Page 197 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004

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The Attorney-General notes he has special functions to fulfil under the Law Officer Act. That is a two-page act that deals with what the attorney can do. It says that those functions include:

(c) to have responsibility for the administration of law and justice in the ACT; and

(d) to institute and conduct litigation on behalf of—

… the Territory …

In exercising those functions, it says that the Attorney-General has a statutory duty that stands outside the tide of political concerns and pressures: “The exercise of the special functions of the Attorney-General, as first law officer, cannot be subject to the direction of the Assembly.” That is an extraordinary statement. That means that he is putting himself above the Assembly. That is in fact just plain wrong. He is not exempt from scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly due to his role as Attorney-General. The only reason, in fact, that he is attorney is that he is a member of the Assembly; therefore, he needs to face scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly in that role.

I am extremely concerned not only that this government is now gagging the opposition and the lone crossbench member of the chamber but also that the Attorney-General has now resorted to telling the community he is above scrutiny in his position as Attorney-General. The people of Canberra might have something to say about that down the track. The matter that we have just dealt with is indicative of the government’s and the attorney’s arrogant response to an issue on which any precedent indicates that he has taken an extraordinary action. He has quite clearly not understood things as basic as the separation of powers and the role of the Attorney-General. He accepts that he did not even need to take this action, yet he has gone ahead and taken it. As a result of that, and the fact that he will not reconsider and does not appear to understand his full role and just what he can and cannot do in relation to the courts, we have no option but to move this motion of no confidence in him.

I think it should be obvious to all concerned that this matter we have been dealing with was an unprecedented interference in a coroner’s inquest through the legal actions before the Supreme Court. We have already debated the fact that there is no problem with the nine people appealing. But I think it should be plain to members now that the attorney has taken a quite extraordinary step. He has had probably a month or so to realise that that is quite an extraordinary step. Is he going to change? No, he has bashed that on the head and done it despite the obvious problems that it will cause and despite the fact that there are implications in it in terms of his failing to properly defend the judiciary against attack and, by his very actions, in fact, contributing to that attack.

He might feel strongly about some of the matters; I do not know. But the fact is that what he has done is an unprecedented step. It just has not occurred anywhere else in Australia. It is completely contrary to precedent, even in the ACT—precedent as recent as the matter I mentioned involving Coroner Somes back in 1998. There is a real concern here that if the Attorney-General is allowed to get away with this matter, what is to stop him—in confusing his roles as the first law officer and a minister of a government, and that is a very fundamental point here—from appealing against any proceedings where the

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