Page 3752 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 27 August 2008

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We see that quite frequently. I cite defamation law. I cannot recall the case, but the other day I was reading where someone was complaining that on about 50 occasions they had been stymied from making comments very much in the public interest by writs of defamation being slapped on to shut them up. Clearly there seemed to be a misuse of the law in so doing. So I think there is considerable merit in going down the path of a bill such as the one Dr Foskey has introduced.

I will now go through the government amendments. On the face of it, what the attorney says seems to make considerable sense. In supporting this bill, we do not believe that it has the balance right. In some areas, it skews the balance; it goes too far. There are some great dangers in it. But, given that the government is going to gut it and put its own amendments in—that will obviously pass, because of the numbers—there will need to be further review as to how this operates. Again, it is that fine balancing line. It is probably totally impossible to always get that, but we need to do it as much as possible to ensure that we end up with workable legislation. It may well be that, even though the bill passes as gutted, there are still problems. That is clearly something that we will need to monitor as we go ahead.

It is important, too, because Canberra is a well-educated city. Canberra is a city where a lot of people have a social and a public conscience and are very much prepared to get involved in various issues. I can see quite a number of possibilities and instances in the ACT where people will be involved and you will have the potential for the processes in the courts to be misused to stymie legitimate concerns.

This is an area where we will see this legislation operate. Things will happen as a result of it; we need to get it right. Some of these issues are terribly important because they overlap—like planning issues, where again it is very difficult to find that straight line, that fine balance. People are often passionate about the issues; and there are many interests at stake, in many instances quite legitimate. We see quite a number of those matters end up in the courts.

This bill is going to see some use. We are happy to support it. We think there are some problems. We will have a look at the government amendments. Obviously, the bill will pass. It will need further monitoring. That is something that the opposition will be doing—that it will do in the next Assembly, hopefully as a government. I encourage all members of the next Assembly to keep a close eye on this legislation.

Dr Foskey, I acknowledge, has a passion for this area. It was evident in terms of her redraft, her first bill having been referred to a committee. We had a quite detailed and very interesting inquiry in the legal affairs committee. That was effectively the genesis of what we have before us today for debate. We look forward to the debate continuing and to monitoring the impact this bill will have once it becomes an act.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (12.12): I want to commend Dr Foskey for her efforts in this area. She has pursued this over a long period of time. It has not been without considerable effort on her part and the part of her office. I think she has done a very good job in bringing forward into this place a very important area of public debate and I commend Dr Foskey for her work.

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