Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 10 Hansard (Wednesday, 24 August 2005) . . Page.. 3191 ..
I should add that the Supreme Court’s findings were not by any means entirely uncritical of the court. There are a number of instances where it seems clear that the justices might well have found the other way, if matters had proceeded further in the direction they were heading.
One of the concerns that came through in this decision was a failure to tread carefully enough around the legal issues around the central witnesses, the presentation of evidence and the management of the process. I think there are issues here for later discussion.
However, for this debate, I would like to suggest we consider the difference between natural justice and formal legal processes. As the Supreme Court judgment reminds us, the coroner’s powers and processes are more free ranging than an adversarial legal case. In that context, we might look at a more robust approach to natural justice in order to assist the coroner and the community to get more quickly but fairly to the bottom of the matter. These, I believe, are the lessons of this process for the government and for the Assembly.
The ACT Greens did not support the Attorney-General involving the ACT government in the Supreme Court case, and we still believe that the legal advice or, at the very least, a more detailed explanation of the legal advice which promoted that action ought to be made available to the public. We welcome the tabling of some documents today but note that most of these are already on the public record. Nonetheless, there is nothing in the argument put by the court to lead me to believe that the Attorney-General ought to step aside.
In relation to the amendment put by the government, I will support paragraph 1 but I will not support paragraph 2. I think it is time that we got on with the issue of separation of powers and ceased going over and over this matter in a way which is meant just to score political advantage.
MR SESELJA (Molonglo) (5.26): I will be supporting Mr Stefaniak’s motion. One of the reasons I think this motion was brought forward today is Chief Justice Higgins’s comments in relation to the ACT government and how it has threatened the independence of the judiciary in the way that it handles some aspects of the 2003 bushfire inquiry. To quote from the Chief Justice:
Public confidence in the ability of the courts to dispense justice in a fair and impartial manner is largely dependent upon continuing recognition of their independence.
It is this aspect of the debate that the Attorney-General does not appear to understand. Public confidence in the judiciary is a concern. The Chief Justice, who, I am sure, would ordinarily be very cautious about criticising the government, is so concerned that he felt the need to speak out about the issue. I do not think it is to be taken lightly. That is exactly what I think the Attorney-General appeared to be doing yesterday in his non-answer to Mr Stefaniak’s question on the issue.
There are some important parts of the judgment, I think, that need to be put on the record and that go to the importance of seeing this legal advice. It says in paragraph 64: