Page 380 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 15 February 2005

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that there was some attempt to cover up or that the ACT government thought that there was something to hide in relation to this really does not stand scrutiny in light of the willingness with which the hospital shared this information with its staff.

In relation to the other point, that is, the request the member makes for the tabling of certain information: I will need to take advice on that. Subject to that, Mr Smyth, I am more than happy to make available whatever information should appropriately be made available to you and other members. But I do need to take advice from the department, you understand.

Bushfires—coronial inquest

MR STEFANIAK: My question is to the Attorney-General. Attorney, under section 57 of the Coroners Act of 1997 the coroner is required to “report to the Attorney-General on an inquest or an inquiry into a fire held by the coroner” or “an inquiry into a disaster” and “may make recommendations to the Attorney-General on any matter connected with an inquest or inquiry, including matters relating to public health or safety or the administration of justice”.

How can you resile from the fact that you are undermining the coroner by appealing against her, and that this constitutes a serious conflict of interest, especially given that you were also a witness to the inquiry?

MR STANHOPE: I reject any suggestion that an attorney-general who authorises essentially an application or an appeal to a higher court from a matter being agitated before a lower court can in any way be said to be undermining a judge, a magistrate or a coroner in that lower court. In the context of my work as Attorney-General I have, and in the context of your work, Mr Stefaniak, as a one-time Attorney-General, you authorised, I am sure, on many occasions, the taking of an application or an appeal to a higher court. You must have. I do not know that as a fact, but it would be rare in the extreme for any attorney-general who served for any period of time not to have given to the ACT Government Solicitor or to ACT officials or legal advisers an instruction to appeal a judgment or a decision or an action. I have done it on many occasions. I did it last year to the Supreme Court in relation to a decision by the coroner Maria Doogan not to release certain documents. At that stage there was no suggestion that the fact that I was party to an appeal to the Supreme Court, in relation to a decision by the coroner and counsel assisting not to release documents, in any way undermined the coroner on that occasion.

What was the result of that appeal or that application to the Supreme Court? Justice Whitlam found the case made in relation to that application well founded. He found that the coroner on that occasion had denied procedural fairness to those appearing before the court. So in August last year we had Justice Whitlam finding against Maria Doogan on the basis of her decision not to release certain documents. He actually found, formally, that she had denied procedural fairness to those nine individuals who were individually represented before the court on that occasion. There could be no suggestion that on that particular occasion there was any desire to undermine Magistrate Doogan. There was no suggestion that the judgment of Justice Whitlam was wrong. He found, as a matter of fact and law, that those individuals had been denied procedural fairness; that they had been denied natural justice.

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