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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1993 Week 06 Hansard (Wednesday, 19 May 1993) . . Page.. 1608 ..

MR WESTENDE: I have a supplementary question. Chief Minister, could you tell this house the last time you attended the meeting of a community council?

MS FOLLETT: It depends what sort of a community council you are talking about. Madam Speaker, I attend many meetings, and I do, as I am sure other members do, get frequent communication from those councils. I do not believe that it is my role to attend every community council meeting. I think - and this might be news to members opposite - that, so long as you listen to the views which are expressed by those councils and take action upon them, that is a better implementation of the consultation process than showing up each time in an attempt to win votes, which is what members opposite do.

Judiciary - Attitude to Assaults on Women

MS ELLIS: Madam Speaker, my question is directed to the Chief Minister. It concerns a large amount of controversy in the media and in the community recently over some decisions and some comments made by the judiciary. I ask:  What is the Government doing to ensure that judges in the ACT take notice of current community attitudes about assaults on women?

MS FOLLETT: I thank Ms Ellis for the question, Madam Speaker. I have certainly seen a number of media reports which are critical of judges in the ACT and the States over what appear to be inappropriate comments about women in the course of cases involving assaults on women. I know that that will be a matter that is of concern not only to people in the Assembly but to everybody in the community. I think it is a very sad day indeed when one leading newspaper can carry virtually an entire page of jokes about judges. It is a very sad state of affairs - although some of the jokes were very good.

Madam Speaker, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Crispin, was quoted in the Canberra Times on 17 May as attributing the lack of such a controversy in the ACT to the fact that these cases are tried in the Supreme Court here and that judges in the Supreme Court have the time to properly hear and determine cases. However, in the same issue of the Canberra Times there was an article which referred to several disturbing instances in the ACT of judges making inappropriate comments or imposing sentences which appear light in view of the nature of the assaults on the women victims who were involved.

Madam Speaker, although there are a number of options which the Government will be looking at to alter the approaches of judges and of magistrates in these cases, we are very mindful of the need to ensure that there is no real or perceived interference with the independence of judges in carrying out their duty. The Australian Institute of Judicial Administration is piloting a gender awareness program for judges and for other professionals involved in the justice system. The Government certainly hopes that this program can be established quickly and that judicial officers in the ACT will take part in the program.

We are also committed, as members will know, to reviewing laws on sexual assault and on domestic violence in the ACT to make sure that those laws make adequate provision for the protection of women from assault. The Community Law Reform Committee has references on both of those matters.

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