Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 4556 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
personal rights and liberties. I just want to make the point that there is obviously the potential for a bill such as this Electoral Bill to do that.
Inquiries Amendment Bill 2003[Cognate bill:
Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2003]
Debate resumed from 28 August 2003, on motion by Mr Stanhope:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SPEAKER: Is it the wish of the Assembly to debate this order of the day concurrently with order of the day No 2 relating to the Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2003? There being no objection, that course will be followed. I remind members when debating order of the day No 1 that they may also address their remarks to order of the day No 2.
MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (10.36): Mr Speaker, the opposition will be supporting both this bill and the one following, the Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2003, as they both do much the same thing. As this is a cognate debate, members can assume that the comments I make in relation to this bill apply to the next.
The Inquiries Act 1991 provides a mechanism for the executive to establish a board of inquiry to conduct an independent inquiry into an issue of significant public importance. The most recent inquiry established under the act was the inquiry into disability services provided within the Australian Capital Territory. As members would remember, there were some difficulties with the presentation of the report and some flaws were identified with the bill as a result. Following the presentation of the Gallop report and the subsequent brawl in the media, the ACT Supreme Court, and indeed in this place the government, requested a review of the act. That review recommended amendments to the act which, we are told, are incorporated into the Inquiries Amendment Bill 2003.
Mr Speaker, specifically the bill allows the Chief Minister to table reports in the Assembly regardless of whether or not the Legislative Assembly is sitting and whether or not the report or part has been presented to the Assembly. The Chief Minister is thus not civilly or criminally liable in relation to the publication of a report. Whilst the bill forces the board of inquiry to comply with the rules of natural justice, it is not bound by the rules of evidence but may also inform itself of anything it considers appropriate. It may do whatever it considers necessary or convenient for the fair and prompt conduct of the inquiry.
The amendments also allow a right of reply for those adversely named in a report and provide protection against defamation for those giving evidence. In summary, Mr Speaker, the opposition will be supporting this bill as it makes commonsense improvements to the act.
We will also be supporting the Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2003. The amendments reflect those included in the Inquiries Amendment Bill and as the two acts are similar it is quite appropriate that similar arrangements are made. Accordingly,