Page 471 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 16 February 2005
That this Assembly calls on the Attorney-General to stand aside until the Coronial Inquest into the January 2003 Bushfires and all other related court actions are concluded.
This is actually a fairly simple issue, Mr Speaker. Whilst it has been canvassed by a number of people in the media, it certainly, I think, does not infringe on any of the points you have properly raised in relation to sub judice. The simple issue is that the opposition says that, in this matter, the Attorney-General has a conflict of interest, specifically because he has been a witness before this coronial inquiry and has given evidence. It also relates to the conventions and role of an attorney-general.
One point the attorney raised yesterday I should make mention of. He indicates that it is quite common for attorneys-general to be involved in appeals. Absolutely. Yes, I am sure I was certainly involved in appeals. Mr Humphries would have been. I think Ms Follett was as Attorney-General; Mr Connolly was. All attorneys-general in any state or commonwealth parliament will be involved in appeals.
What the opposition says in relation to this particular appeal is a simple issue: it is unprecedented for an attorney to appeal in a case such as this. The role of an attorney is normally to back the coroner and there is no precedent for an attorney appealing in relation to apprehended bias or whatever against a coroner.
The problem is compounded, and the reason the Attorney needs to stand aside is that he is a witness. He has given evidence in the matter. That evidence has been recorded. Obviously, because of his position at the time of the fires, he is an important witness. Quite clearly, we are saying there is a conflict there because of the obvious inference of any vested interests that might flow from the fact that he has given evidence. There may or may not—
MR SPEAKER: Order! These are matters which are going to come before the courts and will almost certainly be led in evidence, and that is whether or not there is a vested interest in the Attorney-General—
MR STEFANIAK: It has not been raised to date, and I would be highly surprised if it is, Mr Speaker, because it is a very narrow point when you talk about conflict of interest.
MR SPEAKER: Well, if you go to that issue here that will prevent its being raised in the courts as well.
MR STEFANIAK: Mr Speaker, all we are saying is that there is a conflict of interest, that the attorney obviously gives the impression of a vested interest because he has given evidence, and that is the issue, full stop. I am not going to canvass anything about the facts. It is a simple point, and I make the simple point to members: the attorney has given evidence to the court in an inquest. He and the government are one of the parties to an appeal against the coroner. That raises the issue of vested interest. It raises the conflict of interest situation. Really, I would challenge the government to find any situation where any attorney is in a similar position.