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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (2 April) . . Page.. 1241 ..

MR SPEAKER: The length and content of answers to questions are largely in members' hands. If you do not like the way ministers respond, you can take action in the Assembly in accordance with the standing orders. I have said this over and over again: I am not going to direct ministers on how they should answer questions. You have to expect that they will contextualise answers. If you ask a question about something as big as the fire inquiry, you have to expect that ministers will respond in full. I trust that ministers will keep in mind the standing orders, in particular the one that mentions that answers be confined to the subject matter of the question. But you cannot require ministers to be bound so tightly as to respond only to the words you use. You have to allow ministers to respond in context. This is in context, in my view.

MR STANHOPE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will conclude. It is obvious that the Liberal Party is not interested in the substance of the fire and what caused it or in the six inquiries that are now under way into the fires that befell south-eastern Australia in January.

There are six inquiries. There is one here in the ACT-the inquiry being conducted by Mr Ron McLeod, the former Commonwealth and ACT Ombudsman, according to the terms of reference that were delivered. An issue has come up in relation to his modus operandi. I understand from what I have read that the McLeod inquiry has received about 70 submissions. One of the submitters has asked whether they may appear in public. As I understand it, Mr McLeod is negotiating with them about how that might be achieved. None of the other submitters have asked, requested or sought to have the matters they raised discussed at public hearing. I am advised that some of the submitters have asked for their submissions to be treated as confidential. Other submitters have not asked for their submissions to be made confidential. It may be that their submissions contain matters defamatory of others.

I understand that Mr McLeod may be proposing to utilise exactly the same procedure that is utilised by committees of this place: not to authorise for publication submissions that trample the reputations of others. That is the standing arrangement. It certainly has been on every parliamentary committee I have been associated with, as it should be. People's reputations should not be trampled through privileged processes.

It is important that this committee be at arm's length from government; that there be no government interference-and there is not and there will not be. I will not tell Mr McLeod how to conduct his inquiry. I understand that a report will be delivered by the end of June, in time for us to implement before the next bushfire seasons those aspects of it that need to be implemented to ensure that we, the government of the ACT, protect the people of the ACT to the greatest extent possible, with the advice we have available to us.

Interestingly, it will be the only inquiry of the six that will be completed before the next bushfire season. Doesn't it give you some comfort to know that there will be at least one inquiry completed before the next bushfire season? The only one that will be completed is the McLeod inquiry. The only reason it will be completed before the next bushfire season is that it is not a judicial inquiry.

MR PRATT: In a vain attempt at getting within 1,000 kilometres of the issue-

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