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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 04 Hansard (Wednesday, 24 March 2010) . . Page.. 1324 ..

Emergencies (Bushfire Warnings) Amendment Bill 2010

Mr Smyth, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (10.03): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, I have much pleasure in introducing the Emergencies (Bushfire Warnings) Amendment Bill 2010. Members will recall that I introduced a bushfire warnings bill in August 2009. The bill that I introduce today is almost identical to that bill. The only difference is that I have now ensured that the wording in table 85C is identical to the wording in the national bushfire warning framework.

Why am I introducing what is essentially the same bill again today? Members will be aware that the hearing has commenced in the ACT Supreme Court of the claims for compensation by a number of people who experienced damage and loss as a result of the 2003 bushfire disaster in the ACT. A most interesting—and potentially quite worrying—factor has emerged from the early evidence that has been presented to that hearing. The Canberra community is now aware that the ACT government has claimed that, apparently, it does not have a duty of care to issue warnings to people who might be in the path of a bushfire.

Mr Corbell: A point of order, Mr Speaker.

MR SPEAKER: Stop the clocks, thank you.

Mr Corbell: Mr Speaker, standing orders prohibit members from being able to comment on matters that are currently before the court. Mr Smyth is directly referring to matters that are currently the subject of an action in the Supreme Court. It is not appropriate for members to use this place to comment on those matters that are currently before the court. That is exactly what Mr Smyth is doing and I would ask you to call him to order in that regard.

Mr Seselja: Mr Speaker, on the point of order, this has obviously come up on a number of occasions. If we look at House of Representative Practice as our guide, as we have seen in the last few days, there are a number of elements that need to be shown to actually shut down a member from speaking about an issue. Not only do there need to be proceedings; of course there needs to be a substantial risk of those proceedings being prejudiced. Indeed, even in those cases, there is always the ability of the Assembly to accept that it is in the public interest to actually debate these issues. These proceedings could potentially go on for years. The idea that we as a legislature should not in any way be able to talk about these issues for years would be a major gag on our ability to debate matters and it would not be in the public interest. I would ask you to rule against Mr Corbell on that basis.

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