Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (14 December) . . Page.. 3058 ..
MS HORODNY (3.45): Mr Speaker, the Greens will support this Bill because at this stage it appears to be a sensible Bill. I understand that there is an appeal currently before the AAT in relation to occupation, but I believe that in the meantime it is probably in the best public interest to apply precautions such as those that are included in this Bill. I would strongly urge the Minister to ask the fire chief to be judicious in the way that he implements these powers. I would also ask the Minister to report back to the Assembly within six months, documenting how the Act has been implemented and in what circumstances it has been enforced.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Services) (3.45), in reply: Mr Speaker, I begin by thanking members for their latitude in allowing the Government to introduce on Tuesday of this week and pass today legislation which is quite significant, which unquestionably does pare back the rights of people in certain circumstances - and I make no secret about that; it does do that - and which permits the Government to put in place with great speed, possibly with a little haste, a power which I argue and which I hope that the Assembly agrees is necessary to deal with a potential problem of public safety.
Mr Moore described the legislation as a knee-jerk reaction. To be fair, he is probably quite right to say that. It is legislation that was generated by a description in a report which came across my desk. It described a situation which appeared to me to require an urgent response. The Government's response was to produce this legislation for passage through the Assembly this week.
I ask members to put themselves in my shoes for one moment and understand the reasons why this has happened in this way. A report was available. It is unfortunate, in a sense, that this has to relate to particular premises in the ACT, because I would argue that these powers are important to have on the statute books irrespective of what premises they might apply to or whether they apply to licensed premises at all. Members should be aware that it does not apply just to licensed premises; it goes much beyond that.
In this case there was a report across my desk describing proceedings in the AAT and indicating to me that there was a problem with a particular set of premises on which the Government had recently obtained a fire engineering report, which was described as a report from an eminent authority on fire engineering within Australia. This report purported to show that the safe occupancy loading for a particular premises was much lower than the actual occupancy assigned to that building at the present point in time. I read those comments and I said to the officers, "I see that that is what is recommended and that this is why we are going to argue this matter on appeal to the AAT. What are we going to do about it in the meantime, before the appeal is heard by the AAT?". The answer was that nothing could be done because the state of the legislation was such that nobody could alter that occupancy loading, except the AAT; and that would be a process that would take some months to resolve.
There is, in the present legislation, a power by the Fire Commissioner to apply to the Magistrates Court to close down premises altogether in circumstances where there is a severe danger of threat to public safety. That is a very drastic step to have to take to deal with a problem of this kind. It appalled me that between the determination on appeal by the AAT of an appropriate loading and the capacity to close down premises