Page 2693 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 16 August 2005

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Or the alleged bias against one of the witnesses, Ms Harvey, at 139:

We see no reason to doubt that the first respondent … had generally formed an impression that Ms Harvey had been ‘stonewalling’ in response to questions that she did not wish to answer. The impression may have been erroneous but no such error has been established and, in any event, an error of perception would not, of itself, provide any ground for an apprehension of bias.

Justices Higgins, Crispin and Bennett concluded:

The arguments advanced by the prosecutors would have raised, at most, grounds for concern in relation to circumstances that have not arisen and might never arise. Prerogative relief will not usually be granted to address fears of such possibilities.

Despite what the Chief Minister might say in trying to dress all this up, I think that is a pretty conclusive and pretty damning indictment of a government taking this action. I think the full court was quite clear in rejecting these grounds of apprehension of bias, no matter how the Chief Minister might try to say otherwise.

The dismissal of the contentions of the legal teams for both the ACT government and the nine public servants in such clear-cut terms raises the issue of what was this advice that Mr Stanhope received from four eminent QCs. This legal advice was so strong as to lead him to take action against his own coroner, a very risky endeavour for any government that did not wish to impugn its own justice system through political interference. We need to see what this advice was.

Mr Stanhope is hiding behind this advice. This advice has cost the taxpayers over a million dollars and delayed the coronial inquiry for some 10 months. We, the opposition, call on the Chief Minister to table the advice that he received which made him launch the legal action against his own coroner.

The Canberra Times declared in an editorial last year:

It is for the ACT Supreme Court to determine whether any appearance of bias has been created. But it is for the ACT Government to explain why it is trying to prevent the facts coming out, some proper explanation of what occurred, of people having some capacity to draw their own conclusions and, perhaps, why yet further delay serves any public interest. And just whose hide is being protected by the expenditure of some extra two or three millions dollars—and why?

And, finally, of course, it would be very sensible if this Chief Minister stood aside until this process is over.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (10.48): Mr Speaker, the government will not support the motion that is before the Assembly today, and for very good reason. I think to some extent Mr Stefaniak, in his speech, has given a decent summary of the appropriateness of the actions that I took as attorney and that the government or the territory took in relation to this matter.

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