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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 2646 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

has been damaged it is a matter of some immediacy, indeed even urgency, and the court ought to be able to deal in some way with that matter soon - quickly, not after extensive periods of delay. So, I think two years is a reasonable period as a maximum period after which a person ought not to be able to say, "My reputation was damaged. I was apparently unaware of that fact, but it was damaged and I now seek to be recompensed for that damage".

Mr Speaker, the period for making submissions on my initiatives closed recently and final submissions are arriving. Following consideration of those submissions, I will be proposing to my colleagues a comprehensive package of reforms. If the Assembly passes this measure today, I will not be seeking to change the time limit provided for the bringing of actions. Therefore, I see this Bill as a step towards a general opening up of the debate in this place about defamation. I hope that it will be a sound and satisfactory debate over a period of time, because I believe that the law of defamation is probably the single area of law in this Territory - indeed, in many other places in Australia - which is in most serious need of comprehensive overhaul.

There are certainly areas of the law elsewhere which are, in isolated places, out of date; but there is probably no other area of the law which is more regularly used by citizens of the Territory and, let me make this clear, by citizens outside the Territory - very often by citizens outside the Territory; witness the recent action in the ACT involving two members of the Federal Ministry - that is so urgently in need of reform. This, Mr Speaker, is a small but significant step towards effecting that kind of reform. So, Mr Speaker, I indicate that the Government will support the Bill. I hope that it will be the precursor to a wider debate on defamation law reform in the ACT.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.44): Mr Speaker, I acknowledge, support and applaud the attitude that the Attorney-General has shown to defamation law reform in the ACT. It is most certainly an area of law that has been neglected. Legislatures around Australia have tended to avoid it. As the Attorney has indicated, over the years or decades they have tended to view it with some fright. I notice that the Attorney has decided, as a result of an inability to get the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to take a coherent or unified approach to the issue, to move unilaterally within the ACT. I think that is a good thing. I think some recent examples of the use of the ACT as a jurisdiction in which to pursue defamation actions have had a serious impact on ACT ratepayers, to the extent that we really must, in the ACT, bear the expense of very costly defamation actions which plaintiffs from around Australia choose to pursue here.

I am very aware of and have followed with interest the Attorney's approach to defamation law reform. I notice that he has prepared a paper setting out some of his views on proposals for reform of defamation law, including reforms to the limitation period. The Attorney advises today that he has received a number of submissions on his discussion paper. The Attorney has just advised us that, generally, they do support his proposal. The Attorney's proposal was to reduce the limitation period to six months after publication, with improved exceptional circumstances. With the leave of the court, the period might be extended to three years.

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