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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (30 August) . . Page.. 3811 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (Chief Minister, Minister for Community Affairs and Treasurer): Mr Speaker, as I spoke on this bill over two years ago and I want to refresh my comments, I seek leave to speak again.

Leave granted.

MR HUMPHRIES: Thank you. I will not take long. As other members have said in this debate, reform of defamation law is one of the great legislative black holes, not just in this territory but around Australia. The issue has been grappled with by every Australian government, but I think few would concede, at least publicly, that they have made great progress.

The fact is that defamation reform is an area which is completely inappropriate to the needs of the vast majority of people in our community. Defamation law at the present time is highly elitist. Effectively, only the prominent and the wealthy have any prospect of pursuing defamation remedies to protect their reputations. Of course, every one of us, important and unimportant alike, has a reputation to protect. However, as I said, this is not a remedy that is available to people who are not prominent and wealthy.

I said at the time we introduced this legislation that we should measure this need for reform in a particular way. I said:

If we rank the rights we enjoy in civil society according to our capacity to enforce them, then our right to assert our good name versus our right, say, to claim misappropriated property, to be granted a divorce or to have access to personal information would rank so low as to be almost non-existent.

There are so many barriers that protecting a reputation is effectively a privilege in today's society. The process of doing so is costly, complicated and almost never capable of quick resolution unless one side effectively rolls over altogether. It is based on a concept of law which is, frankly, archaic.

Mr Stanhope mentioned that the pressure on governments to reform defamation law has been quite intense and, in fact, has been a longstanding issue on agendas of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. He is quite right. I must confess to having been surprised to hear Mr Kaine's comments the other day, when he suggested that the appropriate response to this area was to refer the matter to a national body such as the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. I am surprised he said that because the issue has effectively been on the agenda of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General for something like literally 20 years. It has been debated endlessly at that forum and other forums and, as far as I can determine, there has not been any progress in that setting.

It is a little bit like Days of Our Lives-when you tune in after missing it for a few months you find that the story has not much advanced from the previous instalment. And so it is with the saga of defamation reform at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. So I think we need to confront this issue in this place and take the step today of reform.

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