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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (19 June) . . Page.. 2154 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

provided peace of mind for firefighters and others with evidence that could help the ACT avoid another disaster of the like of the January bushfires.

As I said at the time, any investigation into events surrounding the bushfires should provide full protection for witnesses giving sensitive evidence. However, the number of debates and the government's commitment to brand this inquiry as their own has caused confusion and, now, three debates in this Assembly.

With this confusion it is quite possible that many witnesses have erred on the side of caution when presenting their evidence. Mr Stanhope's McLeod inquiry came under fire from the United Firefighters Union and from some individual firefighters, and now the Assembly is debating a bill that may or may not make the situation any better.

Whilst I understand the Chief Minister's desire to release the report out of session, with the permission of the Assembly, the Assembly was never consulted about this inquiry; they were cut out of it by this government that had a bunker mentality following the bushfires of January.

The government remained obstinate, while the Assembly requested that it move the McLeod inquiry under the Inquiries Act. In the absence of the adoption of the Inquiries Act framework, Mr Stefaniak's bill appeared to be the next best thing. However, the government, as I've said, wanted to put its stamp on the inquiry, and this in effect softened the protection of witnesses.

This bill that we have before us today is an attempt to add extra protection to allow the report to be tabled out of session, but the ACT Democrats' position on this is clear. We have on the notice paper an amendment to the Inquiries Act that prohibits the tabling out of session of inquiries as only tabling as a parliamentary proceeding can guarantee absolute privilege. I believe that this bill does not make the McLeod inquiry a board of inquiry, a committee inquiry or a parliamentary proceeding but rather an ad hoc attempt to fix up what can only be described as a shambles.

I understand that there are some amendments floating around at the moment from Ms Tucker, and I will speak to them when we get them in the in-detail stage.


(4.23): I will be moving amendments to this bill in order to ensure that the McLeod report is protected from actions of defamation, that publishing the report will be protected and that parliamentary privilege is neither granted nor implied. As far as I understand it, no-one has a problem with my amendments and all parties agree that they do what they're intended to do.

It probably does help to track a little of the history of the bill itself. The government introduced it to ensure that the McLeod report can be published as soon as it is completed, without a need to wait until the Assembly is sitting, and that the report and the team who produce it are protected from defamation action.

I did ask the clerk for advice when it was introduced, however, because I was concerned about the approach being taken and that once again the line between the legislature and the executive was being blurred. The clerk's advice reaffirmed my concerns about

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