Page 193 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004
should proceed. I make no comment on those. I look forward with interest to seeing what happens as a result of the full bench of the Supreme Court, but that is sub judice.
No-one is disputing the right of nine individuals to do this; what we are disputing—and there is a fundamental principle here in terms of the separation of powers and the role of the Attorney-General—is your action. You indicated that you did not need to take that action because there was already an appeal afoot by nine individuals, yet you took it anyway. You may have taken that action out of ignorance or whatever—I do not know; you may have misconstrued the difference between when you should take action and when you should not; but, quite clearly, what you have done is unique. I am not going to go back, in the seven minutes and 40 seconds left to me, and canvass all the debate today. My colleagues have made a number of very valid points in relation to that.
Mr Stanhope: Which ones were they, Bill?
MR STEFANIAK: Quite a few Jon, quite a few. I hope you were listening. You were out of the chamber for a fair amount of time, so maybe you were not listening.
MR SPEAKER: Chief Minister: no more interjections. Mr Stefaniak, it does not help—
MR STEFANIAK: There is a significant difference between the role of the attorney—and the attorney does have to get involved in a number of cases before the court—and what has happened here. Do not take it from me. Take it from learned people like Dr Freckleton. I will go back again to mention a couple of things that he says in relation to the coronial inquest. Firstly, he says that the Attorney-General has a vested responsibility to ensure that an inquest runs smoothly, and this would normally mean not interrupting it. I will come back to that one in a minute, and what the attorney has said.
Dr Freckleton’s final point is that he is not aware of any comparable incidents where an Attorney-General has done anything like the Chief Minister has done. That is for a very obvious reason: the Chief Minister has joined an appeal in relation to apprehended bias by a judicial officer—a coroner. By its very nature, that conflicts with the normal role of the Attorney-General, which is not to take everything a court says as gospel but to uphold and protect the integrity of the judicial system. He says that, quite clearly, he joined in an action he did not need to join in in relation to a matter of apprehended bias. The normal precedent would dictate that an attorney would have a duty to let that inquest go through—especially a big inquest like this that has cost the community a lot of money, where people are hanging out to find out what happened—so that improvements can be made.
If people did do the wrong thing, there might be some punishment along the way; I do not know. That often happens in inquests as well, but it is primarily to ensure that steps are taken to improve a situation so that, hopefully, we never see anything like this again. That is what an inquest is all about; that is why it is so important to let it go through.
There are hundreds of people left hanging on this. We now hear of groups of people who might be taking civil action against the government. Big inquests take a lot of time. You mentioned Bender, which took a long time. This has taken a large amount of time and I think we were within about one week of sittings, when it would have come to an end. The attorney does have a duty to see an inquest through and, quite clearly, he has not