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

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 159 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

Those rules will not apply to the inquiry being undertaken by Mr McLeod. This is not a judicial inquiry, and rules of privilege will not apply. The extent to which defamatory statements should be protected is an issue. It is a matter of some interest in relation to all inquiries that are held-even those held in the Assembly. This Assembly has a standing protocol that it will not countenance this place being used to disseminate defamation or scurrilous attacks on the reputation of individuals. That is the convention under which we generally proceed.

There are some notable exceptions, Mrs Cross-and I think you are aware of one where a scurrilous attack on an individual did escape the protections that we normally apply. That is the basis on which we proceed in our committees. If anybody wishes to slip a defamatory matter into the community, one way of doing it is to make a submission to an Assembly committee inquiry, make outrageously defamatory accusations or allegations in it and hope and pray that it slips under the guard of the committee or committee secretariat and is authorised for publication.

We are all aware of and alive to this issue, and it is an issue for any public inquiry that some people-in the heat of the moment, with the desire to vent their emotion at the time, whatever that emotion is and however acquired-might seek to make defamatory claims through a submission. That may be the case with the McLeod inquiry. My response to that is that there should never be a forum for anybody to make defamatory or outrageous statements in and seek that the inquiry process of that forum protect them. I hope that the McLeod inquiry is not utilised for those purposes.

To the extent that we are determined that there is a full and frank exposure of all of the issues relevant to the fire, we would not wish anybody to be intimidated out of being fully frank-within the constraints of the law. It is of the civil law that they not be outrageously defamed and that people not suffer an assault on their integrity, their professionalism and their good offices through the holding of inquiries of this sort.

But there are two inquiries running. The coronial process will be fully protected. Privilege will apply. There is no matter that will not be pursued. In that regard, I have in the last hour sought a full explanation of the Coroners Court of the breadth and nature of the coronial inquiry the coroner will be undertaking. I want the people of Canberra to be assured that the coroner will be looking at every aspect of the fire, that it will not be narrowly focused and that it will deal with all of the issues that are of concern to the people of Canberra. I have that assurance from the coroner.

I need to determine that it is as full as the community expects and, if there is any doubt about that point or confusion about the breadth of the coronial inquest, I am more than happy to issue the direction to the coroner, pursuant to section 18 of the Coroner's Act, that the inquiry not be constrained in any way, so that it covers every single aspect that people hope and expect would be covered by the coronial process.

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