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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2621 ..



agreement on something that is very confidential and that, quite properly, should not come before the public at a point in time. National security interests come to mind in terms of the federal parliament.

We do not see the need for that quite so much, but there is ample precedence for that to occur, too. If there is no clear public interest in exposing or publishing something in this parliament in terms of this advice, no-one will. If this advice is, indeed, innocuous and just gives a legal opinion, I am sure that members would have no need to do anything untoward with it if there was no clear public interest.

There are precedents in this house. I can remember one, which you, Mr Speaker, and members who were here in the third Assembly would also remember. As education minister, during some rather difficult situations at the School Without Walls, I went to great pains, in stating a situation and giving some examples, to ensure that people could not be named.

Because of the nature of the place and the possibility of that happening, we ensured that the document had to be cleared through the Speaker before it was given out to anyone. It was not given out to anyone. The then members had a copy of it. One week later, I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to see a whole lot of incidents regurgitated in the Canberra Times. In fact, there were twice as many incidents regurgitated in the Canberra Times than had been indicated in my document, which members were given a copy of.

What had occurred was that a court reporter-it was a court case as well-had gone to court and got relevant affidavits, which were on the public record, and published them. None of the 17 members who had a copy did the wrong thing. They respected the confidence in which the document had been given, and they respected the ruling of the Speaker not to have it made available to the media. That was very proper in those circumstances.

So, unless there is a clear public interest in something going further, our members are smart enough to respect the ruling. But to sign a confidentiality clause before you can see something goes to the very heart of what we are here for. It is our job to put before the public issues of great importance that we need to discuss and sort out. That is why it is unrealistic for members to sign such an agreement.

But if an agreement is signed, what happens to a member who breaches it? What sanctions are there? What track do we go down? If we go down this path, we do so at our peril. The other suggestions that have been put forward are quite clear. Mr Smyth has read out advice from Mr Evans of the Senate. When such a senior person quite clearly warns us of the dangers of going down this path, we should take notice of that. We should certainly act in accordance with that. If we do not, we do so at our peril and would be going down a very dangerous path indeed. We should listen to what Mr Evans is suggesting and be very cautious before we take the step Mr Corbell is asking us to take in moving this amendment.


(6.20): I have in the past criticised both governments in this Assembly for the abuse of commercial-in-confidence activities. These are, frankly, often used as a means of protecting public servants or private companies from their own

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