Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 20 October 2005) . . Page.. 3933 ..
I spoke about this motion in my speech during the in-principle stage. I do not think I need to add anything more to what I said except to emphasise that the committee system of this place can address certain matters. Issues about strict liability have come up over and over again in our scrutiny of bills meetings and it would seem appropriate that we look at that matter in some detail. We need to look at how other jurisdictions operate and come up with some guidance for the Assembly so that we can stop having this debate over and over again. I understand that the motion is unlikely to be passed but, nonetheless, I feel it is important that I move it.
MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (12.02): Mr Speaker, as I indicated previously, the government does not support the referral of the Criminal Code Harmonisation Bill to a committee. I think we understand that this bill deals with 32 separate acts and six regulations, and that it has an effect on 283 offences in those 38 pieces of legislation.
Dr Foskey has expressed concern and has indicated that the rationale for wishing to refer this harmonisation bill to a committee is so that the committee can look in greater detail at an issue which continues to vex her and which, I have to say, is a constant subject of discussion, particularly in scrutiny of bills reports. I respect the debate in relation to strict liability. Strict liability offences, of course, require in their imposition a judgment decision in relation to appropriateness or applicability in a particular circumstance. I do not think any of us in this place would deny that there is a place for strict liability offences. Bearing in mind the way in which the rule of law operates and is constructed, I think it would be extremely difficult for us to simply stand here and agree to remove strict liability as a prospect and revert to default in relation to every single offence.
There is a whole range of very obvious areas in which we use strict liability offences and in which one cannot imagine one would not continue to use them. This is particularly the case in relation to public health and safety and in the protection of the environment— where there is a determination that an offence, if committed, be regarded as strict; namely, that the offence was done and that it had a particular impact. There is a real place for that.
I think I share perhaps the frustration which Dr Foskey just exhibited, that we appear to be having a debate around strict liability almost once a month through one bill or another. At one level, this is because we simply do not have a meeting of minds as an Assembly—perhaps this is inevitable—around when a strict liability offence is appropriate and when it should apply. However, as I have indicated, I believe that this question needs to be directed at a particular provision or bill at the time it is being debated.
We have not included through this process a whole raft of new draconian, or strict liability, offences. We have basically gone through a process that identifies those that exist. We are not introducing any. This is a harmonisation process and I believe it would be inappropriate to refer this bill to a committee for the purposes of revisiting essentially provisions in bills that were debated and passed at any time perhaps over the last dozen or 15 years. It would be inappropriate to revisit provisions in specific acts to determine whether or not we believe a particular strict liability offence is appropriate.