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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (20 May) . . Page.. 403 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

I am aware of the case Mr Osborne refers to, and I must admit I have some concerns about the delay as well. I understand there was an application earlier by one of the parties to the proceeding to challenge the capacity of the coroner assigned to that matter, Mr Soames, to hear that matter, on the basis of bias. An application of some sort was made to the Supreme Court. I understand the Supreme Court rejected the application and the matter was referred back to the Coroner's Court for commencement of the hearing. That is part of the reason for the delay but not by any means the whole of the reason. I also understand that the Chief Magistrate is concerned about the concept of having two inquests running at the same time. Of course, the Bender inquest is running at the present time, and I understand he is concerned about having a second inquest running simultaneously with that inquest.

Notwithstanding that, I certainly share the concern that Mr Osborne has expressed about the matter. I have recently received a letter from the Children's Services Council on the subject. On the basis of that letter, I have instructed that a letter to the Chief Magistrate be prepared for my signature, to raise the issue with him. I hope that will result in some attempt to bring forward the commencement of this inquest.

MR OSBORNE: I have a supplementary question. I thank you for that answer, Minister. Given that the family are quite clearly suffering - and I do have a letter from the family, addressed to me, which I am happy to make available to you - would you undertake to write to the family, explaining the delay, or perhaps ask the Chief Magistrate to write to the family, explaining the delay?

MR HUMPHRIES: I am very happy to write to the family and explain the situation. I might add that there is a retirement of a magistrate coming up later this year, in the next couple of months. That will necessitate the appointment of a new magistrate. The Government will be looking overall at the resourcing situation with respect to the Magistrates Court across the board at this time. As you would know, the Government has not been shy of supplementing the resources of the Supreme Court, where that was appropriate; and we would consider the situation with respect to the Magistrates Court in the same light. If that produces some improvement in the situation with respect to issues like this, that would, I suppose, be a welcome matter for the family concerned.

Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit

MR HARGREAVES: My question is to the Chief Minister. Chief Minister, you said on ABC radio on 8 May - we have a copy here for you to refresh your memory, if you would like to - that although the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit was established within your department it did not actually work for you. Could the Chief Minister advise the Assembly to whom the unit is answerable?

MS CARNELL: It is set up under Commonwealth legislation and there is a requirement for it to report. It operates under the guidelines set out in the Commonwealth legislation and reports under those guidelines.

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