Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1504..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
We are mindful of comments that the coroner has made in relation to this, which went to where there might be a conflict or where the interests of the territory and the interests of others might diverge. As the inquiry has progressed, separate representation has been arranged for some people who appeared before the inquest.
We are all aware of comments of the coroner, or counsel assisting on behalf of the inquiry, that there may be divergence of interest. The territory has moved, over this last week of the adjournment, to address the concerns that have been raised: a result-and to some extent this is supposition-of what I have indicated are quite genuine levels of anxiety that some prospective witnesses are feeling. That is a statement of fact and has been personally expressed to me by people who expect to be asked to give evidence and who have yet to be called.
They are feeling very anxious at the prospect of appearing at the coronial inquest. They have observed with great interest events within the court. They are mindful that the coronial process is rigorous and vigorous in nature and to some extent confronting for some witnesses. Through the reporting of the inquest, we are well aware that some witnesses have experienced in the court some confronting questioning and suggestions in relation to their personal positions. As a result, these have led to somewhere between 45 and 55 separate individuals approaching either the department of justice or the head of the Emergency Services Bureau or the head of the urban fire service with requests for legal representation.
As a result of that and of an analysis of the needs of individual witnesses, it has been decided to provide separate legal representation to a number of prospective witnesses. It has also been agreed that legal representation will be provided to separate and distinct groups of witnesses. That has been discussed fully with all of those who have approached for those respective organisations. I should include in that the head of the Legal Aid Commission of the ACT, Chris Staniforth, who is coordinating the provision of legal assistance for some prospective witnesses.
My understanding is that those who have now approached those people with a view to ensuring that their representative requirements are met are satisfied with the arrangements that have been made. Mr Stefaniak, we are mindful to ensure that all potential witnesses-public sector and volunteers-who seek support or legal representation receive the legal representation and support which, through negotiation, it has been decided is appropriate to their needs.
MR STEFANIAK: I have a supplementary question. Chief Minister, have you sought separate legal representation at the inquest?
MR STANHOPE: I have not sought separate legal representation, and I will not seek it.
MR HARGREAVES: I will be different and direct my question to the Minister for Environment. In recent days there has been a great deal of comment, much of it uninformed and some of it disingenuous, about the record of the government in