Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2496..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
Mr Speaker, the Inquiries Amendment Bill 2002 (No 2) is in response to the difficulties which arose out of the Gallop board of inquiry into disability. Whilst Mr Humphries also has a bill on the notice paper, our approaches to this issue are quite different.
My bill will ensure that the Assembly is the first to know of the outcomes of inquiries performed by the executive under the Inquiries Act-that is by ensuring that the inquiry report attracts parliamentary privilege on the day the report is tabled in this Assembly.
This bill will provide a level playing field for all involved in an inquiry. The reason there were delays in the tabling of the Gallop report was not due to the inaction of the executive government or because of conflicting legal advice-rather, it was due to the continuation of the power relationships which exist in the disability sector.
The executive government released part of the report to a select few of the players. These people did not like what they saw in the report and took out an injunction to stop the release of the full report. Those who were not part of the select few, but were also named in or affected by this report, were left in the dark. They did not know what was in the report, what the public servants involved were trying to stop, or why the report was released to a select few.
Mr Speaker, this was not a matter of parliamentary privilege-it was a matter of power, and the selective release of information. The arguments and conflicting legal advice over the extent of parliamentary privilege came after this mismanagement of the release of the inquiry report.
There were questions raised about the two months wait between the Chief Minister receiving and then releasing the report-although we should remember that there was nothing to stop the Chief Minister from not releasing it at all.
The decision as to when to release the report rests entirely with the Chief Minister. He may release nothing, part, or all of the report at any time, to any member of the community and, then, if things get heated, claim that it was always his intention to table the report-and hence invoke parliamentary privilege.
Again, this is not about privilege, it is about the power exercised by the executive government-all the information and power that comes with it-and choosing when to release reports. This allows the Chief Minister to leak a good news story there, make a policy announcement here, suppress what could be a bad news story and, at some time in the future-preferably on a day when the media and the Assembly are distracted with other matters-release the report and hope no-one notices the bad news it contains.
The reason for the bill I am introducing today is to make clear in the act that, when the Chief Minister's Department has in its possession a board of inquiry report, it is released to the Legislative Assembly first, or not at all. That is, it is not released to a select few, behind closed doors, who then take out injunctions against the Chief Minister. Simply, when the report is ready, it will be tabled in the Assembly. I believe this bill restores parliamentary privilege to where it belongs-in this chamber, rather than in press conferences or in the courts.