Page 1170 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 9 April 2008
affairs committee, I thought it might receive bipartisan support or lead to an understanding of a form of legislation that achieved the same purpose.
Knowing, as I do, that the government do not want to be seen to pass any bills submitted by another party—so they can say that opposition crossbench members achieve nothing—I hoped that we could nonetheless achieve our aim of having the legislation pass, even with the government taking the credit for coming up with its own version of my original bill. At least in this way the rights to freedom of speech or expression contained in the ACT bill of rights would have become more of a reality than the mere shadow of a right that they are at present. The notion of a right that is not enforceable is, as Jeremy Bentham remarked, nonsense upon stilts.
The committee process ran its course. A wealth of evidence was received from numerous experts and a brilliant report was compiled by the committee secretary, Robina Jaffray, with the assistance of Karin MacDonald and me under the guidance of the chair of the legal affairs committee, first Bill Stefaniak and then Zed Seselja. I was very impressed by the Liberal chairs’ willingness to be open to the evidence presented and by their ability to get their heads around the nature of the problem and the appropriateness of this particular solution. I hope that they can convince their colleagues that this serves to protect the important freedom of political expression and the integrity of the legal system.
Mr Seselja: We will take a very close look at it.
DR FOSKEY: There is no reason to be afraid. This bill does not protect illegal, violent or intimidatory behaviour and it cannot be used as a defence against any offence.
That is why I was surprised that the government is backtracking on supporting this bill or some other version of the bill that achieves the same aims. I received a letter from the Attorney-General which suggested to me that someone in his department had convinced him not to pursue it. Some of the paragraphs in his letter are identical to the words recorded in Hansard as having been used by his departmental officers when giving evidence before the committee. I find it curious that departmental officers appear to be calling the shots and drafting ministerial letters on such important topics. It is important that the electorate can see that the minister has a mind of his own.
As I said, the committee report was finalised in May of last year. It is only now that I have given up waiting for the government to introduce its own bill before the election. The bill I am introducing today is in all material respects a bill that was endorsed by the committee. I believe that it answers all of the concerns raised by the Attorney-General over the course of the hearings and inter-office negotiations that I have had with the Attorney-General and his departmental officers. I believe we have a better bill as a result of the committee process. I cannot see any good reason why it should not be endorsed by everybody in the Assembly who takes the time to read and understand it.
In his letter the Attorney-General referred to the same rights he raised before the committee: “the rights of individuals to protest and the rights of commercial interests