Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 02 Hansard (Wednesday, 16 February 2005 2005) . . Page.. 502 ..
By the way, the opposition will move whatever motion is appropriate at any time against the government when it, or any of its members, is doing the wrong thing. The Attorney-General and Chief Minister can rest assured—watch this space—that in relation to this matter or any other matter we will do our job accordingly.
In terms of the matter last year, yes, it was a no-confidence motion. The attorney took the absolutely unprecedented step then of appealing against his own coroner. I am not going to repeat what Mr Smyth said about its being against this system, but I think that he said it particularly well. The attorney has conceded that his action was unprecedented. There was no precedent in Australia for appealing against your own coroner. That was compounded by the fact that he was a witness in that case; hence this motion.
I have no qualms about the action of the nine individuals as such things occur. It has occurred in the past and, no doubt, it will occur again. But for the government to step in and appeal against its own coroner was a breach of a whole lot of conventions. It breached precedent. It caused real problems in legal circles in relation to the separation of powers. Those are very serious issues.
The attorney completely confused the situation when he gave some example of a police chase. Actually, there was a coronial inquiry about that. No action at all was taken against the police, but the matter was investigated. But that shows how he is either twisting the situation or completely missing the point there.
The attorney seemed to indicate that we would never criticise the judiciary. He missed the point again. I refer to some comments, which might have been made in December, about the role of the Attorney-General. No-one is suggesting that an Attorney-General has to stay mute and not occasionally criticise decisions by a court. That has happened quite frequently. In fact, I think that several chief justices of the High Court have said that no-one expects an Attorney-General to agree with every legal decision. You cannot. Judges are human beings too and make mistakes. That is why governments and attorneys actually get involved in normal appeals.
Why shouldn’t an attorney or a government appeal against a stupid decision? If, say, someone gets injured in a playground or something like that and a court makes a complete stuff-up of a case, why shouldn’t the attorney join in an appeal? Those things do happen on a regular basis. But it has never happened before in Australia that an Attorney-General who was a witness in a case has appealed against his own coroner. That is absolutely a first. This government, it seems, is going to have lots of interesting precedents and firsts like that if it keeps it up. That was unique, which is something that he just does not seem to be able to grasp.
Also, the attorney does not seem to be able to grasp the fact that, if there are going to be any unfavourable comments made in relation to a coronial inquest, at the end of the proceedings the coroner will invite the relevant people to make submissions in relation to that. He seems to miss the point, too, that the attorney and the government do not have to act on the recommendations of a coroner in a coronial inquiry and that there are further processes there, ranging from simply saying that they think that something is a crock of a recommendation and they do not agree with the points made through to acting on certain points.