Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (21 October) . . Page.. 3852 ..
MR SPEAKER (continuing):
An inquest by a coroner, although an administrative inquiry and not a judicial proceeding, is not in the same category as executive-government appointed inquiries, and may be prejudiced by parliamentary debate, particularly where a jury is involved. Although the sub judice principle as such does not apply ...
I would, as did President Sibraa, discourage the canvassing of matters which are before the coroner. I would apply the same advice to members of the opposition in the comments they might make during question time.
MR STANHOPE: On the basis of that, Mr Speaker, I will conclude my answer. I must say, as I indicated, I am uncomfortable with questions that go directly to evidence given at the coronial inquest and I think the ruling that you have just given should be taken to heart by all of us in this place.
I, of course, won't walk away from questions that are asked, if they are asked, Mr Speaker, but I believe that there is real wisdom in the position you put.
MR CORNWELL: A supplementary question, Mr Speaker. I will naturally, of course, sir, rely upon your good judgment on this. Chief Minister, will you endeavour to find out why the interview didn't go ahead?
MR STANHOPE: I don't think it's for me to do that, Mr Speaker. Here we are, having questions asked in this place now. I am happy to instruct the ACT government counsel at the coronial inquest to ask that question and other questions of Mr Cheney in cross-examination; I'm happy to have the ACT government counsel ask Mr Cheney which of his neighbours and which of his friends he personally warned and what action they took. I am happy to ask him did he help them pack their homes; I am happy to have the ACT government counsel ask him a range of questions about the steps that he took at his workplace on Black Mountain; I am happy to have him asked what steps the authority at the Black Mountain CSIRO facility have taken to protect their workplace-whether they have done the level of hazard reduction that the ACT government has done on our side of the fence.
Mrs Dunne: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I'm concerned that the level of outburst from the Chief Minister goes a long way to defaming someone-
MR SPEAKER: What is the point of order?
Mrs Dunne: Under standing order 118 (a). Mr Cornwell asked a question: would the Chief Minister do a particular thing-yes or no. He gave an answer, but he went on to elaborate at quite a deal of length about how he thought a member of the public who was giving the evidence at the inquest was, in fact, socially irresponsible. I think that is inappropriate in this place.
MR SPEAKER: Whether it is inappropriate or not has got little to do with the matter of whether it is a point of order. The member, Mr Cornwell, asked whether the government would find out. The Chief Minister was responding to that question. I would ask members again not to stray onto areas which might discredit witnesses or influence proceedings before the coroner.