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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (5 March) . . Page.. 498 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Whilst witnesses undoubtedly need protection from defamation claims at such an inquiry, it would be my submission that legal representatives of witnesses, also need protection from defamation. Robust cross examination, aimed at testing evidence, will be defeated if the cross examiner could face a writ for defamation.

He also stated:

I also wonder whether Mr McLeod's own comments at the inquiry may be subject to claims of defamation.

He went on to ask me to inform him of the success or otherwise of this bill and concluded his letter there. His later points probably relate very much to points my colleague is going to raise in terms of his motion. We will have more about that later. But this bill, at the very least, will give to the current inquiry as envisaged by the Chief Minister protection for those witnesses' evidence, statements, or whatever information they give to assist the inquiry.

I do think it is the least we can do. If the majority of the people in this house do not support having an inquiry under the Inquiries Act, which the opposition thinks is the best way to go because, basically, it provides for everything in my bill and more, I think the least they can do is support this bill. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stanhope ) adjourned.

Bushfire Reconstruction Authority Bill 2003

Mrs Dunne, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MRS DUNNE (10.45): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, there are times when governments need to take a low profile and there are times when governments need to take the lead. This has nothing to do with ideology or political philosophy; it has to do with governance. We on this side of the house believe that the situation created by the disastrous bushfires of 18 January necessitates the involvement of government at a very prominent level.

We are introducing this bill because, at the moment, we are operating on huge banks of good will, but they will run out and we will need something to keep the momentum going. People need help to get back on their feet quickly. We want to avoid situations where people who have lost their homes have to confront numerous bureaucracies, many of them underresourced and already stretched, and we need to think about what we rebuild, not just replicate what was there before. We are therefore proposing that the recovery and reconstruction effort already under way be transformed into a dedicated authority with power to get things done and that this authority be directly answerable to the Chief Minister.

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