Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (19 June) . . Page.. 2155 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
possibly using parliamentary privilege to provide protection for a report commissioned by the executive.
Problems have arisen in seeking to ensure "without unforeseen consequences". The clerk's advice also raised the possibility that such protection would interfere with other legal processes further down the track. That advice suggested a course of action to put the question of limited legal privilege for Mr McLeod, the Chief Minister and the report beyond doubt.
Clearly government has conceded that these concerns should be addressed, and it has proposed its own amendments to do that. Unfortunately, seeking to remove any of those amendments still leaves some doubt on the publication of the report and any protection McLeod may or may not have prior to the Chief Minister handing the report to the Speaker.
I don't think the issue is one of intent; it is simply one of certainty. As I understand it, my amendments offer that certainty, while the government's bill arguably may not. The amendments provide protection from civil action directly to Mr McLeod, the Chief Minister or any person acting under their direction in preparing or making public the report; nor is any person liable if they publish a report or a fair summary of it. It is as simple as that. It applies only to this report. It is not dependent on the Assembly or the Speaker of the Assembly taking or not taking any action.
MR PRATT(4.25): Mr Speaker, we called for an inquiry under the Inquiries Act quite soon after the January 2003 bushfire disaster, and that was rejected. I can recall on 20 January calling for a full independent inquiry. It seemed to me that that was axiomatic; that when a community goes through a disaster of this magnitude it should be quite automatic that it looks unto itself to see what did go wrong and what lessons can be learnt.
It's a pity that the government's ad hoc and untidy approach to establishing an inquiry did occur; that's regretted. It's also regrettable that during estimates we didn't get, again, an opportunity to look at the issues, and it's regrettable that Mr Wood stonewalled the Estimates Committee from inquiring into those matters. It would have been another opportunity to start learning the lessons as quickly as we possibly can. We've had this lack of urgency again being shown there in trying to get to the bottom of what has happened so that we can learn from and apply those lessons as soon as we possibly can.
It's now June and we're not that far away from the next bushfire season. Time is of the essence. I'm glad to see that Ms Tucker has agreed to have a look at this, and she seems to have come about and realised too that an inquiry under the Inquiries Act would have been a better way to have coped with the challenges which the ACT community has been facing.
A full and frank inquiry, Mr Speaker, was always needed to ensure that we pull out all those lessons, learn from them and then apply them. Such an inquiry would have allowed Mr McLeod, who's a fine inquirer, to range widely and more deeply to investigate all of the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the events of 18 January and perhaps even going back a good four or five years to have a look at all the systemic weaknesses