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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (30 August) . . Page.. 3812 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

I have to confess that the original vision of reform of defamation law will not be fully realised by this bill. Many compromises have been made but I believe that what we have before us is a very important first step. The most significant step, I think, is the process for the offer of amends. In this chamber we tend to say things about each other all the time and, indeed, but for the way the law is framed, we would defame each other every day. We do not, of course, sue to remedy a problem when we "defame" each other. What we do is fix the problem through debate or correction, or sometimes through apology. The immediacy of the response to the problem, though, is a very important ingredient in dealing with the issue. A matter is dealt with one way or the other within, at most, only 24 or 48 hours of it being raised.

Mr Speaker, the problem with the defamation trail is that in this country, and indeed other parts of the world, the trail is almost always stale by the time it reaches a court. The comments made are long past. Everybody concerned has forgotten what was said, except those lawyers whose task it is to keep the comments alive in the various writs and affidavits that fly backwards and forwards at great expense between the parties. People have to somehow valiantly try to revive the sense of indignation that they felt when the original defamatory comments were made of them.

It is a very artificial process and it needs to be given a remedy which is immediate. The incentive needs to exist to get people to address those issues quickly. I believe that if the defendant makes an offer of amends immediately, it is likely that a situation will be produced where the defamation can be addressed and acted upon when it is real, when it is alive. Of significance to this debate is the personal satisfaction that ought to come from that process.

The legislation provides that a person who makes a defamatory comment may care to make an offer of amends. That offer is a defence where the assertion or defamation was non-criminal in nature. This legislation introduces this very important step.

I will not say anything else, except to comment that this is a very exciting day. I flagged the need for defamation law reform when I first entered this place more than 12 years ago. Although reform has been a long time coming, it is very satisfying to reach the stage where it has actually happened.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Attorney-General) (5.47), in reply: I thank members for their comments. I agree with Mr Stanhope and Mr Humphries that this legislation has taken a long time to consider. It has been like Days of Our Lives-Mr Humphries spoke about tuning in again after a few months; I tuned in once after eight years and I found that I had not lost much of the story.

I can recall chairing the legal committee back in about 1991 when we engaged in a defamation reform exercise-I am sure the report was duly filed-and I seem to see some of what we recommended being picked up now a decade later. But it has certainly been a long time coming. I commend the former Attorney and now Chief Minister for his interest in this legislation and getting it up and running to this stage. I thank members today for their support. I think it is timely, and it is a very important reform of the law in the ACT.

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