Page 2492 - Week 07 - Monday, 15 August 2022

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Legislative Assembly—work health safety notice

Statement by Speaker

MADAM SPEAKER (Ms Burch) (10.18): I wish to make a statement concerning the serving of a prohibition notice on me in relation to the conduct of committee hearings and meetings in the Assembly precincts. This notice was served by WorkSafe ACT on Friday, 12 August, pursuant to various provisions in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

I understand that the issuing of the notice occurred against the background of a disagreement between the Select Committee on Estimates and a government minister about arrangements for public hearings and whether or not ministers and officials ought to attend in person or remotely in order to effectively manage risks associated with COVID-19. I understand that it was against this background, and acting on a complaint, that work safety inspectors were dispatched to the Assembly precincts and the prohibition order was subsequently issued by WorkSafe.

Members would have seen a copy of the letter that I sent this morning to the Work Health and Safety Commissioner explaining the fundamental constitutional issues that arise in connection with the issuing of the notice, which purports to prevent all committees in this place from conducting meetings or hearings. On these grounds, I have respectfully asked the commissioner to rescind the notice.

On its face, the notice effectively prevents the exercise of the legislative arm of government of its powers of inquiry and substantially and materially inhibits the scrutiny, accountability and representative roles associated with the form of parliamentary democracy that operates in the territory. That this should occur while the Select Committee on Estimates 2022-23 was in the process of inquiring into the annual budget estimates and appropriate bills is very concerning.

As members, you will have seen that the notice purports to prevent all Assembly committees from conducting meetings and hearings in the Assembly precincts. And, while there are legal questions as to the efficacy of the commission’s powers in this matter, it was in an abundance of caution that the Select Committee on Estimates this morning met at premises outside of the Assembly precincts to conduct a meeting. This is unprecedented.

As members would be aware, the Assembly has inherent powers of inquiry. This power adheres to the constitutional design of our system of government and can be traced back through section 24 of the Self-Government Act, which establishes general equivalence between powers, privileges and immunities of the Assembly, its committees and its members with those of the Australian House of Representatives, and also section 49 of the Australian Constitution, which gives the House of Representatives the same powers, privileges and immunities as the UK House of Commons at the time of the establishment of Federation.

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