Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (12 March) . . Page.. 945 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
apply to the publication of the same material to a third party. The defence is designed to ensure that people proffering information to the inquiry will be able to do so with complete protection from an action for defamation.
Subclause (1A) provides that a defence to an action for defamation will be made out where a publication is a report of the inquiry presented to the Legislative Assembly, a fair copy of that report, a fair summary of that report, or a fair extract from that report. The defence is designed to ensure that the findings of the inquiry may be discussed freely and evaluated critically for protection from action for defamation.
MR STEFANIAK (3.44): This is probably the second and last main amendment. The others are consequential upon that-amendments 3, 4 and 5. It simply replaces my clause 4(1) with a different 4(1) and 4(1A). This is where you could have lawyers at 20 paces and argue the pros and cons of each clause-there certainly are pros and cons of each clause. Again, at the end of the day, we just want something to work-we want it to happen quickly. So I am more than happy to accept the government amendment there, if that is what they want.
One thing my initial clause would do is ensure that basically any statement, document or information given by a person to the inquiry would have the same protection as it would in a court-or indeed, as Ms Dundas has rightly said, something set up under the Inquiries Act.
This is a slightly different way of doing it. Another thing I noted when I saw the Attorney's advice initially was that, if you are worried about people giving malicious statements to an inquiry and maliciously trying to slag off people, there could be reason for a penalty clause-similar to that in section 34 of the Public Interest Disclosure Act-for people who deliberately make false accusations. That could be a way of overcoming some concerns which might arise from my clause 4(1) in respect of it being more of a blanket protection.
The Attorney's protection here is to make it a defence to an action for defamation in relation to people making a statement to the inquiry, giving documents and information. All the defendant, being the maker of the statement, would have to establish is that they made the statement or gave the information to the inquiry.
It has been suggested to me, and I think rightly so, that it is conceivable that someone could launch an action and then be stopped at court-and go to a lot of needless expense. That is a danger with this. As we discussed in our round table on Friday, with the officials, I am sure virtually every solicitor in Canberra would be aware that it would be pointless for anyone to take out a defamation action.
This issue has received a lot of coverage in the media. There would be very few solicitors who would not be aware of this. There would be very few citizens tied up in this who are unaware that they are now able to make full and frank disclosures to this inquiry, without being sued, and that, if anyone happens to be mentioned in an adverse way, the person making those statements to the inquiry would have protection and the aggrieved party would not be able to sue as a result.