Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 15 Hansard (Wednesday, 14 December 2005) . . Page.. 4797 ..
members in this Assembly is a real concern. I am just glad that in this case we are not talking about really controversial stuff.
We need this amendment to ensure justice and peace of mind for those people who suffered and continue to suffer from the events of January 2003. When I say that we should move on and try to put these events behind us, I am not saying that we should forget them, and I am not belittling the suffering that many people experienced. With the wisdom of hindsight, it is becoming very clear that the coronial system in the ACT needs overhauling. While there is probably not enough demand—and thank goodness for that—for a separate coroner’s court, perhaps the time has come to look at identifying and training a few dedicated magistrates in coronial affairs and arranging their responsibilities so that they can focus solely on their coronial duties when the need arises.
I thank Mr Stefaniak for having drawn our attention to this problem and I thank the government for taking his legislation seriously. I urge both the opposition and the government to continue to focus on positive, constructive measures rather than nasty, gratuitous, and ultimately counterproductive, posturings.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (11.20), in reply: I thank members for their comments in this debate. As I indicated in my speech when I introduced the bill—I will not go over too much old ground—it is a fair bill, and I say at the outset that I think the government amendments are very fair amendments as well. There are no guarantees that a lot of people will avail themselves of the opportunity to take the actions that they will now be able to take, especially given that a number have already taken action within the present three-year limitation period. But it does give people some options, and is therefore something that bushfire victims are very keen to see happen. I certainly think it is very important for the government to see that the rights of all citizens affected by the bushfires are adequately protected by our laws, and that their rights are fully recognised, and it is good to see the government doing that here today.
Initially, it was my intention with the bill to not affect any other classes of victims. I specifically did have it just as a single class. I am very mindful of such arguments like the floodgate arguments and that. However, the normal intention of any act of parliament, unless it is retrospective—and retrospective acts are things that are very rarely, and indeed should only be very, very rarely, used—is that an act of parliament runs from the time it is enacted and receives the assent and, if anything has arisen before that act, the existing law at the time should apply.
Quite clearly, that was the intent of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill: that people who had causes of action that related to prior to the bill coming into force should have their rights preserved. That is a normal fundamental principle of Australian law. So, effectively, the government’s amendment is doing just that, and that does probably enable a number of other people in our community to get an extension of time, effectively a six-year period, in which they would be able to take action. That is a fair thing and that is why I am very happy that this bill has caused that issue to be looked at and fixed up. That is a very important point in terms of fairness and our law.
My bill, of course, is a result of the lengthy process of the coronial inquiry, which is not finished and we really do not have any idea when it is going to finish. That was the