Page 7 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 14 February 2006

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This is a small and minor procedural piece of legislation. The government is mindful of the fact that this sitting week is the only sitting week prior to 1 March when the legislation was to have come into effect. The government will be looking for the support of members of the Assembly when this bill is debated on Thursday this week. I regret enormously the short time frame in the context of the summer break. As this is our first and only sitting week prior to the previously determined commencement date, the government is looking to members of the Assembly to support this provision on Thursday. I regret the short notice that members have been given but this is a minor procedural bill of no policy import or effect. Whilst I regret the short time frame I seek the understanding and support of members in passing the bill this week to enable it to have the effect that the government desires.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stefaniak) adjourned to the next sitting.

Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill 2005 (No 2)

Debate resumed from 15 December 2005, on motion by Mr Stanhope:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (10.55): The opposition will be supporting the bill. We do have several amendments, which I have asked to be circulated. This bill, for the first time in Australia, provides for uniform defamation laws, and that is indeed a good thing. The ACT has often been at the forefront in terms of law reform and defamation. I recall a very lengthy process undertaken by the previous Attorney-General, Mr Humphries, which was finalised, I think, in 2001, when I was attorney, which certainly made a lot of improvements to the law of defamation.

Defamation law has always been a vexed issue of balancing freedom of expression and protecting people’s legitimate rights. This bill will ensure that defamation law does not impose unreasonable limits on freedom of expression. Indeed, it might well go too far. It provides some remedies for persons harmed by publication of a defamatory matter. It promotes speedy, non-litigious methods of resolving disputes. It is certainly textually uniform between all legislation in Australia.

Some states have passed legislation as defamation acts. The ACT deals with defamation in the civil law act, as we see here. With some technical, minor differences between the respective jurisdictions’ legislation on defamation, all jurisdictions have agreed to the same wording in core areas of the legislation.

There are a number of issues that we say are somewhat contentious, and I have had discussions with the law society and other bodies and individuals in relation to them. One of the contentious issues is, for example, that the legislation excludes corporations from being able to sue for defamation. We say that that is something that should still be allowed to happen, and some very good reasons for that have been given by a number of lawyers. So we will be seeking to move an amendment in relation to that matter. The corporations that are excluded from this provision are those corporations that employ fewer than 10 people and are not related to another corporation.

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