Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 4560 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
persuade the Chief Minister not to make the report public. It also ensures that there is some feedback within a fairly short time after the report is complete.
I would like to make it clear that the amendment still would not require the report itself to be tabled and does not make the inquiry in any way a proceeding of parliament. Neither would it alter the current balance of protection from defamation as against the ability to take legal action. It will however ensure that the Assembly can hold the Chief Minister accountable for making the report public.
There is certainly a public interest in knowing the outcome of the inquiry or royal commission. Indeed, government amendment No 7 defines them as proceedings of public concern. Therefore it is useful to have some mechanism for a time limit for publication and a requirement that the Chief Minister explain his decision if he has decided not to make it public. We know that prompt feedback is an important element for people who have suffered some hurt or who are seeking a change. If the government for whatever reason was not prepared to release the report, then the Chief Minister ought, at the very least, give an account of that decision to the Assembly.
This bill also introduces a requirement that boards of inquiry and royal commissions comply with the requirements of natural justice. This provision is modelled on provisions in other ACT legislation. It is an important requirement to have spelled out both for its own sake and for the sake of smooth proceedings. It could be argued that those requirements for natural justice were in fact already in place. That was the judgment Crispin J came to after problems with the Gallop inquiry report. However, given a procedure for natural justice is spelt out in other legislation, such as the Coroners Act, it makes good sense to put those same provisions in this act and obviate the possibility of similar failures in the future.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (10.51), in reply: I thank members of the Assembly for their contributions to the debate today. As members have indicated, following the completion of the board of inquiry report into disability services by John Gallop J, and the subsequent decisions in the ACT Supreme Court by Crispin J, I requested a review be conducted of the Inquiries Act to see if it could be improved. A review was conducted within the department and reports suggesting amendments to the Inquiries Act and the Royal Commissions Act were prepared and tabled by me.
The review of the act-and these are the issues that we have discussed this morning in this debate-identified three areas in which improvements need to be made. The first relates to procedural fairness provided by the board during the inquiry; the second relates to uncertainty in relation to protection provided under conventions of privilege following the receipt of a board of inquiry report; and the third relates to protection of the persons reporting on issues arising from the inquiry report.
Following the presentation of the disability services report it became clear that the provisions relating to inquiries processes needed to be strengthened in relation to procedural fairness. In this regard, two improvements are proposed by these bills. The first is to require the inquiry to provide natural justice during 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 an opportunity to