Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 3 Hansard (8 March) . . Page.. 838 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Such proceedings are rare but not unknown. Every government has some policy on providing legal assistance to elected representatives who become involved in proceedings related to their position rather than their personal life. Most governments have a relatively informal process for determining whether legal assistance should be provided to a minister or member. Obviously ministers are most likely to be made parties to such proceedings, but it is also possible to imagine situations in which other members could become involved.

In March 1997 the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Legal Affairs tabled the report of its inquiry into guidelines for assistance to members for legal proceedings. The report contained a number of recommendations for the development of a statutory scheme for the provision of legal assistance to members under certain circumstances. The statutory scheme was to be supported by guidelines. In June 1997 the government presented its response to the report, in which it expressed its broad agreement with the recommendations of the committee. This bill implements those recommendations.

The statutory scheme is necessary for the ACT because of the restrictions of the self-government act on members of the Legislative Assembly receiving any benefit for services rendered in the Assembly other than the determined remuneration. The self-government act permits members of the Legislative Assembly to receive allowances specified under an enactment. The aim of this bill is to make it clear that members are entitled, under certain circumstances, to an allowance for legal assistance in relation to legal action arising out of their position as members.

When the government tabled its response to the report of the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, it also tabled interim guidelines which were designed to establish the basis for any decisions about provision of legal assistance to members. The interim guidelines were developed after considering the policy guidelines used in other Australian jurisdictions and in New Zealand. Those interim guidelines will be used as the basis of statutory guidelines to be contained in regulations made under this bill once it has passed into law.

The bill establishes the framework for the provision of legal assistance. It restricts legal assistance to proceedings connected with the official duties of a person as minister or member of the Legislative Assembly. An application for legal assistance is to be made in writing, setting out the material facts and circumstances. Applicants will have to fully disclose any involvement in the incident leading to the application and set out time lines for legal procedures. This is necessary to allow a decision about providing legal assistance from public funds to be made on the basis of a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the proceedings and the likely course those proceedings will take.

The Attorney-General will receive all applications and will make a decision about the provision of legal assistance. Before making the decision, the Attorney-General will consult with one other minister. The bill sets out an order of preference for the ministers to be consulted, beginning with the Chief Minister. Naturally, the bill provides for alternative decision-makers for when the Attorney-General or other nominated ministers have an interest in the application.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .