Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 09 Hansard (Wednesday, 17 August 2005) . . Page.. 2815 ..
Nonetheless, it was clear in the eyes of the Assembly and across Canberra’s wider community that we understood and in general accepted that it was the role of the coroner to investigate the broader causes and impacts of the fire. It would have been very difficult and not at all constructive if the court had found that the coroner was exceeding her responsibility in conducting such an inquiry. We are very lucky that we have the decision that we have, I believe.
I would like to suggest that the government or perhaps the legal affairs committee of the Assembly look at this matter once the inquiry has been completed and recommend either a confirmation or a rejection of the convention of considering the coroner as the rightful authority of such wide-ranging inquiries into fires or disasters in the future. That is just laying that on the table. I hope that we will have more discussion about that so that, when the legal affairs committee does have an inquiry, it is the right inquiry.
In regard to the question of perceived bias, I have to say that there is an onus on the coroner and staff in a situation such as this to be particularly vigilant that they appear to be open-minded and impartial and that they are open-minded and impartial. Even injustice ends up by being in part about appearances, and people who are under intense public scrutiny would want to know that their actions are being investigated and judged by people beyond reproach. In that sense then, the ACT Supreme Court has been unequivocal in its finding that there is no basis for dismissing the coroner for bias or perceived bias, whatever the actions and comments that might have given rise to the accusations.
Finally, just to reiterate a little of what I said in the debate yesterday: we have all learnt considerably about the limitations of the systems we had in place prior to the 2003 fires. Never having been tested, we failed to take the potential for disaster seriously enough. This is an area where the bush has something to teach the city. I believe that the government, through its rejigged emergency services structure, has shown that it has learnt some of the lessons.
Similarly, the legal system in the ACT appears not to have been up to the task of initiating and pursuing an inquiry into such a large-scale disaster as efficiently or as promptly as needed. That does reflect on the Attorney-General, among others. Those people who have borne the brunt of the fires are also bearing the brunt of that inadequacy. The onus is upon the ACT government and its legal system to do its utmost to bring these matters to an appropriate and speedy conclusion. In that respect, I will be opposing Mr Stefaniak’s motion, and I am inclined to support Mr Stanhope’s amendment.
Debate interrupted in accordance with standing order 74 and the resumption of the debate made an order of the day for a later hour.
Sitting suspended from 12.25 to 2.30 pm.
MR SPEAKER: I would like to acknowledge the presence in the gallery today of a former Clerk of the Senate, Mr Alan Cumming Thom. Welcome.