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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 5 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 1430..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

There are a number of aspects of the case that we will make today, Mr Speaker. They go to the apparent attendance by members of the Attorney's personal staff at the home of the Benders and certain representations made by his staff to the Benders as a result of those visits. They go to a complaint lodged by the Attorney with the Law Society of the ACT about the behaviour of Mr Bernard Collaery, counsel for the Benders. As I have said, this is a matter that on face value, or to all outward appearances, is to do with the hospital implosion. We might just touch on that, accepting and respecting that that matter has not concluded and that we are to some extent constrained in what we might say.

It is relevant to note that the power to hold coronial inquests is to be found in the Coroners Act. Section 12 of that Act vests jurisdiction in the coroner to hold an inquest into, inter alia, the death of a person. The inquest into the unfortunate death of Katie Bender was so established. The Coroners Act sets out the procedure to be followed in such an inquest. Section 53 confers powers on the coroner to grant leave to a person who satisfies an interest test to be legally represented at the inquest. Leave has been granted in the present case for the ACT Government and the Bender family to be so represented, along with a range of other individuals and organisations.

It is relevant, Mr Speaker, that the coroner is vested with certain responsibilities under the Act. One of those is that it is discretionary in him to report, under section 58, to the Attorney-General, and he may make recommendations in relation to any matter connected with the inquest, including anything connected with public health and safety. I think it is fair to say that it was unquestionable from the outset of this inquest that matters would be referred to the Attorney-General. I think that cannot be gainsaid.

I make the point about the role of the Coroners Court and the relationship between the Coroners Court, this inquest and the Attorney to make the point that the Attorney-General will play a part in this matter. He does have a formal role under the Coroners Act. Whilst the coroner is the person charged with the inquest into cause of death of a person, it is the Attorney-General who has to consider the recommendations made to him concerning any issue relating to public safety arising out of the findings of the coroner.

We come to the nub of the matter here, Mr Speaker. In doing so, the Attorney must be seen to be acting at arm's length and in a completely and totally disinterested manner. We admit that that will be difficult where some of the issues reported to him could well relate to adverse findings against some arm of government, for instance, or perhaps against some government employees - who knows? The point of it is that there must be a well-founded and grounded perception in the community that the Attorney is acting in such a manner; that he is acting at complete arm's length; that he is acting in a totally disinterested way.

We need to look to see whether, having regard to the reported actions of the Attorney as revealed in documents tabled yesterday, we can stand here and objectively declare that there is absolutely no scintilla of doubt that this Attorney-General has acted in a completely disinterested, objective way in his relationships with the Bender family,

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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.