Page 198 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004

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evidence might seem to be going against the government. That is something we need to be worried about. This is now a majority government. It is a majority government that has stymied debate. It rammed through a number of motions, which we on this side were not particularly happy with. What is to stop that occurring?

We do not want the ACT to be some sort of tin-pot dictatorship. We are a constitutional democracy in the ACT—and a very fine one. We are now in the Sixth Assembly. The actions we have seen in the past couple of days regarding this inquest are the actions of a very arrogant government and Attorney-General. Despite strong opposition and strong counselling against doing what he has done, the Attorney-General has gone ahead, completely contrary to legal precedent. I would imagine that most people in the community would expect a government to be committed to the process of the coronial inquest, which is to find out the truth and to take steps to ensure that such events do not happen again. On the contrary, this government is muddying the waters and raising the suspicions of a lot of people in the community that it is a government covering its back, protecting itself.

I will not repeat what I said earlier, but the Attorney-General has gone against a number of statements he made on a previous occasion. He has gone against the statements he made on 6 May 1999, which have been read out already in this place: that an attorney-general has to be seen to be acting at arm’s length in a completely and totally disinterested manner. He admitted that it would be difficult where some of the issues reported to an attorney could well relate to adverse findings against an arm of government or perhaps against some government employees. But the point is that there has to be a well-founded and grounded perception in the community that an attorney is acting in such a manner, that he is acting completely at arm’s length and that he is acting in a totally disinterested way. How on earth can this attorney say that he is acting at arm’s length and in a totally disinterested manner in what we have seen here today over this matter of the coronial inquest? As I have already said, he is a witness; he has given evidence. There are a number of significant issues around this matter before the coroner. The Chief Minister was Attorney-General at the time; he was also a government minister. How can he say he was acting in a way that was totally at arm’s length and in a totally disinterested way? He cannot.

The New South Wales Attorney-General, Bob Debus, said:

The Attorney-General is able to play a significant role in maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the justice system and in protecting the rule of law. In defending the judiciary, the Attorney-General is not defending the decisions or the reasoning of the judiciary but the institution, its integrity and hence, the rule of law.

Daryl Williams, a former federal Attorney-General, a man who was criticised for not standing up and protecting the judiciary and who was wont occasionally to criticise them, in a speech to a conference on 7 April 2001, stated:

… sustained political attacks capable of undermining public confidence in the judiciary may justify a defence made by an Attorney-General.

In circumstances such as these I will not hesitate to step in and lend my support to the judiciary.

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