Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (14 December) . . Page.. 3059 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
altogether there was nothing; there was nothing at all in between. In the circumstances where it appeared that premises were potentially unsafe, not to the point that they should be closed down immediately but they were still unsafe in some way, there was no capacity backing up that perception, should one exist in a hypothetical situation, to move in and deal with that situation in the interests of public safety; hence, the legislation before the Assembly today.
Mr Moore said that he had some questions about the legislation. They are very good questions, and they are questions that deserve to be answered. He was surprised that the AAT did not have the power to make the orders that were being sought now or that might be sought in an urgent situation. Of course, it is true that the AAT does not have those powers, because the AAT is an appeal body. It is not a court at first instance and, in an emergency situation, would not have the mechanisms for issuing an urgent order. It is not a body that is available on call, in the way the Magistrates Court is, and is able to issue an order quickly in these circumstances. Its procedures require a slow, careful process which takes potentially some months. In the situation where, in the opinion of, say, the Fire Commissioner, an urgent problem needed to be addressed, such a power would not be adequate to deal with the issue of public safety. It was appropriate to confer such a power on an appropriate body, and that appropriate body was the Magistrates Court.
The original legislation I tabled in this place was to confer a power on the Fire Commissioner per se. That was going too far. Members have seen the amendments which I have tabled today and which provide for that power to be exercised by the Magistrates Court on the application of the Fire Commissioner. The urgency of the response depends on the nature of the order being sought. If a closure order is being sought, the Magistrates Court has the power to proceed even if the other party may not have been adequately notified and given time to come before the court to make a case. That is obviously an appropriate power to have, because a closure order is required in circumstances where a problem in premises is in urgent need of being addressed. For example, we have seen problems with premises with balconies which are not sound enough to hold large numbers of people - things of that kind. In other circumstances, where remedial work needs to be done or where occupancy loadings might be too high, it is appropriate for those orders to issue; but only after they have gone to the Magistrates Court and sought orders.
There are, in a sense, three separate processes at work here, as Mr Moore indicated; but none of them is quite the same as this one. The Building Code of Australia provides guidance for the construction of the building, and also now through the amendments moved last year is instrumental in helping inform the Registrar of Liquor Licences as to what loading should be given to premises for the purposes of a liquor licence. But this power that we are talking about here is a power to order urgently either that remedial work be done or that occupancy loadings change, on the basis of information that has come to hand, for example.
I accept Mr Moore's point that there needs to be a review of the situation. At the present time there is a review of some elements that go into this legislation; for example, the question raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee of defining the terms of powers of entry and search of premises. Those issues are being explored in the review under way