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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (17 February) . . Page.. 217 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

roles at various points and may even on occasions come into some measure of conflict with the Government in that position. In fact, I saw a letter from him in his role as chair of the Cultural Council which could be interpreted as making some criticism of government art policy. But that is nothing, I believe, we should get too upset about.

I think it has been the clear indication from the Chief Minister and from this Government generally that we expect a certain degree of openness about the way in which people take part in policy debates in the ACT. People with high standing and of a high intellectual calibre such as Mr Refshauge have something to say and have a role to play in debates of that kind. I do not think that I would be saying to him either privately or in a public sense that I reject his contribution to this debate. If he had come out and opposed the safe injecting rooms, his view would have been equally valid and equally to be taken into account. At the meeting I referred to I understand that the Assistant Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police made some comments to the effect that there would be difficulties with respect to enforcement of the law. If you were in my shoes, Mr Kaine, I am sure you would not be wanting to chastise the assistant commissioner for making those comments critical of a safe injecting room.

Mr Kaine: The commissioner was very careful not to get into political debate.

MR HUMPHRIES: I think he could be interpreted as being in that position. Equally, the DPP could be interpreted as being in that position. I think there is an exercise in judgment in all cases. I do not believe Mr Refshauge has gone too far. I do not believe he has compromised his position in any way. Obviously, I expect judgment to be exercised, but I believe it has been exercised on this particular occasion.

MR KAINE: I ask a supplementary question. It seems that under this Government the concept of public servants keeping out of political debate has been set aside, and this is not the first time. Minister, I take it then that you agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions and that, even if a drug self-injecting room does not have bipartisan and broad community support, you will still put it into effect anyway.

MR HUMPHRIES: I do not know that that question really follows from the original question, Mr Speaker, but those are issues yet to be examined by the Government as a whole. As far as the comment made preceding that question is concerned, there have been plenty of instances of people being involved in debates of various kinds. It particularly behoves people who hold independent statutory offices to be able to take part in those debates. For example, the Discrimination Commissioner and the Community Advocate both took positions which could be described as political in the context of the debate about Mr Osborne's abortion Bill last year. They have also taken quite strong positions with respect to mental health.

I have not gone back to any of those people and said to them, "You will shut up because I disagree with what you have to say". I think it is far healthier for the ACT political process if those officers, within certain bounds, exercise their judgment and contribute to the public debate. It may be different, I would concede, for people who are not holding independent statutory offices but certainly, in the case of these people we are talking about now, the holders of those offices, I think it is appropriate to be involved to that degree.

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