Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 1 Hansard (10 February) . . Page.. 66..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
and respond to them in a timely and appropriate manner. It is up to us to ensure that the government takes reports by the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman and the Community Advocate seriously. Especially when there is a minority government, we should not see the government and its ministers treating the Assembly with contempt. The government is ultimately accountable to the people for its actions through us. It is up to the Assembly to ensure that the ACT government meets its responsibility to the community.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (4.09): This is an important debate and I am more than happy to debate at any time issues around the Westminster system and around ministerial responsibility. This certainly goes very much to the heart of a strong and operating democracy. It is a debate we have had on a number of occasions in this Assembly. Certainly, it is a debate on which both sides of the chamber have expressed vigorously opposing views, perhaps depending on the circumstance.
The context of the debate about ministerial responsibility that we are having today has essentially, I guess, been driven by certainly the questions that have been asked today of the Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services in relation to the non-reporting by the department of education under section 162 of the Children and Young People Act. So we need to put this debate in context. We need to put the debate in the context of the minister's responsibilities in relation to this particular issue. We need then some explanation of what section 162 says, how it should be interpreted, what it means and where it vests or imposes responsibility.
As we all know as parliamentarians and as legislators, the great importance of a second reading speech in relation to any legislation is that it is a document to which courts will give judicial notice in interpreting legislation. It is regarded as one of the principles of extrinsic evidence. So we go to the second reading speech when we want a detailed explanation or finer understanding of what particular sections in a particular piece of legislation mean in terms of that finer interpretation.
The second reading speech on the Children and Young People Act was presented by Mr Smyth, then a minister in the previous government, on 1 July 1999. This was Mr Smyth's description of the import of section 162:
To maximise the opportunities for government to give best support to children and young people, the Bill shifts principal responsibility for children's and young people's matters from the office of the Director of Family Services to the more senior office of departmental chief executive.
Mr Smyth goes on:
In this way the chief executive will have overarching responsibility, and with it, accountability to the community and this Assembly, for child protection, child care licensing and youth justice services under the Bill.
Mr Smyth concludes:
This is seen as a way to maximise possibilities for seamless service-provision for all people under 18.