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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (30 August) . . Page.. 3810 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

of the debate that should be taken into account in any consideration of the reform of the defamation law.

I might say that in a previous incarnation as chief of staff to a federal Attorney-General, I attended as an adviser a significant number SCAG meetings over a number of years. I think defamation law reform was on the agenda for every single meeting, and it never went anywhere.

I want to be measured and guarded in my comments but I commend the then ACT Attorney for bringing this matter forward. I do not want to be overly-

Mr Hird: Don't overdo it, Jon.

MR STANHOPE: I am making these remarks in the spirit of the last motion. This is an area of law that was desperately in need of some attention, and I think it is good that the ACT is taking a national lead.

I signal that the Labor Party will be opposing Mr Osborne's amendment that seeks to put off the introduction of this legislation for a year. I do not see why we need to do that. But I do accept the other amendment from Mr Osborne, that this is an area of law that should be reviewed. I think it will need to be reviewed. I think there is potential for us here at some stage in the future to take the additional steps that may be required.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (5.39): Mr Speaker, I will speak briefly in support of this legislation. I would like to issue a warning. I notice that Mr Stanhope indicated that he will support the legislation but with some reservations. I have significant philosophical reservations. I am concerned about the transfer of power through this sort of legislation from the parliament and towards the media when defamation law is relaxed. We have seen this happen in other places.

I think it is worth remembering and reminding members who are sitting here that they are elected by the people. The media may see themselves as an important part of democracy, a fundamental part of democracy, but the people who represent the media are not elected. Sometimes there is a need for some checks and balances on the media. The courts can be used for this purpose and it is important that they ensure that the media is responsible in its use of free speech.

It is appropriate that Mr Humphries has taken this sensible step to deal with a very messy law. He has taken a major step forward by his government being the first government in Australia to approach the problem in the way outlined in the bill. This legislation will need to be reviewed and developed in the process, as is the case with most our laws. We recognise that they need to be reviewed fairly regularly.

This is the first attempt to codify defamation law in a more effective way, and I think that is very important. The Chief Minister, who originally introduced the legislation, and the Attorney-General, who is now responsible for its carriage through the Assembly, need to be congratulated. This is an appropriate step forward, but take care with defamation law.

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