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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2649 ..



In an earlier debate mention was made of the fact that at no time previously has the Assembly had a situation in which ministers have come along and not answered questions at an estimates committee. It is a very serious matter. Even if at the end of the day we find that the minister was somewhat mistaken, it is something on which, because of the serious nature of it and because of the findings of fact as reported in the report, we would be derelict in our duty if we did not send the matter to a special committee to look at whether there had been any contempt. We have to do so because of the serious and unique nature of this matter. We have not had such a situation before.

It is quite clear in relation to Mr Wood that the matter needs to go to a select committee for determination of whether a contempt of the Assembly has occurred. Such contempt does not necessarily have to be deliberate contempt whereby someone wilfully and obviously wants to cause difficulties for the work of the Assembly. The contempt can be unintended; nevertheless, it is contempt. Those questions, if contempt is found, relate to what occurs to the person after that, which is, I suppose, the third level.

In relation to Mr Corbell, the position was not of the same magnitude in terms of the number of questions the committee wanted to ask which he would not answer, but it was a more specific example and one for which he has come in here tonight and apologised. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether he has made that apology because the proceedings have got to this stage or whether he has realised that, obviously, he has done the wrong thing and made an apology. In fairness to him, we probably have to assume that the latter is the case.

Nevertheless, he has effectively admitted that he has done the wrong thing and should not have done that. That probably strengthens the factual finding of the Estimates Committee on page 19 that his response should be referred to a privileges committee to determine whether it constitutes a contempt.

On pages 19, 20 and 21, the committee looked at the document known as "Budget Estimates 2003", written on ACT Health letterhead, which offered advice to the health executive on how to deal with and, if necessary, avoid questions at estimates hearings. To quote from page 20 of the Estimates Committee's report:

The document showed not only contempt for the Committee but also represents a clear breach of the Public Service code of ethics.

Again, the committee has made a finding, a unanimous finding, and made recommendations. It is quite clear that that matter has to be sent to a privileges committee for consideration as to whether it constitutes a contempt.

It would seem, Mr Speaker, that the Estimates Committee felt that there was a prima facie case for the Assembly to send to a special committee three particular items to see whether they constituted a contempt. It may well be that when the special committee considers these matters it will be shown in one, two or maybe all of them that the persons involved do not at the end of the day have a case to answer. But it may well be that they do. There may be all sorts of circumstances in relation to the contempt which distinguishes each of these matters, but they are very serious matters.

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