Page 2412 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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Opposition. Similarly, the power to suspend the Clerk or end the Clerk’s appointment will reside with the Speaker. This will ensure the autonomy of the office of the Clerk since clerks of the parliaments work for the parliament as a whole, not for governments, something that is already reflected in the act at subsection (46) (3), which provides:

A clerk is not subject to direction by the executive in relation to the performance of his or her duties.

Section 53 of the act allows the Deputy Clerk to be appointed as the acting Clerk. This bill simplifies arrangements when the Deputy Clerk is unavailable, enabling the appointment of other Secretariat staff to act in the position of Clerk. These amendments also clarify the requirement for the Clerk to provide and maintain a statement of interests. This will bring the Clerk’s disclosure requirements into line with that for MLAs and other executives of the ACT Public Service, thus improving transparency.

The bill I introduce today makes minor but significant changes that reaffirm the independence of the Assembly from the executive. I commend the bill to the house.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hargreaves) adjourned to the next sitting.

Court Procedures (Protection of Public Participation) Amendment Bill 2005

Dr Foskey, pursuant to notice, presented the bill.

Title read by Clerk.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (10.45): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

I am pleased to introduce the Court Procedures (Protection of Public Participation) Amendment Bill 2005, or what I will refer to as anti-SLAPP legislation. SLAPP is shorthand for strategic lawsuits against public participation. These lawsuits, seemingly on the rise in Australia, are intended to silence and intimidate activists, activist organisations, investigative journalists or any outspoken individual or group on matters of public interest, including, according to last Monday’s Media report, octogenarian gardening show hosts.

Charges are most commonly laid by corporations. The “McLibel” case is well known, and charges against 20 individuals and organisations delivered just before Christmas last year by the Gunns corporation is the most recent Australian example. Most SLAPP cases are lost in the courts, but before that happens it can take years, considerable dollars and emotional strength out of the defendants while discussion about the real public policy that started the public debate in the first place is displaced.

This legislation provides a mechanism to assess whether a lawsuit is bona fide and to deter strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge that this legislation is based substantially on the legislative model proposed by Brian Walters his 2003 book Slapping on the writs: defamation, developers

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