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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 5 Hansard (1 May) . . Page.. 1269 ..

MR HARGREAVES (10.49): I would like to speak in support of the committee's recommendations to the Assembly. Mr Osborne put very eloquently the reasons why the principal and fundamental tenets of the bill were not able to satisfy the majority on the committee. They could not even be rescued. In fact he made the point that when you take these particular pieces out, what is left is a skeleton.

What I think is worth putting on the public record, Mr Speaker, is that we do support the government's push to reform defamation law. We do recognise the need for that. We also recognise the need for a national approach to defamation law because this would prevent forum shopping. We know that the ACT is quite a popular place for people to come to pursue defamation actions.

However, there are, as I say, some problems with the fundamental tenets. Mr Speaker, the defence of truth is all well and good provided that that is not the only measure by which a person can have their reputation besmirched. We did not feel it appropriate that somebody could have a mistake that they made 30 or 40 years ago put in the paper, find that that damages their career and their employment prospects and embarrasses their family, and that the media outlet can just say, "Well, it was true. That's just bad luck." There needs to be a public interest; there needs to be a public benefit.

When we say there needs to be a public benefit test, Mr Speaker, that has to be weighed up alongside the detriment to innocent victims. If a public figure commits some sort of a transgression when they are fairly young and there is a public reporting of it, if that transgression is not related to their job, to their position in the public eye, or to their position as a role model, then I feel that it should not be defendable.

We often forget that it is the families, the spouses, the parents, the kids and the grandkids of people who suffer the most when some scurrilous reporting occurs. The Minister for Education and Attorney-General is a very big supporter of anti-bullying campaigns in schools, and I want to put on the record how much I support his initiatives and activities in that area. What we have to be careful about in this sort of legislation is that we do not provide the material for bullies in the school yard who would like to have a go because it may be that the minister did something wrong when he was a young rugby union player. No doubt he did, and he does not want anybody to know, and I am sure that is not his finger that I can see across the chamber, Mr Speaker. However, we would not like to see, for a minute, any transgression he may have committed put out in the public arena now and see his wife suffer ostracism because of it, or, when their children go to school, we do not want to see that dragged up and see them quite significantly injured psychologically, and often physically.

Mr Speaker, I need to overemphasise the public benefit, not the public interest. Of course, the public is very interested in anything we might say as public figures, or anything said by high profile footballers, even former grand final heroes, and former grand final heroes turned coaches. We might all be interested in what they do, but I would argue that there has to be a public benefit. There has to be some reason why the public is going to be better off for the publication of that particular so-called truth.

One of the arguments put forward was that the law in the ACT is quite complex and costly. I agree with that. The cost factor weighed very heavily on my mind in the one and only case I decided to mount against a newspaper in terms of besmirching my reputation.

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