Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (30 March) . . Page.. 1274..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
I am concerned and I am rather displeased that again the progress of this inquiry has to be disrupted due to something which from the start...has been, at least to me and certainly to counsel assisting me, very blatantly obvious and that this is the need for some witnesses who were to be called and who are to be called before this inquiry to be represented and to be separately represented.
As a consequence of the delays caused by your decision to have one counsel representing the ACT government, the coroner's inquest may not meet its target of reporting before the 2004-05 bushfire season and some of the witnesses who gave evidence without the benefit of independent counsel may have had their interests compromised.
Why did you decide to have one counsel represent all of the ACT government, its agencies and employees when Coroner Doogan was warning of a "blatantly obvious"conflict of interest in June last year?
MR STANHOPE: I thank Mr Smyth for the question. The issue of the legal representation provided to those appearing before the inquest currently being undertaken is very important. The decision taken by the department of justice, certainly in consultation with me, was that the legal team, led by senior counsel, Mr Johnson, would represent the interests of the territory.
It was the view of the department of justice-it was the advice provided to me; advice that I accepted-that the interests of public officials and public servants appearing before the inquiry were not indivisible from the interests of the territory. It was not a view taken by either me or the department of justice at that time that there was a necessary divide between the interests of the territory, as a separate entity, and the interests of individual members of the ACT public service. That is not a conclusion that we drew at that time.
As the inquiry has unfolded and as a result of statements made by the coroner-I will have to check this-reflected by counsel assisting the coroner, about some issues of divergence between the interests of the territory and those of individual members of the ACT public service or the public sector giving evidence, the territory moved to provide separate representation, in the first instance for Mr Peter Lucas-Smith and Mr Mike Castle.
It is fair to say that the territory, and I as the minister, did not anticipate the nature and the form that the inquiry has taken. But, as it has unfolded, and having regard to the comments made by the coroner a week ago, the territory has now moved to ensure that those members of the ACT public service invited to give evidence who believe that they require legal counsel will be represented-not necessarily just for the purposes of legal assistance or representing their legal interests but perhaps for other support as a result of appearing before the coroner. In some circumstances, the experience of many public servants appearing has been less than pleasant. The nature of the questioning is vigorous to say the least. Perhaps some who have appeared have not been particularly well equipped through experience to face this.
There is a range of issues around the representation of public servants before the coronial inquest. We-I and my department of advisers-have met and discussed this at length. Over the last day or so we have agreed to a framework to ensure that ACT public