Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 15 Hansard (Wednesday, 14 December 2005) . . Page.. 4795 ..
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.10): On its surface, Mr Stefaniak’s proposed changes to the ACT’s Limitation Act is an admirable gesture that would ease the burden felt by people who suffered personal injury as a result of the terrible fires of January 2003. If this bill is to pass into law, and it seems it will in a somewhat amended form, they would not have to bear the additional burden of not knowing whether they are risking financial, and possibly emotional, disaster by bringing a legal action to recover compensatory damages.
I believe that these people should have a right to wait for the coronial inquiry to shed some more light on the events surrounding the fires before making their decision as to whether to sue for damages. I think they should have at least 12 months after that inquiry hands down its findings to decide whether to bring such an action.
I say that Mr Stefaniak’s bill is an admirable gesture on its surface. I also think that it is in large measure an admirable gesture below the surface too. Time is running out under section 16A and 16B of the Limitation Act and it is unlikely that the coronial report will have been completed and made public before the present limitation period expires.
I am assuming that everyone in the Assembly thinks that this bill is a good idea and I am glad that the government has come up with its own amendment to address the problem identified by Mr Stefaniak. But, given this bipartisan support, why shouldn’t this bill be a generic solution to the problem of long-running coronials or other worthwhile exceptions to the statute of limitations. Section 36 of the Limitation Act provides that the court can extend the period within which a person can bring an action from damages. But at present it does not apply to section 16B, personal injury claims. Perhaps section 36 of the Limitation Act should be amended to make it clear that in certain circumstances it does apply to these personal injury claims and that people have at least 12 months following the public release of a coronial report to bring such actions.
This is not the first time the coronial inquiry has taken more than 2½ years to make its findings and it probably will not be the last. Given that coronial inquiries are as much designed to investigate systemic problems as personal responsibilities, it is not necessarily a bad thing. But innocent people should not suffer as a result by losing their right to seek compensation while waiting for the coroner’s report to be made public.
Heaven forbid, but some future government could even use this fact to its own advantage and withhold a report until the limitation period had expired. If such a suggestion of the brutal misuse of executive power may have been inexcusable only a few years ago, it certainly is not today in light of the abandonment of accountability and moral decency by the current federal government from the moment that it gained control of both houses of parliament. If anyone doubted the desirability of minority government before, the shameful events occurring up on the hill must surely put those doubts to rest. It is evidence in our country that absolute power can indeed corrupt absolutely, even though in these days of public relations masquerading as popular media the sad thing is that people might not notice that.
Mr Corbell interjected in Mr Stefaniak’s presentation speech, “This is a stunt.” Well, yes and no. The content of the presentation speech made it clear that the opposition will