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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3327 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

A review was conducted within my department and a report suggesting amendments to the Inquiries Act and the Royal Commissions Act has been prepared. For the information of members I have just now tabled a copy of the report. The government has agreed to the amendments proposed by the Inquiries Amendment Bill 2003. Two private members bills have been previously proposed to amend the current section 14A of the Inquiries Act. Both these amendments however only looked at one aspect of the act. Rather than supporting piecemeal amendments to the act it was considered a much better approach to review the whole act and to make improvements at one time.

The review of the act identified three areas in which improvements need to be made. The first relates to procedural fairness provided by the board during the course of the inquiry. The second area relates to uncertainty in relation to protection provided under the conventions of privilege following the receipt of a board of inquiry report and the third relates to protection for persons reporting on issues arising from the board of inquiry report.

Following the presentation of the disability services report it became clear that the provisions relating to the board of inquiry's processes need to be strengthened in relation to procedural fairness. In this regard two improvements are proposed. The first is to require boards of inquiry to provide natural justice during the course of an inquiry. The second is to require a board of inquiry to notify a person or agency if it proposes to make an adverse finding concerning that person or agency of that finding, and to provide it an opportunity to make a submission or statement in response. The bill provides that the board of inquiry must include that submission or statement or a fair summary in its report.

These two amendments provide persons appearing before a board of inquiry the statutory rights of fairness. The uncertainty created by relying on parliamentary privilege is at least in part brought about by the fact that inquiries are established by the executive rather than by the Legislative Assembly; that the board reports to the Chief Minister, again rather than the Assembly, and that the Chief Minister has a discretion on whether or not to table the board of inquiry report. The amendments provided in the bill make it clear that any fair and accurate comments made in relation to the board of inquiry report are protected from any civil action. This protection is extended to members of the Assembly and to members of the community.

A further benefit to allowing the proposed protection amendment is that protection is provided in relation to a report without the need to wait for the Legislative Assembly to be sitting in order for the document to receive absolute privilege. This will allow for earlier release of reports.

The third issue of providing protection to anyone publishing a fair and accurate summary of the board of inquiry report extends to the current protection given to anyone who publishes a fair and accurate summary of proceedings before a board of inquiry. These amendments are important in making the inquiry process under the act fairer and providing certainty in relation to protection for fair and accurate comments made in relation to the board of inquiry's report and to provide protection for a person publishing and reporting fairly on the board's report. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Smyth ) adjourned to the next sitting.

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