Page 476 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 16 February 2005

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It is important to note that the coroner’s report will be readily available to the Canberra public, and there is no possibility that the Attorney-General might be able to bury or selectively release the report. Under section 54 of the Coroners Act, the report must be made available, at their request, to any owner of property damaged or destroyed by the fire. If there is an adverse finding made against the Attorney-General in the report, it will be possible, when the report is made public, to make a judgment about the significance of the findings and whether a different Attorney-General should be called upon to act on the report.

If we lived in a larger jurisdiction with more members where there were any number of people available and qualified to take on the role of Attorney-General, then it might be reasonable to take a different position on this matter. However, other ACT ministers could equally be said to have the potential to be called before the coroner as witnesses and to have adverse findings made about their conduct.

Secondly, it has been said that there may be a conflict between the role of the Attorney-General as the recipient of the coroner’s report and his role in supporting the appeal against the coroner on the ground of a perception of bias. It seems to us to be entirely appropriate for the Attorney-General to act in the public interest to ensure that processes of the coroner are without reproach. If the coroner were to continue without a resolution in relation to the perception of bias, then any findings or recommendations made by the coroner would carry little weight and the community’s need for an honest and impartial assessment of all that occurred would not be satisfied.

The coroner is a creature of statute. It has powers and functions by virtue only of the Coroners Act, which specifies, amongst other things, that it is able to report to the Attorney-General. The same act stipulates that the actions of the coroner are answerable to review by the Supreme Court, and section 93 expressly authorises the Attorney-General to make an application to have an inquiry quashed, and I quote:

… if it is necessary or desirable in the public interest or the interests of justice.

It seems illogical, therefore, to argue that the Attorney-General should stand aside on the basis of a conflict between two roles expressly contemplated by the coroner’s enabling legislation. Nor would the issue be resolved by replacing this Attorney-General with another Attorney-General, because every subsequent Attorney-General would have the same conflict while the Supreme Court is reviewing the actions of the coroner.

For the reasons outlined here, we will not be supporting the motion of the opposition on this matter and believe that, without new information, there is no more useful debate to be had on this topic, at least until the Supreme Court has delivered its judgment on the actions currently before it.

MR QUINLAN (Molonglo—Treasurer and Minister for Economic Development) (12.17): I would like to thank Mr Seselja for his contribution because I think, within it, we may find some of the flaws in the arguments that have been put forward. Initially, I would like to refer to a claim that Mr Stanhope sat on a report that originated in the federal parliament. That is a nonsense, and I think it has been publicly disproved that that was the case. In fact, the delays were attributable to those on the hill as opposed to here;

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