that the publication of a document, including a report, "by or pursuant to an order of a house", and the documents so published, are protected by absolute privilege. For this absolute privilege to apply, it is not sufficient for the document or report to be tabled: it is also necessary for the Assembly to order that it be published.
Mr Speaker, that is the tenor of the advice. The advice is that a mere provision in the Inquiries Act, giving a report published outside the house the same privileges as a report published inside the house, does not facilitate the publication of a report under the Inquiries Act. The reason it does not is that a report published in the house would further require a publication order by the house, and it cannot receive that publication order when the house is not sitting, therefore there can be no publication, at least no publication that attracts absolute privilege.
That advice obviously leaves the clear words of section 14A in some doubt. As I have said, it seems to me that the act evinces the clear intention, on the part of the Legislative Assembly, that there should be publication outside sitting periods. In fact, what is now being read down to me, by virtue of this advice, is that only reports which do not need absolute privilege, because they do not make any comments which might require the protection of privilege, can be published outside the sitting period of the house.
I would submit, Mr Speaker, that this is unacceptable. This place needs and deserves and, in particular, the public of the ACT need and deserve, to be able to see such reports as soon as they are completed. Although, no doubt there will be further debate about this later on, I think that in this case much anguish has occurred in the ACT community by