Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 5 Hansard (29 May) . . Page.. 1064..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
I sincerely hope that the ACT enacts the new form of the legislation. I understand that companies are now employing lawyers to find provisions in the Trade Practices Act that might be expanded to attack their opponents. We have to hope that eventually this legislation, which perhaps the ACT Assembly will pioneer in adopting, is also adopted by other state and territory parliaments. We know that it has come up in South Australia, and I believe that the Greens will table similar legislation in New South Wales, Victoria and possibly Western Australia, but it will help a great deal if it has already been passed in the ACT.
This is a chance for us to put our Human Rights Act into practice and really make a difference and protect freedom of speech. Now is a time, I believe, when we need to protect that right more than ever.
MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (10.59): Before I speak on the report itself, I wish to note for the record, that there is a printing error on the front cover of the report. It says "Court Administration (Protection of Public Participation) Amendment Bill 2005"when it should say "Court Procedures (Protection of Public Participation) Amendment Bill 2005". That is a bit of confusion to start off with; I just wanted to correct the record on that.
I want to speak only briefly on this report. When the bill was first sent off to the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, the thought in my mind was "Well, it is a nice idea, but how will we achieve it?"I still have concerns about how it might be achieved. But unfortunately—as has been raised by both Mr Seselja and Dr Foskey—there has been a growing trend to use litigation to try and stop public participation. That started in the United States in the 1980s and since then it seems to have become more prolific here in Australia.
There is a real concern about the type of society in which we want future generations to live. Do we want a society in which people are too concerned to make their opinion known, for fear of litigation—not just by large corporations, as has been the case, but sometimes by smaller organisations and individuals who may seek to stop people from making comment on something that they do not agree with, purely by initiating a law suit, which I suppose is designed to clog up the courts?
The committee did consider those things. As has been said, we did hear evidence from Brian Walters when we were down in Victoria. I believe that this report offers some way forward as to how we can deal with this. It offers a starting point in consideration of what we might do.
Recently, I was privileged to attend, on Mr Stanhope's behalf, a launch of a book with discussion papers. I talked about the introduction of the Humans Right Act and the Human Rights Bill here in the ACT. Justice Michael Kirby was the keynote speaker at the launch of that book. Unfortunately, I had the difficult task of trying to follow Justice Michael Kirby; I have to say that that is not in the least a task to be envied. Rather than reading my written speech, I said that the ACT has a history of punching well above its weight and being a real groundbreaker. Ensuring the individual's right to public participation and to make comment on something that they believe is