Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 12 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 3641 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
having the best views. Mrs Carnell urged Canberrans in her media release to buy commemorative bricks from the old hospital. Proceeds would go to charity. "This is a great way to keep a little piece of Royal Canberra Hospital and contribute to a great cause", she said. It was a festival. But it was a festival that went horribly wrong when spectators were sprayed with shrapnel from the detonation of the mountains of explosives needed to bring the old building down, and one of them died - Katie Bender. One spectator died, although expert evidence to the inquest that followed suggested it was only by the grace of God that the lakeshore did not resemble a battlefield.
The fact that so many Canberrans were put at risk represented, in the coroner's words, a total abrogation by the Government of its responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. Through the whole demolition project, scant regard - and as it transpired, incompetent regard - was given to public safety. No-one in the Government - not its Ministers, not its advisers, officials, not the contractors - undertook a risk assessment to ensure the demolition method it had chosen and the manner in which it was undertaken were as safe as they had to be. On the contrary, driven by a sense of urgency out of the Chief Minister's office and a sense of the grand event, the Government boosted the spectacle, changed the day to a weekend, encouraged its citizens to come along, and ignored its obligation to ensure their safety. As the coroner said:
It is inevitable and regretful that accidents do sometimes occur despite the best precautions, but what occurred when Katie Bender was killed was inexcusable.
It was inexcusable. What happened occurred because of the culture that allowed the systemic failures and incompetence to fester and grow and go unrecognised, and which led to the inevitable tragedy. And presiding over the ACT government service, the systemic failure, was one person - the Chief Minister. There is no defence adequate to avoid her responsibility for the events of 13 July 1997, or deflect the trenchant criticisms of the coroner, although we have had some very weak attempts at that in this debate. Mr Stefaniak had an interesting defence of the Chief Minister. He admitted that he and other Ministers also preside over departments that have systemic failings and asked why there was no motion against them.
There are clear and important differences in what Mr Stefaniak raises and in the case before the coroner. Mrs Carnell's personal staff, the chief executive and senior officers of her department were acting with, the coroner says - the coroner's words - her full imprimatur. In the case of the Chief Minister and the hospital implosion, she presided over systemic failings that leached well beyond her office and her department, just as her characteristic and arrogant style of government has leached through all the levels of public administration in the ACT.
I will have a little more to say about ministerial responsibility later. Suffice it to say for now that Mrs Carnell is the Minister who presided over the unwarranted interference of officials that turned a dangerous industrial project into a public spectacle that ended in perfectly foreseeable tragedy. She is the Chief Minister who relied on advice - and still does - from advisers and public servants who, as Mr Osborne pointed out, no longer