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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 2648 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

It is a possibility, it seems to me, that having too short a limitation period, particularly on an action such as defamation, will generate more legal action than we might otherwise have expected. So, the Labor Party finds itself, in relation to this piece of legislation, in that difficult situation of not necessarily disagreeing in principle with what Mr Osborne seeks to achieve, but feeling that the timing is not appropriate, coming at the very time that the Government has put out a discussion paper on which it is consulting, something which we all applaud. All of us in this Assembly are constantly talking about the need to consult with our community, to actually empower our community, through our consultative mechanisms. Here we have a consultative process half finished and we are legislating on the very issue on which we are consulting. It seems to me that that is unfortunate. If this Bill were to come back in six months' time, the Labor Party might find itself happy to support it.

As I said, I applaud the approach that the Attorney has adopted in relation to defamation law reform, one in which he has put out for discussion a number of proposals for reform. The Attorney signals that he believes there is a whole raft of potential amendments which we should consider over time. The Attorney's proposed course of action is, over time, to produce a number of other papers on proposed reforms which he will then put out for community consultation and which he will come back to this place on and actually seek the support of the Assembly.

So, even in relation to this matter, there are other significant proposals for reform of the defamation law that the Attorney is pushing ahead with. We have plucked one of them out; we are ignoring the others. It might be, in relation to the Attorney's proposals and the feedback that he gets, that the Attorney would propose to refer the entire issue to Mr Osborne's committee, perhaps for review, in relation to the other issues raised in that discussion paper. I think the other issues are of very significant moment and are more testing matters in relation to defamation law reform, perhaps, than the limitation period.

The other matters on which Mr Humphries is currently consulting with the community are questions going to the defence of truth and measures designed to encourage the timely resolution of disputes, issues going to corrections, apologies and expedited orders, the limitation period and other procedural changes. They are all issues, along with the limitation period, that I would be very pleased to see this Assembly refer to Mr Osborne's committee for detailed consideration. It may be that, rather than actually taking this matter to conclusion today, there would be advantage in adjourning the matter for that further consideration of Mr Humphries' reforms.

MS TUCKER (4.55): I am also concerned that we are encroaching upon a process which is under way. We are still seeking comment from the community on this topic, so I will not be supporting the Bill. It is probably a quite sensible idea, but I do not feel comfortable with pre-empting the work that the Attorney-General has commenced on this matter. I look forward to further discussion in this place about issues around defamation. It appears that this Bill will be passed today, but I do not feel that the Greens can support it at this point.

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